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Exercise

Standing Tall: May Is Posture Month

Do you know what it feels like to stand with good posture?  Our grandparents knew the importance of standing tall, and now science is catching up.  In “Slouch at Your Own Peril: Hunching at Work Leads to Hunching All the Time,” the Wall Street Journal reported on new studies showing what chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons know: Posture is the 800lb gorilla when it comes to health and wellness1.

With more of us developing a permanent slump from sitting behind a computer, smartphones and texting, posture is gaining new recognition as a growing health problem. Sitting is a bent posture, literally folding the torso over the pelvis. Texting locks the hands together causing the shoulders to roll inward. The combination means chronically tight back, neck and chest muscles.  Plus, as we get older gravity combines with muscle imbalances to make people feel and look older than they really are.

If you spend your day with folded posture, suffer with back pain or live with aching shoulders and neck, you may want to do some work re-balancing your body.  The posture solution professionals recommend begins with learning how to stand tall. And while awareness is the beginning, if you’ve had a back problem improving posture takes more than thinking about it.   Retraining posture patterns requires stretching the tight areas and strengthening the neglected ones.  And don’t forget to also look at the ergonomics of how you interact with your sitting, standing and sleeping environments.

Posture Reality Check

To observe and benchmark what the world sees when you think you’re standing straight, today’s posture exercise professionals take a standardized posture picture. People can do this themselves with a phone camera and a friend. Just stand tall, and snap a few pictures. One each from the front, back and side.  A clean background like a door can approximate the posture grids used by the pros.

How to Stand Tall

When most people try to “fix their posture” they just pull their shoulders back. The problem is they can’t hold the position for more than a minute (which is just as well because they’re nearly always doing themselves more harm than good). When you pull your shoulders back the head juts forward into forward head posture (FHP).  Also known as tech-neck, it’s precisely the problem caused by too much texting and typing. Especially when there’s a posture problem, you want to first stabilize the pelvis – addressing posture by only repositioning the shoulders usually makes body alignment worse.

Your body is accustomed to moving how it’s been trained, so the challenge begins with learning the feeling of stronger alignment. Posture is about balance, not just about being straight.  No matter how crooked someone’s posture is, as long as they are vertical – the body is balancing.  Posture is the sum total of what you are doing with your each part of your body individually -head and shoulders, belly and hips – to keep from falling down.

The key to improving posture is aligning each body region, or PostureZone.  Muscle stress and joint strain is minimized when the head is well balanced over the torso, the torso over the pelvis, and the pelvis over the feet. Like a stack of children’s blocks in a tower, better PostureZone® alignment strengthens stability and control, as well as reduces the risk of injury.

Next is retraining your body’s perception to true reality, one PostureZone at a time. Yoga practitioners have taught this kind of mind-body focus for thousands of years, but you can start now with this 5 step exercise taught by posture expert, Dr. Steven Weiniger and posture specialists globally who teach StrongPosture® exercises.

5 Steps to Standing Taller

Focus and take one slow deep breath during each of these 5 steps (Adapted from Dr. Steven Weiniger’s book, Stand Taller Live Longer):

1- Stand Tall:  Not Stiff.  Relax, and lengthen or float your head toward the ceiling.

2- Ground your feet: Slowly come up onto your toes, and then your heels. Roll your feet out, and then in. Press all four corners of your feet into the ground.

3- Center your pelvis: Arch your low back and then tuck your pelvis. Find the center point as you lengthen your spine.

4- Open your torso: Lift shoulders up, and roll them back. Keep your neck lengthened and head tall as you pull your shoulders back down.

5- Level your head: Look straight ahead, and tuck your chin slightly to keep it level.

Continue to focus on standing taller as you take each of these 5 slow breaths, being aware of each PostureZone. Repeat 2 or 3 times a day, and don’t be surprised when you feel lighter and your chest feels more open. After a few weeks others will often notice a difference as well.

Your Sitting Posture Environment

Improving your sitting environment begins with becoming aware of your alignment.  An expensive ergonomic chair is a waste when it’s not adjusted to keep you aligned.  Pay extra attention to the tilt of your pelvis, it’s the base you’re sitting on.  A forward tilt helps align the pelvis squarely under the torso for best mechanics in the lumbar spine and discs.

Many better designed chairs have adjustments for this, plus there are affordable sit-on-top supports (we like the SitSmart Plus from BackJoy) to optimize how the pelvis is cradled. Back supports you lean back against haven’t been shown to help long-term, and some believe that these may add to sitting problems by holding the spine in a curve without engaging the muscles you need to stay tall.

Posture is an under-appreciated aspect of health, and one you can do something about. May is Posture Month, so now’s the perfect time for a posture picture reality check. Be sure to note how your PostureZones are aligned, and then file the pictures away to compare to next year’s posture check. Begin working towards improvement with the steps outlined above and start standing and sitting taller to look better and feel younger.

Dr. Steven Weiniger, posture expert, speaker and author lectures globally on improving posture for longevity, health, pain relief and aging well. He has trained thousands of physicians and therapists to become Certified Posture Exercise Professionals, posture specialists who teach StrongPosture® protocols. He authored Stand Taller Live Longer, An Anti-Aging Strategy, Contact Dr. Weiniger at BodyZone.com