In our last newsletter, we looked at some Mee Maw wisdom - about how what you do or don’t do during the day is talking to your body, teaching it how to grow and change. This time, let’s focus on one specific example - posture. Because, of course, when Mee Maw told you to stand up straight, she wasn’t just nit picking you.
In massage school, we’re taught to imagine the body as a tall building that stays upright because of two things - bones and muscles. Without bones, we would be a moving blob on the floor. Without muscles, we would be a completely useless heap of bones of the floor. But with both working together, we can stand, walk, reach out for and carry things.
Any one year old child will tell you that it’s a miracle we can balance all our weight, let along groceries, on two comparably tiny feet. The key to this miracle of balance is balance - muscle to bone, from side to side, front to back, top to bottom, and even diagonally. Our muscles and bones have a set way they are supposed to hold tension against each other. That’s what we call optimal postural alignment, or simply - good posture.
When we use bad posture over a long period of time our bones and muscles are more and more pulled out of balance, out of proper alignment. We begin to feel chronic muscle and joint pain, a gradual loss of mobility and range of motion. Even our organs can be affected.
For instance, when you slump forward, bringing your chest closer to your stomach than it should be, you compress your lungs and diaphragm, making it impossible to take a complete breath, to get rid of carbon dioxide, and bring in all the fresh oxygen your body needs.
Being able to take full breaths can aid relaxation, stress relief, confidence, and clear thinking. But, if the compression gets bad enough, your stomach and esophagus can be affected, leading to indigestion symptoms like acid reflux.
At the same time, the muscles along your back are being pulled and stretched longer than they want to be. When you’re sitting down, this also happens to your glutes and hamstrings. The over-stretching can cause the muscles to tighten up, a reflex to protect themselves from injury. Eventually, the muscles will weaken due to the constant strain, stress, and over-use. As the muscles along the back of the body weaken, using them for good posture becomes even harder.
And that’s how a few weeks/months/years of over work becomes the vicious cycle that leads to chronic back pain, slumped posture, rounded shoulders, and possibly even permanently stooped posture in your elderly years begins.
Lucky for us, we can work to fix this. It begins by paying attention to your posture. Checking in with your body throughout the day. At work, at home, in a restaurant. Over and over again until it becomes a habit.
When you notice your self slumping forward, to one side, or holding your shoulders up to your ears from stress, take a minute. Stretch your neck. Hold yourself upright with a strong back. Relax your shoulders down and take a deep breath. Enjoy the feeling of good posture before going back to work. Doing this over and over again will eventually make adjusting your posture second nature. Along with regular exercise, stretching, and massage, before you know it, you’ll be using better posture all the time. Good luck!