You know, if you stood and sat up straighter, you’d look taller and thinner. And who doesn’t want that? But there’s a lot more to posture than just how you look from the outside.
“Slumping compresses the front of the body and weakens the back, which leads to musculoskeletal problems. It also impedes breathing and digestion, especially as we age,” says Judi Bar, a yoga therapist and yoga program director for the Cleveland Clinic. In fact, sitting and standing well are as important as eating well and exercising, says Bar.
Making the Change
But how do you begin to fix poor posture? The first step to improving your posture is letting go of the idea that it’s either standing at attention — with the shoulders back and chest puffed out — or having a stick-straight spine associated with ballerinas. Instead, make alignment your goal, Bar says. There are curves in the spine and curves in the body that will make the appearance of posture slightly different for everyone, but certain points remain constant.
Tips for proper alignment while sitting:
• Rest your feet flat on the floor, toes pointing forward, with three to four
inches between the feet.
• Sit on the edge of your chair seat; your spine supports itself instead of resting on the seat back.
• Set knees at hip height (the height of the chair may need adjusting, or you may need to put a step stool under your feet to raise your knees).
• Pull your navel in slightly, which lengthens the tailbone and takes excess curve out of the lower back.
• Keep your ribs resting close to the spine, not jutting out.
• Make sure your ears are directly above your shoulders, and that your shoulders are in line with your hips.
Tips for proper alignment while standing:
• Keep your feet flat on floor, toes pointing forward, with three to four inches between the feet. Weight is centered between the heel and the mid-foot.
• Keep your knees firm but not locked.
• Make sure your hips are stacked over the center of your ankles and that your rib cage is stacked over your hips.
• Stack shoulders over the center of your rib cage, with your ears directly over your shoulders.
4 Posture-Perfect Exercises
If your posture has been off-kilter for a long while, your muscles may need lengthening and strengthening to enable you to support yourself. Bar recommends these four exercises to help you along:
Wall Stand: Stand with your heels one to two inches away from a wall and your buttocks, back, shoulders and back of head resting on the wall. Benefits: This gives you a visceral experience of being able to draw a plumb line through the ears, shoulders, ribs and hips. “We all have a tendency to lean too far forward when we stand. This shows you how far back you need to go to come into alignment,” says Bar.
Easy Backbend: Standing in alignment (tailbone dropped and navel pulling in slightly), clasp your hands behind your neck and open your elbows as wide as they will go. Inhale and lengthen your neck, exhale and begin dropping the weight of your head into your hands. Hold for two or three breaths. Benefits: Stretches and strengthens the upper chest and lower abdomen. Warning: If you experience any pain or strong discomfort, skip this exercise.
Fan Pose: Sit in alignment on the edge of a sturdy, hard-backed chair. Reach both hands behind you and grasp the edges of the seat back as well as you can without bending elbows. Pull your shoulders back as you puff your chest out toward the center of the room. Hold for three long, slow, deep breaths. Benefits: Opens the top of the chest and fronts of the shoulders. Strengthens the core.
Shoulder Rolls/Neck Stretch: Standing or sitting in alignment, place your hands on your shoulders with elbows pointed out to your sides. Draw big circles with your elbows, two or three in each direction. Then, release your arms and place one finger on your chin. Keeping the neck long and the chin parallel to the ground, push your chin back until you feel a stretch. Benefits: Counteracts slumping forward in the upper chest and shoulder region, stretches and strengthens the back of the neck.
While stretches can go a long way toward giving your carriage more lift, truly changing your posture is an endeavor that requires moment-to-moment awareness, new habits and physical changes. These products from the Cleveland Clinic wellness store can support you on your journey to better posture.
Balance Ball Chair
This nontraditional chair forces you to use your core to support yourself and to sit up straight. “It’s a workout in itself,” says Bar.
Yoga for Back Care DVD
Good posture requires strong back muscles and a healthy spine. This DVD featuring Rodney Yee can help you build the strength you need.
Ten Zen Tummy Toners DVD
Building strong abdominal muscles — the goal of this yoga-based DVD — will help you stand tall.
Kate Hanley is a certified yoga teacher, the author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide, and the founder of MsMindbody.com.