"No amount of high fashion can make up for a lifetime of poor posture." -Cindy Ann Peterson
Every summer when I was growing up my brother and I would visit my grandparents in Florida for a week or two. It was the best of times (we got to see our cousins, aunts, and uncles and play every day) and it was the worst of times (we were made to read, eat our vegetables, and go to church). The one thing I remembered my grandmother repeating over and over again was, "Sit up straight." This is one of the most classic grandparental corrections, and sadly, I don't hear it much anymore. Nowadays, with the ubiquitous nature of smartphones and computers, this sage advice is more important than ever. But what is proper posture anyway?
In our clinic we have a philosophy around posture--"the only bad posture is the one that you get stuck in." Read that again. Instead of thinking of posture as either good or bad, this mindset emphasizes that movement in and out of the widest range of positions is what is ideal. Even better than that is moving in and out of these positions with strength, control, and ease. When we see injuries that are linked to postural problems, they are all linked to the posture that the person maintains the majority of their hours (i.e. forward head posture, swayback, and upper cross syndrome).
The Chinese have a similar philosophy to our own--"pain occurs where the qi does not flow." In other words, the places in our body that we cannot readily move become painful. Also, wherever there is a joint or bend in the body, the qi is more likely to slow down or stop. This is why injuries almost always occur in or around joints. The better that we can align our joints relative to gravity, the less constraint there will be globally. Think of the body like a suspension bridge. If each cable and joist is properly angled and evenly braced, then it can take tremendous amounts of load without getting damaged. This is where postural training comes in.
Practices like Taichi, Qigong, and Kung Fu are all predicated on aligning the spine and joints to increase balance and the transfer of force. They are, after all, designed to increase the practitioner's proficiency in hand-to-hand combat. The classical resting stance in these is somewhat hard to describe, but I will do my best.
1. Start in a standing stance with your feet parallel and directly under your hips
2. Rock forward and backward until the weight on the balls of your feet is even to the weight on the heels of your feet.
3. Slightly bend your knees and picture your pelvis as a bowl. Even out the edges of that bowl so that your pelvis is in a neutral position.
4. Rising up from the pelvis lift your spine towards the ceiling. Imagine that you have a string attached to the crown of your head and it is being pulled directly upward. This will straighten out the low and mid back and cause the ears to come back over the shoulders.
5. While lifting the spine, soften the other muscles of your body down toward the floor.
6. Bring the arms down by your side, palms facing your body, and move the tips of your shoulder blades out towards the sides. Shoulder blades are neither overly retracted nor overly rounded.
7. Bring your eyes to the horizon so that your chin bone is parallel to the floor.
8. Take several belly breaths in this position.
Let this posture be a starting place. Take your time and practice it throughout the day. It will feel strange if you are used to standing differently, so don't stress if it is difficult at first. A small amount of practice every day is better than none, or a lot at once with huge breaks in between. We can then take these postural cues and apply them to other movements and positions, such as while sitting, while playing sports, or while strength training.
Remember, the important thing is to not get stuck in any one posture. This is one of the benefits of full-body exercise and stretching. They force us into different positions. There is no such thing as a perfect posture. The body is constantly adapting to the demands placed on it. When training, don't get locked into any one dogma (i.e. yoga, Pilates, weightlifting), and stay fluid with how your body can move. If you need any help we would be happy to help you out at the clinic. Investing in a pair of trained eyes is well worth it.