Share freely, compliments of diane@StretchingbytheBay.com:
I’m a Posture Geek (as some of you know). Good posture is a gift you give to yourself to enhance your well-being and avoid a lot of aches and pains and even dysfunction. Good posture makes life easier and your body more comfortable (although it may take a little learning curve to embrace). Various posture blogs have appeared in my newsletter over the years (you can sign up to receive the next one by clicking the newsletter box on this site) but rather than have you dig through old issues to get the info, here’s some basic 411:
If you’re standing, good posture begins with your footprints. Have your weight distributed equally on the balls and the heels, and the inner and outer parts of the feet. Perfect footprints! Imagine your best friend is trying to get a photo of beautiful footprints in the sand, and your feet are creating that imprint 🙂 Emphasize weight on the base of the 1st & 2nd toes (ideally the biggest part of the ball of your foot), esp if you’ve historically had it on the outer edges. Yet keep distribution across for balance and finesse. (BTW, do not stand on the outer edges of feet to counter ‘flat feet’ – it will have an inverse effect, make them worse, and add to other issues. Rather, play strengthening games with your feet such as scrunch balls toward heels and then spread & lift toes; and learn Mattes AIS+S for your feet as well as the rest of your body!)
Building up from that foundation, you want your thighbone directly over your tibia (your main shin bone). For most people, that means you need to stop locking your knees! and gently engage the muscles around your knee joint, with your thigh bone stacked over your main shin bone. And you’ll want more weight on the base of the first two toes (at the ball of your foot) for walking*.
When standing barefoot, I like to ‘strum’ my toes (like you might your fingers) occasionally, to practice free articulation. Try it! If you can’t strum your toes, you probably need more toe & foot AIS 🙂
Neutral pelvis is the next segment up. (It’s important to have your hip flexor’s lengthened and good muscular balance so that you can actually achieve this alignment.) A little curve in the lumbar spine, a tiny curve out behind the heart, a little curve in at the neck (cervical spine), and head resting lightly a top these easily stacked building blocks.
If you have any of the components out of alignment, muscular tension and stress will be the likely result there and/or further up the chain. For instance, if you’ve been a habitual knee-locker, chances are you’ve got forward head which stresses your trapezius. Knee-locking is also likely to contribute to back pain, as it shortens the lumbar region and disengages your abdominals. “Bad posture” is “bad” because it causes or contributes to pain and dysfunction! Some people are born with challenging parts, but so many of you are capable of easy healthy posture – if only you learn it and incorporate it into your daily habits!
It’s my job to make good posture possible and then it’s your job to implement it. By possible, I mean that (for instance) if your anterior neck muscles are too tight (perhaps from vocational stress and/or bad habits), it may not seem possible to establish your optimal cervical curve and get your ears comfortably over your shoulders….but usually it is quite possible and easy once we’ve done the Active Isolated Stretching. Same with relieving back pain and reestablishing your lumbar curve by opening up the (previously tight) muscles in the region.
Seated posture begins with the sit bones. Perch on them, like a bird on a branch. You should have a 90° angle at your hips & knees, or even have your hips a tiny bit higher. Use your core muscles to maintain an upright position. And further up the chain, the muscles of scapular stabilization need to be engaged to keep your shoulders back and your chest lifted. Lengthen out the crown of your head whether you’re sitting or standing!
Breathe deeply in a full circumference, lengthening your spine with each inhale. Expand your ribs to the sides and the back. On the exhale, gently draw your navel into larger spine engaging your transversus abdominis (TA) while keeping your spine lengthened. With practice, this will all become second nature!
Many of you have already transitioned to standing desks – HOW you stand at them matters! Try to have your economic keyboard where your hands can rest comfortably on it with your mouse close by (so you’re not reaching for it). Prolonged laptop use is the worst: thumb-scrolling rounds the shoulders, and the monitor and keyboard are too close together on a laptop for an adult to preserve their structure while using.
Actually, texting posture is usually even worse! Bring your device up to you! (“It’s not that heavy!!”) Put your device in front of your eyes (don’t drop your head towards your hands). Set your shoulder blades in scapular stabilization and use both hands (or use voice dictation like I’m doing now:-)) to text. Don’t think you’re going to be there “just a second” – chances are you’ll be in some awkward biomechanically stressful position many seconds or minutes if you let it happen at all.
Some of you have professions that require you to be in less than optimal postural positions, so do the stretching and strengthening that you need to mitigate the conditions. Remember stretching is a daily requirement! We all have her little challenges whether it’s something we were born with or profession we’ve chosen that comes with the need to balance out the body. Active isolated stretching and strengthening is a great tool for that!
I can’t keep you from taking a hit on the field, but hopefully this will help you prevent the silly pains that are avoidable when you embody good posture:-)
Sleeping Posture is very important! Ideally, sleep on your back with all of your natural curves supported…. have just the right amount of cervical support (no forward-head pushing pillows – just comfortable support for your optimal cervical curve) …. and, until all your hip flexing muscles are restored to their proper anatomical length, you may need a little lift (pillow) behind your calves or thighs (so you don’t create a pinching of your low back due to tight hip flexors – which you can ultimately lengthen with AIS of course)
Belly sleeping is innately hard on your neck (and shoulders); side-sleeping is the hardest on your shoulders (unless you can achieve a 1/3rd angle with lots of props on a pressure relieving mattress).
Back sleeping is best for most people (check w your physician to be sure it’s OK for you) but many people tell me they start on their backs but flip during the night….or they can’t fall asleep on their backs… Here’s how I’ve helped many a former bad-posture sleeper embrace healthier habits: Put yourself in the optimal position (on your back if possible, with a proper height cervical support, etc). Now, if you are feeling vulnerable/exposed/the need for comfort, try placing a weighted body-conforming pillow such as Pure Living’s organic buckwheat pillow on your belly. (it should feel comforting, not compressive – you should be able to breathe easily). Think about – an animal exposes it’s belly to you as a sign of trust! (And if you do have a small pet you can train to sleep on your belly, you may not need the extra pillow!) I’ve helped lots of formerly belly sleepers make a habit of back-sleeping w this ‘trick’ of adding a small slightly weighted pet or pillow on their belly!
Stairs: Zipping up the stairs on tip-toes keeps calves tight and can irritate your knees. Instead, try placing your foot on a step and pressing through your heel, pushing with your glute & hams (while keeping your knee in good alignment). Come to your full body height at each step you use. (Don’t stay flexed at the hip…really anytime you don’t have to!) The pointy part below your kneecap (your patellar tendon) should align with your 2nd toe. this goes for sitting too – because you’ll go from sitting to standing – have good knee alignment, and use the muscles on the back of your thigh and your butt to gracefully rise to your full height.
Going from sitting to standing: If this movement is problematic to your back please get help (contact me and/or your medical team). Meanwhile, incorporate what I said about stairs directly above – use the muscles of your posterior chain (activate your glutes & hams by pressing through your heels) to transition from sitting to standing. And stretch your hip flexors! Preferably with AIS, as it uses the natural reflexes of your body to easily accomplish, this and it feels good. You see, if going from sitting to standing is uncomfortable, there is a good chance that tight psoas, illiacus, rectus femoris, and sartorius are shortening the lumbar region and pulling on your lumbar discs. Even if you want to have excellent posture, it will be difficult to achieve your best posture (or even your full body height!) with your hip flexors compromised (shortened and tight). I can help you rectify this and teach you how to maintain your optimal ROM 🙂
Pelvic tilt (one of my youtube videos) will help you get the strength in your low abs to counter the (years? of) shortened hip flexors. It’s an exercise (and not the position your pelvis should be in normally – I’ve written about neutral spine above).
Walking: easily, with feet parallel, rolling through the base of the great (big) toe… (if it’s hard or impossible for you to get your feet parallel, you probably need external hip ais! I have a youtube for glute ais to get you started…)