Hello friends, and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter.
Let’s start off with a question, and I hope you’ll give me an honest answer. Right now as you sit and read this, how’s your posture? Even before I typed that question I shifted my body to get into better posture. Having someone ask you about your posture can make you feel uncomfortable, I get that.
I can’t help but notice people’s posture. After walking through the park earlier this week and looking at people and their posture, it dawned on me that in all the years of writing Joyinmovement newsletters I’ve never taken an in-depth look at this topic. And it’s such an important one, so let’s get started. First we’ll talk about proper posture, and in the second part of this letter we’ll talk about how to improve your posture.
What I’ve noticed most these past few years is that even kids’ posture is beginning to look a lot like the posture of someone much older. You know which posture I mean, it’s the rounded shoulders and upper back, and the chin jutted forward posture. It’s called tech neck or text neck.
“The term ‘text neck’ has become increasingly prevalent in describing the effects of extensive phone use,” says Jennifer Ruoff, M.S., director of Occupational Therapy Clinical Services for Fox Rehab. “Text neck describes the tendency for people to tilt their head and neck down toward their phones when they are in use. The stress caused by bending your neck at this angle carries down and increases pressure on your spine and can push the ligaments beyond their limit. Over time, the ligaments and tissues around the spine begin to break down and spinal discs can become pressed, causing pain and a change in the spine’s overall pattern.”
A forward-head posture affects the neck, upper back, chest and shoulders. The rounding of the low back and tucking of the pelvis results in hip dysfunction. When the upper-back muscles are excessively rounded forward, the effect on the chest muscles is a shortening and tightening. This misalignment is not only muscular. It also places an excessive load on joints, as well as leading to such conditions as disc degeneration, spurs, and bursitis.
Poor posture also affects the internal organs and their function. Compression on the abdominal organs adds to general dysfunction of these vital organs and their ability to function efficiently. Though this analogy may sound simplistic, think of your chest cavity as what’s under the hood of your car. All the parts of your car engine need to have sufficient space to function well and the same is true for your internal organs. They need enough space to function properly, too!
What Does Proper Posture Look Like…and How Do You Get It?
Proper posture shouldn’t look like you’re in military formation of chest up and shoulders back. Essentially, when standing, think “ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, and knees over ankles.”
For sitting think of a neutral posture. Neutral is where you find yourself sitting on sit bones and your spine feels the most lifted and supported. In this position you will feel the abdominals and spinal stabilizers gently engage. This is a sure sign you are in good alignment. Once we slouch, access to these muscles is limited.
Because we spend so much time sitting, the hip flexors shorten, as do the pectoral muscles due to hunching over, making them tight. This posture lengthens and weakens the muscles in the back, as well as the gluteals. This leads to poor movement patterns, compensations, and potentially pain and injury.
So whether you’re trying to prevent poor posture or correct it, the process is similar: Open up the front of the body and strengthen the back side of it.
Daily Habits to Help Improve Posture
Aside from strengthening and stretching, there are other daily habits that can be worked into your routines. If you sit a lot I’d recommend you get this book. Don’t be fooled into thinking sitting doesn’t take a toll on your health!
First and foremost you want to prevent hunching throughout the day. This might mean positioning your devices at eye-level or slightly above because this can help you proactively avoid slouching or hunching toward your device. Most importantly, become body-aware and make adjustments throughout the day to improve your posture. I’ve mentioned before that often I’ll chose to stand when I work on my computer.
When holding devices, such as phones and tablets, try to lift them to your eyes, rather than dropping your neck. Doing this may feel strange at first, but you can actually build strength doing this. And it sure is better for your posture.
Whether you have a standing desk or a traditional seated one, it’s important to set it up so that it’s ergonomically beneficial. Make sure your chair is set up so that your elbows are supported at 90 degrees and your knees are stacked with your ankles. Keep your keyboard height even with your elbows, and eyes at arm’s length from your screen. At a standing desk, tilt your monitor back 10 to 20 degrees, use an anti-fatigue mat, and wear shoes with proper arch support.
You can get very creative with ergonomics. As I type this I am seated on a couch, but to have my computer in perfect ergonomic relationship to my eyes and arms I have it on a pillow on my lap. I have one pillow that works well for this.
It’s true that while the time spent on devices can certainly be a strain on the body, this is not a completely new posture for humans. Historically we’ve done many things that are in a similar position, including crafting jewelry, pottery, sewing, knitting, puzzles, reading a book, and driving. However, our lifestyles have changed. We used to spend more time moving, playing and being generally more active, which can help negate some of the postural effects of chronic device use, and would also naturally limit our time on the devices.
More formal exercise and stretching certainly helps, but that alone may not be enough to counteract six or seven hours a day at a desk, or the average of three hours a day in forward-head posture staring down at our devices. Our daily habits, work position and repeated movement patterns are critical. My Z-Health teacher and mentor, Dr. Eric Cobb, always says, “What we do most wins! We are training every single moment of every day.” The most beneficial thing we can do is to learn how to live in good posture and alignment.
Exercises to Improve Posture
To strengthen the upper back and rear deltoids: consider any exercise that involves scapula retraction, including any variation of the ROW.
To strengthen the low-back and gluteal muscles: consider exercises that involve hip extension and abduction, as well as back extension and isometric core work, including planks, superman, bridging, and squats with hip abduction.
To open up the chest: think scapular retraction: wall or doorway stretch, child’s pose, and lying supine on a stability ball with open arms.
To help release the hip flexors: kneeling hip flexor stretch, supine hip flexor stretch, and bow pose variation.
I hope this month’s newsletter not only draws your attention to your posture, but gives you plenty of ideas for improving your health through improving your posture. And don’t forget to take a look at this book. I recommend it to all my students and clients because we all need to stand up for ourselves!
Until next month, make March a great Joyinmovement month,
P.S. You can support my work by purchasing one of my books, subscribing to one of my newsletters, reading about my travel adventures, taking a look at some of the products and services I use and recommend, contributing directly, doing your Amazon shopping via this link and/or telling a friend about it. Your support makes all the difference in ensuring I can continue to create and share things I believe in. Thanks so very much!