Stand up straight! Don’t slouch!
I can still hear these commands in the voice of my late grandmother. Usually, when my grandmother said something I obeyed, but this one of those rare exceptions.
For most of my life, I have been plagued by poor posture. Part of it had to do with lifestyle choices. (By the time I was in middle school, I was regularly schlepping around 10-20 lbs of books and other things in a book bag.)
And part of it was choice. As someone raised on a steady diet of teen fashion magazines, I thought there was something kind of cool about those L.A. Gear models who always had a slight slouch.
However, I paid the price for my bad posture in the form of a chronically aching back.
I didn’t just feel bad—I looked bad as well. My poor standing habits resulted in a permanent “poochy” belly. (Looking back to vacation photos taken of me when I was 23, you would have sworn I was 4-5 months pregnant even though I probably weighed only 105 lbs.) Plus, as someone who is only 5’2″, I was losing a few badly needed inches of height.
By the time I decided to do something about my poor posture I was well into my late 20s. Despite having practiced yoga for a number of years and hearing all about proper alignment, etc., Pilates probably made the biggest difference in my body.
Like many with poor posture, my core muscles were very weak, and it took a long time to learn how to stand correctly. At first it simply didn’t feel right, and my body wanted to revert to its old habits.
The only thing I could take comfort in was that I was far from alone.
Take a look around any public place like a mall, food court or supermarket, and you’ll probably see a lot of people with poor posture.
Besides the things already mentioned, poor posture can take a toll on our mental health as well.
A November 2014 article in Real Simple magazine cites a 2014 study that was published in an issue of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy which found that “slumped sitting activated memory networks associated with bad moods” while upright postures “fired up more happy-memory networks.”
Therefore, below are a few quick tips for better posture:
1. Take frequent breaks if spending long periods of times sitting or in front of a computer.
Sitting for long periods of time tends to put strain on the neck and back and encourages slumping.
Getting up to walk around or even interlace the hands behind the back to do a simple shoulder stretch can help.
Also, imagine an invisible wall in front of you that you’re pressing the chest into. It’s important to be open across the front body and not close it off.
2. When it comes to the shoulders, adopt the mantra “Down and back!”
Do this whether sitting or standing.
Also, lining up the ears with the shoulders ensure proper alignment as well.
3. Don’t stand at attention.
Many of us believe that proper posture means standing like a solider or with a perfectly straight back.
As most of us who have seen a model skeleton knows, the spine is naturally curved. Standing up tall and straight should not hurt or look exaggerated. It should look elegant.
Therefore, think more ballet dancer and less recruit in basic training.
In closing, good posture doesn’t just help us look better, it also helps us feel better, too—both mentally and physically.
Paying attention and cultivating good posture is something we should all do starting now.
It really isn’t that hard, and the rewards are immediate.