When we were kids, we were told to stand or sit up straight, or to stop slouching. We pushed our shoulders back and put our chest out, thinking this was the proper posture. After all, our backs were no longer hunched and the grownups left us alone. But a few seconds pass and we’re slouching again.
No one ever told us that the shoulders-back-chest-out position isn’t actually good posture; it’s just a reversal of the problem. And we were probably never told this because not a lot of people know what good posture is. Scientists are still finding that out themselves!
So far, these are the basic ideas. “Good posture is balanced posture,” according to Wendy Katzman, an associate professor of physical therapy and rehabilitation science at U.C. San Francisco. “The head is over the torso, which is over the pelvis.” That sounds simple enough, right?
For Esther Gokahle, a posture expert and the author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, good posture shows a J-shaped spine, rather than an S-shaped one. A J-shaped spine is flat at the back, then curves at the bottom and sticks the butt out. “The J-shaped spine is what you see in Greek statues. It’s what you see in young children. It’s good design.” Esther had suffered from back pains until she was able to work on getting her spine to a J. Gradually, the pain went away.
This J-shaped spine seems difficult to achieve, especially when our spine already curves like an S. But it’s imperative we strive for the proper posture.
Good posture has mental health benefits that fight stress, since our bodies are “aroused”—their pulse pressures and cardiac output rise. It also improves our breathing that relieves us from muscular tensions.
If we’re slumped, our bodies feel a bit more helpless, and negativity comes easily. More than that, bad posture puts us at risk of back pain and shoulder and knee injuries, because we are essentially hurting our spine when we slouch. It then makes our balance poor and endurance low, too.
Good posture doesn’t seem to come easy for us anymore. We’ve gotten used to slouching (from the poorly designed rocking chairs and other chairs we sat on when we were growing up), so we’ve made a habit out of it.
Like Esther, though, we can have a good posture once again. And that’s mostly through exercise. We need strong core muscles to keep ourselves upright. That said, the exercise you want to be doing is the plank. Try to do it daily for at least 10 seconds, then gradually try to hold it for a minute.
For the whole lot of us who spend the day seated, Keri Pegram, UCLA’s physical therapist, advises us to find our sitting bones. “Make sure you are sitting on them, and not your tailbone. Your tailbone should feel like it is behind you.”
We need to also be mindful of our bodies. We should always keep the spine long as much as possible, so that it stays aligned. If we find ourselves slouching, we must pull ourselves upright at once.
What would help us keep that proper sitting position, apart from a strong core, is a support cushion or pillow. It guides us in keeping the proper position without tensing or straining our back.
So here's your to-do list tomorrow: Prop a pillow on your office chair, and do 10-second planks after work!
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