Have you ever seen the movie Ex Machina? Well, if you have as much of a girl crush on Alicia Vikander as me and my friends, then you definitely should. Plus, it’s a really great movie.
To the point… at the end of the movie, Alicia walks through a gala in a beautiful, cap-sleeved white dress. Actually, she glides effortlessly, weightlessly, and softly through the party. I remember thinking to myself, what is it about her presentation in this movie and in real life that makes her seem so confident and poised? Then it hit me: her posture is what I would consider perfect. Once you realize this, you can’t help but notice. She’s a dancer, so I guess it makes sense. (Mom, why didn’t you force me to stay in ballet?)
“Posture is an ability to maintain upright symmetrical position of the spine (head, neck, pelvis, and limbs) during static positions such as sitting and standing as well as during movement” according to NYDN Rehab. And according to Harvard Health Letter, “The goal is a neutral, upright spine position — not flexed too far forward or backward.”
Activating our muscles to maintain posture is our body’s way of responding to gravity. To simplify and create a humorous visual, without posture we would just fall over.
While we often relate our health to physical fitness and nutrition, posture is a core component of our well-being and something we should focus on for longevity and vitality. Plus, everyone looks better when they have good posture.
According to the American Chiropractic Association the health benefits of good posture include:
- Ensuring that your muscles are used correctly to prevent degenerative arthritis and joint pain
- Helps your muscles work efficiently by allowing your body to use less energy
- Prevents back pain and muscle strain
- Reduces chances of injury having less stress on ligaments that hold spinal joints together
If you’ve ever felt wrist, shoulder, neck, or low-back pain, poor posture could be part of the problem. These are the most common areas of pain, according to NYDN Rehab.
When your mom used to say “stand up straight” she had good reason. Poor posture contributes to a whole host of health-related problems, including things you might guess like neck pain, back pain, poor balance, headaches, and breathing difficulties, along with a few others that might surprise you like incontinence, constipation, heartburn, and slow digestion — more indications that the entire body is interconnected.
According to Harvard Healthbeat and Verywell Health, good posture is all about balance and making sure that your body is in alignment. Here are a few pointers:
- Keep your abdominal muscles pulled up, in, and tight (hello, abs!)
- Your upper body should be fully upright with shoulders square, pulled back, and down. Be mindful of rounding shoulders, especially if you’re working at a computer.
- Your spine should be neutral so that your back isn’t strained in one direction of the other. Think about how you tuck your hips in a barre class.
- To keep your spine neutral your chin should stay parallel to the ground. It might even feel like you’re tucking your chin slightly.
Now that you’re mindful of these things, you might notice that you can make little tweaks that could make a big difference. I noticed I was always looking up and my low back was slightly arched.
A few months ago, I traveled to Portugal with a friend. Needless to say, we had to capture all of our favorite moments — if you don’t snap it, did it even happen? I gazed out over a beautiful scene of the waterfront in Lisbon as she took a candid — I totally felt like my inner Alicia was shining, effortlessly gliding through this magical city.
Well, much to my horror as I scrolled through our shared album from the trip, I realized that not only was this not a glam shot, I looked like the hunchback of Lisbon. Not exactly the look I was going for.
While this isn’t the first time I’ve been self-conscious of my posture (or lack thereof), it was a huge wake up call. The next sign was more like a fire alarm when my mom told me that she noticed how my head was jutted forward when I was walking.
With this new sense of awareness, I started noticing poor posture — mine and everyone else’s — everywhere I went. It’s no surprise, given our sedentary lifestyle, that many of us suffer from poor posture.
After the big wake up call from my mom and new sense of awareness, I was so self-conscious and realized what an important part of my well-being this is. I want my spine to carry me through life for a really long time, so I decided to see a posture doc. I was ready to prioritize it, so I went to New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy in midtown Manhattan and I learned so much and really loved my experience.
While many of us assume we need to strengthen our core, my docs took a holistic approach that included seeing a chiropractor, physical therapist, and an acupuncturist. I started with an initial consultation where my doc told me that I’m not that bad — instead, I’m just like everyone else. But I also learned that it’s a good thing I went early in my life, because had I waited, my habits could have created a lot of pain.
They also talked to me about all of the things that could be affecting my posture in my daily lifestyle, including stress, weak postural muscles, high-heeled shoes, incorrect working posture, poor cell phone habits, and even rigorous workout classes (I’m looking at you, spin).
During our conversation, my doc also talked about a general lack of education about how our bodies should be aligned, move, and feel, and how awareness of the breath is important contributors to good posture.
Mindfulness was an interesting component of posture. As I became more mindful about my mindlessness, it all made sense. We don’t know what it should feel like, so we move through our days with shoulders rounded, backs arched, and necks jutting out.
Every morning I wake up in some funky position that makes my neck crack. I get ready for the day by throwing a computer, a book, a charger, my lunch, workout clothes, and a water bottle in my bag, and run out the door in a pair of super cute shoes with my bag on one shoulder. If I’m commuting on the subway, I’m usually looking down at my phone or my book, and if I’m in the car, I’m anxiously hunched over the steering wheel. For at least eight hours a day, I am sitting cross-legged staring at a computer. Without even realizing, it I sink lower and lower into my chair. I barely get up to move because I’m so busy, but at the end of the day run to a spin class.
I think you can pick up what I’m putting down here. We move through our day so quickly that most of us don’t pay attention to the position of our body and muscles during activities. It’s not our fault — just like no one taught us how to manage our money in school, no one really showed us how our bodies should be positioned.
After the first appointment, I got fitted with some shoe inserts and then he did a myofascial release exercise where he used his hands to massage and help soften the muscles in and around my armpits and lower shoulders. OMG this hurt, but the release felt amazing. I felt my shoulders soften away from my ears, and they were less rounded by the end of this session. We also focused on taking deep breaths to relax my whole body so the muscles would be less tense.
In my next session, I got the full kit and caboodle with the chiropractor, PT, and acupuncturist. I had a regular chiro adjustment where we also talked about expanding my diaphragm through breathing and rib expansion exercises. I never related breathing to my posture before — so cool!
Then the PT and I worked together on some exercises that would bring my body back into balance. My right side was way dominant. This included some wall sits, these funny little rotation exercises with my legs in tabletop and using a tennis ball to roll out my back.
Finally, the acupuncturist released the muscles in my back and shoulders with the needles and additional cupping. I felt so Michael Phelps.
I’ve been going for about a month, but to be honest, I am not that diligent with my exercises. I hope by writing it here, I become committed again. There’s no magic pill for getting Alicia-worthy posture, but I think the hard work is worth it. In good news, I just saw my mom and she said she noticed the difference.
Are you ready to get out of your slump? Here are a few tips and tricks to work on your posture every day.
Meditate / Develop a Mindfulness Practice
Reading this article was the first step in becoming more mindful, because now you have the awareness that you want your posture to be better. When we’re more mindful about how our body moves and how our muscles are engaged, we’ll be more likely to fix our posture in the moment. There are a lot of resources that can show images about how your posture should be when sitting, standing, and even sleeping.
Back to the diaphragm here. The diaphragm is the main muscle that helps you breathe. When our posture is bad, it can’t work as well because there’s not enough space. Try simple deep breathing exercises. Sit up tall and straight using the tips I shared earlier. Inhale for five, hold for five, and exhale for five.
Get Up and Move
Try your best not to sit all day long. If you have the option, try alternating between sitting and standing. It helps with even muscle distribution.
Sleep Facing Up
Sleeping on your belly can affect your posture during the day. Try to catch your Z’s on your back or on your side with a straight back.
Strengthening your body has many positive effects — not limited to a toned bod! But a strong body can also create better posture. There are many exercises including lunges, planks, and hip raises that can help your posture improve.
If you feel like your posture could use some support, try finding a doctor who specializes in posture so you get a more holistic experience where the results will last you longer.