Good posture is often overlooked but plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being. It not only affects our physical appearance but also influences our body’s alignment, muscle balance, and even our mood.
Yes, good posture is important, but how do you identify signs of poor posture, what exactly does good posture entail, and are there practical tips to improve your posture in daily life? As a certified Pilates instructor, here’s what I think you should know about your posture.
Finding good posture in your body not only looks better but comes with all sorts of health benefits to make you feel better too.
Good posture helps you breathe better! Simply paying attention to the alignment of your spine can help reverse the effects that prolonged sitting has on your respiratory system! Correct posture allows for optimal lung expansion to help you breathe more efficiently. Since the diaphragm and the lungs rest in the rib cage, slouched posture can restrict the lungs’ capacity, leading to shallow breathing and decreased oxygen intake.
Generally speaking, having an aligned spine also ensures balanced muscle activity, especially in the muscles in between your shoulder blades (your scapulae stability muscles), and your core. While your scapulae stability muscles are largely responsible for good posture in your mid-upper spine, your core helps control optimal posture in your mid-to-lower spine. When your muscles are in proper alignment, they work more efficiently, reducing fatigue and minimizing the risk of injury.
Proper alignment in your spine also reduces stress on joints, minimizing the risk of wear and tear, joint degeneration, and chronic pain conditions like arthritis. When our muscles are aligned and not overly compressed in a rounded (shoulders) or swayback (low back) position, our joints are able to function more optimally.
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Having a strong awareness of your posture also alleviates strain on the spinal discs (the spaces in between your vertebrae), reducing the likelihood of developing disc-related problems. Disc-related problems, like bulging or herniated discs, can be a result of poor posture, especially while seated for prolonged periods of time, a position that naturally compresses your lower spine.
Last, but certainly not least, good posture is a mood booster and has been shown to help improve your ability to calmly respond to stress, by helping build confidence and resilience in your upright, open body.
Identifying signs of poor posture is the first step in improving it. If you find yourself walking around with rounded, slouched shoulders after your workday, this is a clear sign that your posture could use some improvement.
Another common indicator of poor posture after a long day online is “tech neck,” or the tendency to lean your head forward. This poor postural habit is more common than not, and oftentimes is a leading cause of headaches.
Lastly, two commonly seen postural habits among most body types, from athletes to more sedentary people, are a “flared rib cage” and a “sway back.” While a flared rib cage refers to someone’s tendency to arch their mid back and open their ribs, a “sway back” refers to an excessive curve in the low back.
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When we refer to “good posture,” picture a side snapshot of your spine, with your earlobe, stacked on top of your shoulder, which rests on top of your ribs and hips. Striving to enact good posture in your body can be done while sitting, standing, walking, and other daily activities.
For anyone interested in the nerdy details, to maintain “good posture” your spine should maintain its natural curves when viewed from the side. This means your head and neck (cervical spine) should have a slight forward curve rather than an extreme forward curve. Your upper back (thoracic spine), should have a gentle backward curve, and the lower back (lumbar spine) should have a slight inward curve.
Good posture also points to balanced shoulders! Your shoulders should be level and relaxed, not hunched or rolled forward.
Lastly, a well-balanced posture requires a strong core! By engaging your abdominal wall towards your rib cage, you will prevent the open “flaring” described above, to work to keep your ribs stacked on top of your pelvis.
There are several ways to practically implement improved posture throughout your day. Here are our top two- go-to suggestions for improving your posture throughout your work day.
Chest expansions are a classic Pilates and yoga exercise that aim to open up the chest by pulling the shoulder blades together. This helps to properly align the shoulder blades over the rib cage and pelvis.
Start by standing tall and interlacing your hands behind your back. If you can’t touch your hands behind your back, grab a sweatshirt or towel to hold behind you. Inhale to fill up your diaphragm, and exhale to pull your hands behind you as you open up your chest.
Seated side bend helps restore balance on the sides of your body by lengthening your muscles from your hip crest, all the way toward the end of your fingertips. Finding length on our sides is important in order to energize our obliques (side abs) to help our shoulders rest in a more balanced position on top of our ribs and hips.
Start by sitting in a tall position. Keep your sit bones level as you reach your right arm up and over your head to the left side of your body. Ensure your chest stays open rather than collapsing. Take a few deep breaths and repeat to the other side.
Being mindful of your posture throughout the day will be a lifelong practice for most. It doesn’t always come intuitively to consider the proper stacking of your spine and muscles as you go throughout everyday life. In addition to the exercises we’ve recommended, integrating intentional somatic practices into your fitness routine like yoga and Pilates is also a great way to keep improving your posture and overall health.
Over time, as your movement practice evolves, so will the awareness of your body and your ability to stand and sit tall more regularly.