I was walking by a storefront and noticed my reflection. My shoulders were rounded and I wasn’t standing tall. When I think of good posture, I think of my second cousin, Nicole. She was a ballerina in The Phantom of the Opera, still practices ballet, and is the owner of Ballet for Adults. When she stands, it’s as if there’s a string that runs from the top of her head to the sky. She’s the epitome of good posture.
As we age, we sometimes forget about the importance of good posture and its impact on our overall health and well-being. And, with the advent of technology, we’re doing a lot more curving and forward neck craning than generations before us.
Why It Matters
Good posture refers to how our body is positioned and aligned when we’re standing, sitting or lying down. When we have good posture, we are in alignment and our muscles, ligaments, joints and nerves are working efficiently and as intended. An upright stature also makes our movements more fluid and our body less prone to injury.
After middle age, it is particularly important to maintain good posture to combat the loss of bone mass and reduced muscle tissue that typically comes with age. Proper posture also minimizes strain on our backs and necks by keeping our bones and muscles in their natural positions. And, truth be told, we just don’t want to shrink as we get older and resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
There are plenty of steps we can take to maintain good posture, keep our spine healthy, and stay aligned. Here are seven wonderful ways to improve our posture.
Take the Wall Test and Envision String
We’ve all seen the stooped older woman, the man with his neck craned forward, or even the teenager with her body literally drooping over her smartphone. Not good. When standing, stand straight and tall with your shoulders back and shoulder blades pulled down. Your head should be level and in line with your body, pulling in your tummy. Your feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart, with weight equally distributed on both feet.
To test your posture, take the wall test. Place your head, shoulder blades, back and butt against the wall. Have your heels about four to six inches away from the wall. Put your hand between the curve of your back and the wall, making sure you can only fit one hand’s thickness in that gap. This test will help you assess your posture and identify where you need to make improvements.
Once you’ve made adjustments, envision a string that runs from your thighs, through your trunk, up through your neck and head, and continuing on to the ceiling or sky. Pretend the string is pulling you up, creating an aligned stature as you stand and walk during the day.
Use a Yoga Bolster
We spend so much time with are bodies forward, our neck down and our arms in front. Over time, this is what creates rounded shoulders and a neck-forward posture. It is important to open up the front of our body to counterbalance the times it’s more closed.
A yoga bolster offers a therapeutic way to counteract bad posture and open up our chest, ribs and core. It is a soft, yet supportive, round cotton cylinder that you lie on. It can be used for many restorative poses, but my favorite is to use it as a chest opener. I typically relax on it with my arms straight out the sides, or bent at 90-degree angles. This short video by Mai Trainer shows how to use it.
When lying on the bolster, you will feel your chest, armpits, and abdomen loosen, alleviating the tightness that may have been pulling you forward. It also provides a relaxing moment to meditate or just unwind.
Roll on a Foam Roller
The foam roller is a fixture in our family room, getting more attention than our sofa. Some days I’ll watch an entire tv episode on my trusty roller, either rolling darn near every body part or camped on it along my spine to relax.
The foam roller puts targeted pressure on your fascia, releasing trigger points where you’re feeling tightness or soreness. When you roll on your upper back it loosens things up and makes you stand a bit taller.
North of 52’s blog post, Life is Great on a Foam Roller, details where to buy a roller, how to roll, and the benefits of adding this practice to your routine.
Sit Correctly and Adjust Your Desk
It is essential to have good sitting posture, particularly when you’re working on your computer or tablet. When seated, adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor, with your thighs parallel to the floor. Stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling and tuck your chin in slightly. Keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight, with your shoulders more relaxed, but not rounded.
Next, evaluate the ergonomics of your desk area. When working on your computer or tablet, your arms should be at 90-degree angles. If you find your shoulders hunching up, it means your chair is too low relative to the height of the desk or table.
It is also essential to have your screen at eye-level to prevent your neck from leaning down to gaze. Laptops are notorious for causing this problem. Although the arms may be at the right level, the computer screen is too low, causing the neck and shoulders to round down. This position places the neck in an unnatural position and creates the bad forward-neck posture.
Watch this super video that illustrates basic tips for adjusting your desk space for optimal sitting posture.
Buy an Upright Go
If you’re serious about improving your posture, I highly recommend getting an Upright Go. I discovered this cool posture corrector last month, and it has been both helpful and fun to use.
This small, lightweight device sticks to your upper back and trains you to maintain an optimal posture by tracking your posture during the day. The device is synced via Bluetooth with the Upright Go app on your phone (iOS and Android) and tracks your posture in both the training and tracking modes.
When in the training mode, the device will gently vibrate to alert you whenever you’re slouching. At first I was nervous the vibration would be too intense and I might feel a bit like Pavlov’s dog. But the vibration is mild and can be adjusted in the app. The sensitivity can also be adjusted so that it doesn’t vibrate when you’re just momentarily adjusting your posture or moving.
The training mode works best when you’re sitting or standing, and can pay attention to the Go’s feedback. I made the mistake of leaving the device in the training mode when I was doing tasks like emptying the dishwasher, grocery shopping, or bending down to tie my shoes. It kept vibrating and I wanted to yell “I’m just tying my shoes!” I also learned that I wasn’t sitting tall in places where I wouldn’t necessarily think about having optimal posture – in the car, on a bleacher, on a bar stool, and, yes, on the toilet.
After a daily training period, you can put the device in the tracking mode so it continues to monitor your posture, but without the vibration feedback. The app provides statistics and goals, and it was encouraging to see how my posture was improving each day.
The device is thin and easily hides under clothing. Initially, I was concerned the Go would fall off, but the adhesive is strong. The only time it fell off was when I was exercising in hot weather and my sweat loosened the grip. I now know the optimal times to wear it and appreciate when it lets me know I’m not sitting or standing upright. It’s the modern-day version of having your grandmother say “sit up straight.” The feedback is great and I’m now more mindful of my posture even when I’m not wearing the Go.
Do Posture-Correcting Exercises
There are two aspects of our posture that we need to address with exercises: overall posture and neck alignment.
One of the best ways to improve our posture is by strengthening our back and opening up our chest. This can be accomplished with three key daily exercises: one that stretches the pectoral muscles, one that strengthens our upper back, and one that pulls it all together with motion and mindfulness.
This video by GuerrillaZen Fitness demonstrates these three exercises. For the second exercise, you will need a resistance band with grip handles and something solid to attach it to, like a post or tree.
The second set of exercises address the forward-head posture problem, or text neck, as they call it. This posture no-no develops because our deep cervical flexors (in the front) become weak and our muscles in the back become tight, pulling the neck forward. Activities like texting, looking at our phones, improper desk configurations, and forward-centric activities are typically to blame.
This video by Jeremy Ethier shows us how to strengthen the muscles that are weak and stretch the muscles that are tight. He also provides helpful tips to correct the forward head posture. The only prop you will need is a tennis ball.
Other exercises like hip flexor stretches, back extensions, bridge, doorway stretches, and plank are also helpful in keeping us strong and our posture upright.
Look Up, Reach Up
We spend a lot of time looking down, even when we’re active. When we’re checking our smartphones, we’re looking down. Even when we’re hiking or walking, we’re gazing downward to avoid rocks, uneven terrain or obstacles. That’s normal and, in many cases, unavoidable. But, all that looking down is rounding our shoulders, moving our heads forward, and messing with our posture.
To provide balance, we need to look for opportunities to look up and stretch upward. Many yoga poses, like sun salutations and cobra, are awesome. Stretches that require upward gazes and moving our arms above our head are very helpful. Being more mindful about looking up now and then is also a good habit to form. Looking at clouds, a high skyscraper, birds, the passing airplane, trees – anything above our heads.
When using your smartphone, the advice of very busy orthopedic doctors is to hold your device up to eye level. This will minimize the bend in your neck and maintain optimal spine posture. There are also handy clip holders that provide adjustable viewing brackets that attach to tables, desks and bedside tables. The Avantree phone bracket is inexpensive and is rated 4.5 stars on Amazon.
If we take steps now to stand tall and keep our posture healthy, that’s a good thing and sets us up for fewer problems in the years ahead. So, here’s to good posture, standing tall, staying aligned, and reaching for the sky!
Product and video links in this post are to assist readers. North of 52 receives no compensation for these products or services. Upright Go provided us with a Go for test purposes, but all opinions are my own.
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