What if I told you there was no such thing as ideal or perfect posture? That your best posture is your next posture? Does that conjure up a feeling of relief or one of confusion or even indigence? In this post I will briefly go over common posture myths and their corresponding truths.
Myth #1 Sit or stand still in the right place. Good posture requires you to maintain the "correct" position.
Firstly, there is not ideal posture that fits everyone needs as we are all different shapes and sizes with a range of bone structure configurations. Secondly, any posture will become uncomfortable and put strain on your body in a short period of time if held in place. Yes, even "good" posture.
Truth #1 Good posture requires movement
The recommendation is to change positions ever 30 minutes or so. And yes, that can even include some slouching! A more neutral position, one that has your head lined up with you rib cage and your rib cage lined up with your pelvis will of course put less stress on the body, however, MOVEMENT IS KEY.
Myth #2 Sit and stand up straight
We've all heard it. Sit up straight, uncross your legs! Chest out, shoulders back, head up! But what does this do to our anatomy when this well meaning adage becomes the holy grail of proper posture?
In the first section, we established that good posture is less of a static state and more of a dynamic one. So what dynamic or direction do we want our bodies to be in? One that embodies length and width.
What exactly does this mean?
Check out the photo below. Which one would you consider to be good posture?
Trick question, they're both not great. In the picture on the left, it's obvious that this posture is shortening the spine into a more flexed position and rounding the shoulders. Clearly not optimal length and width for the body. And yet, the picture on the right, where this person is forcing herself to stand up straight and not optimal length and width either. By contracting her shoulder blades and extending her rib cage, she is shortening the back line of her body into extension. This is just trading one poor posture for another. What's the solution then?
Truth #2 Good posture is neutral breathing posture
One of Dr. Ida Rolf's most famous quotes is "The body is a soft machine wrapped around breath." Breathing is arguably the most important thing we do and it is the movement our body does the most, regardless if we are sitting, standing, or laying down. Breathing needs to be done well and it's why the goal of the first session in the 10 series is to "free the breath."
Efficient breathing and posture are mutually exclusive. They cannot be separated. Proper or efficient breathing occurs when the head is neutral to the thoracic aperture, when the rib cage is neutral to the pelvis (therefore respiratory diaphragm is neutral to the pelvic floor/diaphragm). Also known at the Zone of Apposition. You can nerd out on that here. When all this happens, your spine is in full length and you can expand the width of your rib cage easily when you inhale. Your body is in a relaxed state and your core stabilizers are effectively doing their job maintaining your relationship with gravity.
Myth #3 Pull your shoulders back
This should almost be a no brainer at this point with everything I've discussed so far but since it's such a ubiquitous farce, I'm going to go over it in more detail.
You've probably heard this postural cue at some point in your life: Pull your shoulders back, squeeze the blades together, and put them in your back pockets. Stand up and try it on for size. After you get yourself into that position, try to take a breath in. I'm guessing it was a little challenging. That's because this position diminishes that optimal length and width I talked about in the previous section. Pulling your shoulders back pulls the rib cage into immediate extension and limits 3-D expression of the breath. It also creates tension in the upper back and neck.
Truth #3 Heal your posture by balancing and optimizing shoulder girdle strength
The front of your body needs to be balanced with the back of your body. A common postural orientation I see is forward head posture or upper crossed syndrome.
The solution lies in releasing the tight muscles and strengthening the weak/inhibited muscles. Check out the video below for some exercises to help with this condition.
Myth #4 Squeeze your butt!
Squeezing our glutes has a tendency to tuck the pelvis into a posterior tilt up underneath the rib cage however this stabilization isnt using the correct muscles which are the deep abdominals and pelvic floor. In addition, by using our glutes in this manner, they are not readily available to do their actual job of stabilizing the pelvis when we are standing or walking.
Truth #4 Let your glutes relax and strengthen your core muscles instead
Core stability is the coordination and neuromuscular control that allows for dynamic stabilization of the rib cage, spine, and pelvis while also allowing for movement of the arms and legs under various conditions. The true core muscles include the respiratory diaphragm (above), the pelvic floor (below), multifidus (back), transversus abdominus (front). When these muscles are coordinated, optimal alignment, dynamic movement, and proper breathing can be achieved. My favorite way to wake up core muscles is by engaging in a balance practice. Using a bosu ball* is a great way to do that.
Myth #5 Poor posture leads to pain
Funny thing about pain is that it is a very complex human experience that is influenced by stress, emotions, world view, injuries, etc. I've had people in my practice who have good alignment be in more pain than someone with a less optimal configuration. There is no wrong position to be in, it is only damaging when your body is in a static position for too long.
Truth # 5 Tension, compression, and stress create pain
Tension and stress accumulate in the body. The more time we stay in a static position, the more tension and compression we experience in our bodies. Muscles get over and under used and our bodies gets fatigued. Movement helps release the grip of tension can restore vitality and resiliency. Stress presents itself in many forms be it emotional, mental, physical or even nutritional. Proper breathing and breath work remains at the top of the list of ways to reduce stress. Sleeping enough, engaging in varied movement, and eating well are all ways to reduce stress in our lives.
Below are some of my favorite books about posture and movement.