When I ask people how well they rate their own posture I generally get a pretty poor review. It seems like poor posture is fairly universal. It goes without saying that we sit a hell of a lot, what compels so many of us to sit badly however is still somewhat unclear.
A major part of the legacy of all this poor posture is pain. Poor posture causes compression and pinching of the bodies joints and wasting/tightening of the bodies muscles. Pain complaints like neck pain, shoulder pain, tension headaches, migraines and back pain caused by poor posture usually take many years to manifest, but once they have done so they can be extremely stubborn.
Fortunately the pain associated with poor posture is usually manageable with the right level of motivation, the right tools and the right mindset. Perhaps unsurprisingly relieving postural pain is a whole lot easier if you can improve the posture itself. For this reason and a host of others, here are my 3 top recommendations for improving your posture.
Use a Posture Pad
So, here is a golden nugget of posture and pain related information that I find people are seldom aware of.
If your hips and pelvis are in the right position, sitting up straight is WAY easier than you would think. In order to have a realistic chance of sitting straight consistently your knees need to be below your hips.
When your knees are below your hips your pelvis tilts forward and straightens up your lower back. When your knees are at the same level or higher than your hips it rounds out your lower back and encourages you to hunch. Yet, every modern office chair I have seen has the knees roughly at the same height as the hips if you sit right into it. This makes sitting up straight much harder than it needs to be.
By far the easiest way to address this issue for those of us who sit at a desk, is to use a posture pad. Posture pads are like a miniature inflatable Swiss ball that goes on your chair to tilt your pelvis forward and drop your knees lower than your hips. Using a posture pad like this takes 70-90% of the work out of sustaining an upright position.
It is common knowledge that muscle activity within our bodies enables not only movement but sustains alignment. Postural muscles are those that exert sustained force on the skeleton to maintain alignment. I think we can all visualise what it looks like when these muscles are not being used to good effect, an excellent example is often seen in the despondent teenager.
Excessive sitting and habitual poor postural habits lead to muscle wasting in the upper back and the ‘spinal extensor’ muscle groups. Over time this muscle wasting becomes a big part of the process that leads to further deterioration of your alignment. If you’ve ever noticed that it feels like quite a lot of effort to sit up straight you have had a direct experience of this weakening.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your posture and reduce postural complaints like back pain, shoulder pain and neck pain is to strengthen these muscle groups.
Happily 5-10 mins per day of the correct exercises is enough to make a meaningful difference to your posture in the longer term. The keys to success here are persistence and appropriate choice of exercises. If you look at our shoulder pain exercises you can see in some detail what I am referring to.
Have you ever noticed that when someone mentions the topic of good posture you tend to automatically sit up a little straighter? If you have, you know first hand the role of mindfulness in correcting and improving posture.
I personally struggle more with this aspect of postural correction than any other, and I suspect I am not alone. Being mindful enough to remember that I have stopped sitting or standing up straight seems to be a big challenge for me. Once I am ‘on task’ that task seems to consume so much of my attention that my posture gets completely overlooked. So, ‘forgetfulness’ is one aspect of poor posture that mindfulness may assist with.
When we confront our habitual posture patterns we encounter great resistance. Part of this resistance comes from the depths of our sub-conscious and it’s self esteem. We tend to sit in accordance with how we feel about ourselves and about our life in general. Overcoming a tendency to sit in a way that reflects slightly low self esteem can be as challenging as overcoming the low self esteem itself, these are some of life’s biggest challenges!!!
The best way to use mindfulness to tackle our postural habits is patiently! This stuff isn’t going to shift overnight.
Using technology to set reminders to sit up straight during a days work is one excellent way to become more mindful of our postural habits.
Setting time aside (5-10 mins per day) to practice mindfulness in relation to your posture like this is also an excellent commitment. One of my favourite mindfulness exercises is to sit up really straight at a table in a cafe. When I do this I notice a creeping sense of self consciousness that kicks in when I sit up straighter than I habitually do. Consciously choosing to witness these little glitches in my programming has helped my posture immeasurably over the years. I suggest you try it or for yourself.
Poor posture can lead to a host of pain complaints like neck pain, headaches, migraines, shoulder pain and back pain.
Research has shown that not only does our mood effect our posture, our posture effects our mood. Our posture also effects our respiration, our digestion and the functioning of our internal organs. When we take these facts into consideration alongside the fact that most of us are professional sitters it should become apparent that this topic is worth any effort we are willing to put in.
Having healthy posture is an expression of the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of our being. It is a complex topic for sure, but happily one with simple solutions.
If you would like assistance with your posture or with any posture related pain complaints my team and I would love to help.