After many years in the world of dance good posture is second nature to me, but I am well aware how difficult it can be to correct ‘bad’ postural habits… and how massively detrimental this “bad” posture can be! I am passionate about the importance of good posture for general health, and I also utterly believe that the combination of good posture and correct exercise technique is the most positive way to ensure that prescribed workouts are safe, and that they simultaneously create the ‘sleek physique’ that so many of us crave.
I often tell clients that the easiest way for me to help them to create ‘ideal’ posture would be for me to pick them up by the head and simply allow the rest of the body to dangle downwards…though I realise this is a little impractical (& possibly unethical!) in real life. My point is that so many of our postural imperfections come from the fact that we are fighting gravity – and we weren’t made to be this way. Our anatomy was designed for a life on all fours, and our ongoing efforts to undo this and stand on two legs have created endless postural imbalances. Add to this various other modern day habits which also conflict with the way our bodies were meant to work, it’s perhaps not surprising that posture has become such an issue:
• Children being forced to carry ridiculously heavy bags to school
• Teens spending hours sitting in front of electronic games (often holding massive muscular tension)
• Employees spending hours in front of an (often wrongly placed) computer screen
• A “one click society”, which encourages us to do EVERYTHING online and to be overly sedentary
• The modern epidemic of STRESS which often results in excess muscular tension from head to toe
I cannot emphasise enough how hugely important good posture is, and I advise 3 tips for improving posture:
- Simple mobilisation exercises daily
- An exercise regime which combines cardiovascular challenge and slower, calmer movements involving breathing techniques and stretches (such as Pilates, Yoga or Tai Chi)
- Daily self checks on where YOU are holding muscular tension
1. Mobilisation: if we think back to our roots as hunter gatherers we can understand that the movement patterns our joints were designed for were many and varied. We reached high to pick fruit, bent low to dig up roots, and ran to catch our prey. Today, many of us are overly sedentary, and even those of us who are more active often don’t exploit the full range of movement our bodies are capable of. If we walk, run or cycle we are only essentially working the hip joint bilaterally, (i.e. our thigh is moving backwards and forwards at a greater or lesser speed). This joint is also able to move outwards and inwards (ab- and adduction), and to rotate inwardly and outwardly. If we don’t exploit ALL these movement patterns the joint will become increasingly less able to carry them out (the basis of the concept “use it or lose it”). Looking at the shoulder socket we see similar problems. The movement potential in the shoulder joint is huge ( we can reach up high, reach behind our backs, reach out to the sides, and we can combine all these by creating large arm circles). On a day to day level however, our movement is very limited. We might typically pick up the kettle to make a tea or coffee, tap away at a keyboard or screen, turn a steering wheel and maybe pump our arms whilst running. These movements don’t even come close to what the joint is capable of! The USE IT OR LOSE IT principle can be addressed by ensuring those movements our body is craving are added into our daily routines by practising simple mobilisation exercises for just 5 or 10 minutes per day.
2. Varied Exercise: yes, running is good for us (providing good technique is adhered to), and cardiovascular exercise is essential for good heart health, but it is not sufficient alone. Equally, in spite of the massive benefits that Yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi offer in today’s overly stressed society, these too are lacking as stand-alone fitness methods. It is vital that we balance out our fitness needs, combining CV with relaxation, breathing, stretching and mobilisation. If Pilates or Yoga are performed with an emphasis on postural correction, this will then enhance the movement technique and breathing patterns in any CV based regime. Working in this way the one discipline will complement the other: amended posture and correct breathing will ensure muscles are used efficiently so that injury is avoided and each individual physique is able to work to it’s best ability.
3. Muscular Tension: this is something I honestly believe to be a disease of modern society. Be it from spending hours at a time hunched over a screen (our kids whilst gaming and ourselves whilst working), or from elevated stress levels resulting in stiffness in the neck and shoulder and/or headaches (often also rooted in muscular tension or trigger points), tension is rife. There is another contributory factor here which often goes unnoticed. One part of our ‘fight or flight’ response is our muscles taking on the ability to contract more quickly and more strongly (to flee the perceived ‘threat’). When the response is invoked bit by bit on a daily basis, muscular tension builds more and more, and when coupled with our sedentary tendencies, this can be a recipe for disaster. The key here is that much of this is habit: “something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it”. In order to correct these habits, we need first to become aware of them: to become mindful of our held tensions, and of the movements which create them. When you next sit at the computer, notice your neck and shoulders: are they as relaxed as they could be? Or are you holding excess tension? The same when you reach for your tea or coffee: all that is necessary is slight tension in the hand and fingers to create a grip, but many. many people hold tension all the way up their arm and into their neck and jaw during this simple, everyday movement. Check yourself regularly through the day: whilst cleaning your teeth, driving, waiting in a queue. As soon as we become more aware of these repeated movement patterns it becomes possible to notice our tension, and that is the first, vital step towards undoing it and learning to RELAX.
These are simple, doable steps for starting “undo” those not-so-good postural habits. It is easy enough to incorporate all three of these tips into your daily life, and if you do so you WILL start to see results. Remember: “a bad habit never disappears miraculously. It’s an undo-it-yourself project”