Our posture has proven to be one of the most important precepts to not only feeling good in our bodies, but also having more energy to move through the day, greater creativity, better nervous system activity, and less chances for chronic joint and organ conditions.
With so many societal forces working against us having a positive posture toward wellness in body and mind, it’s important that we step up and get active in our postural needs. Breathing, standing and walking are the most common actions we humans do on a daily basis. Enhancing these actions can have positive benefits for both physical and mental health.
So, what is Good Posture? A basic definition would be “the position in which you hold your body.” When describing posture, we mostly think about the spine standing or sitting upright against gravity. However, it’s best to look at posture as relating to any body part and it’s held in space. Our goal is to train the body to stand, walk, sit, and lie in positions where supporting muscles and ligaments experience the least strain during movement or weight-bearing activities.
So, let’s start there. Here is a simple checklist to creating your own, or a friend’s, annual postural assessment. If you are a movement practitioner, consider your other tools for assessment, bundle them together, and offer not only a postural assessment, but also a few tips on continuing the healthy posture our long lineage of being human has given us.
Body Scan: Always begin with a body scan. This can be very in-depth, or simple; done lying down, sitting, or standing. For my purposes I like to do a body scan while I’m standing ready for my postural assessment. With eyes closed or soft, take awareness down into the feet and legs noting if standing evenly, or more on one side, and any other nuances. I continue this assessment up the body to my major joints, and finish with my head, noting if it feels like it is tilting, or if I am clenching my jaw.
Breath patterns: Discovering how I am breathing is very important. Do I easily breathe into my torso, feeling the lower segments filling first or is my breath shallow? Even more importantly, do I easily breathe in a 360 ° manner, filling not just the front, but also the sides and back of the body.
Now, stand facing a full-length mirror with minimal clothing, or form-fitting clothing. Roll up pants legs to be able to see your knees and take off shoes and socks.
Feet: Have a look in a mirror, but also looking down. Do you stand in both legs evenly? Be honest about this – what’s your “go-to” posture in your everyday stance? Do you stand more in your toes, your heels, or throughout your entire foot? Do you tend to stand more to the side edges; do you have dropped arches or flat feet? Are your toes happy? Can you spread your toes apart or are they all crammed together?
Knees: Do your knees point forward? Is there a discrepancy in how your feet are pointed versus knees? At times, there may be a torsion of the leg bones creating a difference where the knees may be pointed forward, but one or both feet are pointed outward. What’s most important is that our knees point us in the direction that we should move – not necessarily our feet! Do the knees bow in towards each other or bow out. When looking from the side, does it appear that the knees are pressed back with legs straight greater than the plumb line? This stance indicates a hyper-extended knee.
Hips: Have a look in the mirror. Does one hip appear higher and/or more forward than the other? You can put your hands on the tops of your hips to help determine this. The pelvis is the center of the Universe, as such, it is important that our hips be as level as possible when we are moving and standing efficiently.
Rib cage: Does your rib cage appear to flare or protrude forward? This may be more evident from a side view and may require the help of a friend.
Spine: Our spine has wonderful curves and should be fairly symmetrical side to side. Once again, a friend’s observation would be helpful, as you have a look from the side. There should be a natural forward (anterior) curve of the low back, a small backward (posterior) curve of the mid and upper back, and again an anterior curve of the neck. Too much curvature of the lower (lumbar) spine can create compression issues, and too much curvature of the mid/upper (thoracic) spine can create dropped shoulders, forward head and shallow breathing.
Shoulders: Shoulders can be so tense and hold compensatory patterns that create all kinds of chronic issues. Looking in a mirror, do both shoulders seem symmetrical in height? From the side, do the shoulders appear in plumb with the ear and the side of the hip? Do they tend to round forward?
Arms/Hands: Observe how your arms are naturally hanging along the sides of the body. Does one harm have more space from the side body than the other? This could relate to the spine or shoulder blades being off balance. Are your palms facing forward, or turned back? If turned back, your shoulders may be rotated forward (rounded forward).
Neck/Head: Our wonderful heads can weigh anywhere from 9 to 13 pounds! And, they need to balance with ease on the neck (cervical spine). Looking from the front, does your head seem balanced on your neck, or do you tend to tilt slightly? From the side, does the head and neck appear to be more forward of the side of the shoulder? Now assess your jaw. Does it open and close smoothly? Are there any clicks or grating sounds while opening and closing the jaw?
How to Quickly Check Your Standing Posture
Stand against a wall with shoulders and bottom touching wall. In this position, the back of the head should also touch the wall – if it does not, the head is carried too far forward (anterior head carriage). With the head in this position, gravitational forces exert additional stress on the upper back and neck muscles, causing pain and, at times, tension headaches.
Now that you have a baseline understanding of your current standing posture, what do you do next? There are many facets to this, the most important being that you just got a present-moment reality check on where you are right now. Bringing attention to your posture in this systematic way is excellent in focusing attention on sensory awareness and can help to adjust the smaller issues right away. Many of them stem from a lack of consciousness, such as standing in one leg more than the other.
The benefits to good posture are many:
- Keeps bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly
- Helps decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces, helping to prevent arthritis and other degeneration
- Decreases the stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together
- Prevents the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions
- Prevents fatigue because muscles are being used more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy
- Prevents backache and muscular pain
- Helps in creating a more alert mind, with better oxygenation to the brain
- Exudes a positive appearance and impression to those around you, which increases personal confidence
Come Back Next Week for Information on What’s Next – How to Change Your Posture!