Monday, January 7, 2013

Find Your Way to Effortless Posture

By David Friedman DC and Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

How do you feel about your posture?
Isn’t it funny how just hearing the word “posture” causes a certain amount of stress and anxiety? Do you automatically try to fix or correct your posture when you hear that word, only to wonder if you finally have it right this time? Maybe you feel self conscious about your posture? Maybe you even feel bad about yourself, because you have been told over and over that you need to fix your posture, but you just can’t. Perhaps you have been able to achieve “good posture” for a short period of time, but eventually slipped back into your established pattern. Well, you aren’t alone. All of us have experienced the frustration to trying to achieve perfect posture.

Stand up straight, suck in your stomach, stop slouching! How many times have you heard these instructions? That is the mantra of the “posture police”, the well meaning but sometimes misinformed people that are trying to help you. The truth is, you can’t improve your posture by hearing these words and following this advice. Simply trying to do what you think you should do can impair what you could do. You might find that you just can’t stand up straight. It’s too difficult, it’s exhausting or you have to work too hard. You may even become so confused that you are rendered into immobility.

Perhaps you have given up, somehow buying into the belief system that you have always had bad posture, and you always will. So much of our self image and how we feel about ourselves revolves around how we look and how we carry ourselves. If you are self conscious about how you look because of your posture, it can have a huge negative impact on your self image. Maybe your posture has deteriorated over the years, and you believe that is an inevitable result of the aging process. Again, this has a negative effect on your self image, leading you to believe that you are aging, losing flexibility and unable to change. This is absolutely not true.

You can improve your posture is important for good health. How you stand and walk is part of your appearance and self image, and how you are perceived by the rest of the world. Good posture is youthful, energetic and confident. And the good news is, you can easily change and improve your posture by doing a few simple movement explorations every day.

What is good posture?
Good posture is effortless. No, this isn’t a typo. It’s the truth. And the key to effortless posture is to let your spine support you. Our spines are designed with natural curves that support us during all of our weight bearing activities. Sometimes, our ideas about finding good posture cause us to try and change these natural curves. We can easily become confused by the advice and corrections we get from the “posture police”, which may cause us to try and force ourselves into abnormal positions, resulting in even more postural dysfunction.

One of the most popular myths about good posture is the “military posture”, which is sometimes held up as the standard of the ideal postural alignment. “Pull your shoulders back; tuck your chin; suck in your stomach; squeeze your buttocks.” It’s difficult to even breathe in such stance, let alone move. This is a prefect example of trying to change our natural curves, and trying to do what someone tells us to do instead of learning to feel what we do. Following this advice, our muscles work hard to hold us in positions that are unnatural. The result is abnormal alignment, muscle imbalances, back and neck pain, joint deterioration, fatigue and a progressive decline in structural alignment. So much for the military posture.

We often think of posture as a static position. That is, a standing position that is held still, without movement occurring. That isn’t the case. Good posture allows for constant movement and change within our environment, without stain or excess effort. Our environment doesn’t remain still; why should we? Good posture allows for easy movement and adjustments to our ever changing dynamic environment.

As I have previously stated, good posture is effortless. You stand and walk more comfortably. Your muscles have the proper tone and balance. You have more energy and endurance. You have better standing balance and dynamic balance, because your center of gravity is directly over your base of support. Your bones become stronger due to the correct line of stress on your bones in weight bearing activities. You stand taller, and you look longer and leaner. You breathe easier and more deeply. Your internal organs are not compressed and they can function better.

There is more good news. You don’t even have to “suck in your stomach.” When you are standing properly, your abdominal muscles automatically work correctly, and will gradually become stronger and flatter. As an added bonus, effortless posture is graceful and elegant. You appear more youthful, energetic and confident.

How can you improve your posture?
The most effective way to achieve effortless posture is through gentle movement explorations that you can do for yourself at home. Here are three simple, basic movements explorations based on the principles of The Feldenkrais Method® to help you find your way to effortless posture.

1. Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You may need a small pad or folded towel under your head to support you. Don’t use a pillow; it will be too soft.

Simply feel what it is like to lie on the floor. Slowly bring your arms out to the sides and slightly above your head with your elbows bent. Don’t force anything; just allow gravity to gently stretch the front of your shoulders. You will also get a passive stretch to your thoracic spine and front of your chest, Just a few minutes will help you bring your head, neck, shoulders and thoracic spine into a more neutral position. Notice the change in the length and shape of your spine when you stand up and walk.

2. Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet firmly on the floor. Take a moment to feel your sit bones against the surface of the chair.

Keeping your focus on your sit bones, slowly begin to rock your pelvis forward and backward, Notice how your spine changes shape as you move. Notice how your head responds with the movement of your pelvis. It’s important to move slowly and pay close attention to yourself and how the weight of your sit bones change against the chair as you move. Make the movement smaller and smaller until you find a place where you feel your sit bones are firmly contacting the chair and your spine can support you. Again, notice the shape of your spine and the position of your head when you stand up and walk.

3. Stand with your feet comfortable apart. Slightly bend your knees. Now really straighten your knees. Slowly go back and forth from bending your knees to straightening them. Notice the change in the shape of your back, and notice when your back feels tense and when your back feels relaxed. Notice how the position of your head changes as you bend and straighten your knees. Remember to move slowly and really pay attention to yourself as you move.

Find the position where your knees feel the most relaxed and slowly shift your weight side to side. Again, notice how that feels on your back. Stop, walk around the room a bit and notice the shape of your spine.

Doing these simple movements intermittently during the day will help you find your way to better posture and better health. Changing your position from standing, lying down and sitting helps you feel your spinal curves while you change your relationship to gravity. Moving slowly and paying attention to the quality of your movements helps you become more aware of your postural habits. Approaching the movements without judgment, but in the spirit of interest and curiosity provides the opportunity for self education to emerge. Through the process of your own self education, your posture will slowly begin to change and improve. Since these changes come through your own learning process, new patterns of movement and new postural habits will become automatic. You will feel and look taller, younger, more confident, have more energy and less aches and pains. Experience The Feldenkrais Method® and find your way to effortless posture.

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