The First Step to Physical Improvement
Good posture was once thought of as a reflection of oneself. Children were taught comportment as part of the school curriculum in the 1940’s and 1950’s, such as how to sit on a chair with your feet flat and for young ladies, legs crossed but only at the ankles. Standing in line was done firmly on two feet, not slumped over to one hip. All these comportment cues helped instill habits for strong neutral posture. (Note how you stand for extended periods of time at the check-out counter.) Since the free spirit, anti-establishment days of the 1960’s, proper posture, alignment and comportment have been lost. The fitness era heralded in more visible physical traits like muscle tone, bulk and leanness for both men and women. Yet more than conditioning and general fitness, it is posture that helps us steer clear of injury and pain so we can do all our activities without strain. Posture and alignment are the root of any and all permanent physical improvement.
Posture Training : Remember Patty Duke in the 1950’s film at a finishing school walking with a book balanced on her head? Well it is not such a silly drill for both genders to master. This little skill ensures your head and neck muscles are trained to be propped right up over your shoulders and not slumped forward of the rib cage. If your head is forward of the shoulders it will increase stress on mid and low back and drag the shoulders forward even more. This is not very attractive even if you have a six pack. A tall posture, even on a short person, leaves a lasting impression. (I should know). In fact good posture will improve any figure making all clothes fit better no matter what size you wear. It is the only way to make your waist smaller. Fitness regimes often exacerbate imbalance in pursuit of ever more bulk and leanness. Don’t lift a weight this year until your ankles, knees, spine, pelvis, shoulders and head are on straight.
Posture and Pain: Low grade to chronic pain has cost the Canadian economy 360 billion dollars annually. This economic pitfall does not just affect older workers. 18-34 year olds report missing up to 11 days per year due to pain brought on by repetitive patterns in their work, recreation or habitual patterns of stance. This costs the individual as well as the GDP of our nation. And pain is inevitable if you embark on a fitness regime without first being able to manage your day job in proper alignment. Check yourself during the work day. Are you crossing your legs to create the tension for sitting tall? Are your feet flat on the floor and is your spine long and decompressed? Where is your head? Down? Hanging off the upper cervical spine looking at your I-phone? Check how many hours a day you find yourself in this posture.
Posture versus Exercise: So why focus on posture instead of simply encouraging people to exercise regularly? Well most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at jobs and tasks that have repetitive positions and patterns. Whether sitting at a desk on a computer, driving a bus, or standing while teaching a class lecture, these patterns and positions put tremendous strain on joints, muscle and bone. If the body is not in proper posture during tasks – compression, tightness and muscle guarding exacerbate strain. Eventually pain ensues. No exercise regimes will undo misalignment and faulty posture. Often people exercise into poor posture habits and create injury. The body can avoid chronic pain issues by sitting tall to enhance functioning of the bladder, kidney and colon. Computer work done with the head naturally held over the shoulders will increase blood flow to the brain. And who wouldn’t benefit from increased blood flow to the brain without a java jolt?
Both standing and sitting in strong neutral alignment engages muscles all day. Guarded, imbalanced posture allows for hanging off joints and tendons and muscles remain relaxed and disengaged.
What posture training can do for you:
Burn more calories by engaging more muscle fibers all day long
Decompress joints increasing the years of pain-free mobility
Improve organ function – a spine with less compression allows nerve impulse to innervate organs
Look better and clothes will fit better
Improve first impressions
Posture will not re-group automatically just because one thinks about it. Like any physical skill, posture has to be trained. Restricted tissue that may have developed from misuse patterns will only release through specific fascial (the thin layer of tissue covering our muscles and organs) stretches or soft tissue therapy like structural integration and Rolfing. These are massage-like techniques used to help the body find neutrality incrementally and permanently. Posture can be corrected and when it is, pain is avoided, productivity enhanced and fitness resolutions actually work.
Melissa Putt is the owner of Healthy Habits Inc. She is a published author and certified nutritionist with advanced training in lipid chemistry currently completing a degree in public health policy at U of T. She speaks and conducts lectures and workshops on heart disease and diet.