One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever been given was from a lady who recognized me on a walk by my “lovely posture.” Ballet lessons throughout my childhood helped to instill good posture into my muscles so it feels more natural to stand and move gracefully.
There are many things in our daily life that conspire to create bad habits with posture. So much of our day is spent rounding our shoulders forward as we work at a desk, drive a car, look at our phones, and even how we exercise (think cycling). We are often weak in our upper back and core muscles, which can intensify poor posture habits and bring our spine out of alignment.
Nearly 70 years ago, experts were so concerned about the posture muscles of American youth that the results of a survey comparing American children with European children helped in the creation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. Here are the results, as published in the New York State Journal of Medicine – you can see that over half of American children failed the tests (which included exercises for the abdominals and back) Read the entire article, including illustrations on page 212 in this digitized journal on archive.org:
Can you imagine what the percentage of ALL children may be today, post-COVID?
What is good posture?
Good posture should feel natural, not forced, although it may feel a bit uncomfortable at first. The way that I teach posture in a barre class is to have participants imagine:
- the crown of your head reaching toward the ceiling
- eyes level
- your shoulders softening away from your ears
- arms relaxed and loose at your sides
- belly button drawn back
- softness in the knees
- feet evenly weighted on the ground
What are the benefits of good posture?
The effects of good posture break down into both psychological and physical benefits. You have most likely experienced the ill effects of BAD posture but have you ever experienced the beautiful benefits of GOOD posture?
- deeper breathing (= calmer mind!)
- better alignment of bones and joints
- improved muscle engagement
- appearing taller
- reduction in back and neck pain
Good posture also affects us in psychological ways and has an effect on how others see us. Graceful posture demonstrates confidence and happiness. When we feel sad or lack confidence we often try to make ourselves physically smaller and round our shoulders forward.
Joe Navarro, retired FBI agent and body language expert, has a pretty terrifying blog post about his work with criminals and how they chose victims based on how weak they appeared including their arm swing (passive or subdued). Confident posture and gait can help us in ways we may not think of.
Exercises that can help build better posture
Remind yourself throughout the day to stand tall, lengthen the spine, and allow your shoulders to soften! You can also work on posture in exercise classes like barre and core training. Doing exercises to strengthen the upper back muscles (especially pulling movements like rows and reverse flys) can help. Moves like Bird/Dog, which engages both core muscles and upper-back muscles are helpful to strengthen while simultaneously keeping length in the spine.
Stretching out the chest can provide relief and counterbalance the forward flexion that we do most of the time. Try placing a core ball behind your shoulder blades, extend your legs in front of you, arms wide and head gently resting on the mat – this is a wonderful stretch to expand the ribs and allow deep breathing. Yoga moves like baby cobra and camel can also be useful for opening up the front of the body.
How would you rate your posture? Let me know where you are at and if there is anyone whose posture really stands out to you!