"stand up straight and don't slouch" is often not that helpful: many people, asked to stand up straight, adopt a rigid or "held" position which they can't maintain for more than a few minutes, and which can strain a back as surely as any slump.
Children naturally use themselves well but as we get older, a free, natural way of moving gets overlaid by poor habits, particularly habits around your head, neck and back.
You can learn to stop these habits and get back a large proportion of a child's lightness and freedom of movement, right into old age.
When you hear the words "good posture", think of "lightness and freedom" rather than "stand up straight."
Some Fun Reasons to Improve How You Sit, Stand and Move...
Don't just improve your posture because someone's moaning at you! There are some very good reasons to consider improving it anyway.
- Good posture is calm and comfortable. If you have good posture, it is "a joy to move", and you will move more. Moving more keeps you happy and healthy
- Good posture improves your self-esteem
- Good posture is beautiful
- Good posture is athletic and well-balanced
- Good posture is strong and resilient
- Good posture is free and creative. Nothing is illegal so long as it isn't "fixed"
...and the Health Benefits
- Good posture looks after your back and reduces pain
- Good posture improves your circulation, digestion and waste elimination
- Good posture helps your breathing. Asthmatics, for example, have a characteristic "set" in their chest and upper back. There are few asthmatics with good movement in their upper spine. A fixed upper spine prevents you from breathing properly and contributes considerably to breathing difficulties. This condition is habitual, not permanent, and can be unlearned. Many asthmatics can reduce or eliminate their medication as a result
Posture, Movement and Back Pain
Good posture is particularly important now that our way of life doesn't support natural good posture very well. We do less exercise, sit still in front of TVs and computers, and spend a lot of of time sitting in traffic jams.
But our bodies are built for moving. Staying still for long periods is difficult and stressful for us.
It's no surprise, then, that Back Pain is rampant in 1st-world countries, with 80% of American adults suffering from back pain in their lifetime, and nearly 50% of British people suffering from it at least once this year(according to research conducted for BackCare in the UK.) The same research points out that a lot of young people in their 20s are suffering from back pain-- a new trend.
Exercises for Improving Posture
Try these: Find the Bottom of Your Spine, Nodding and Find Your Sitting Bones. Any kind of good work on your back is highly likely to help your posture in the long run. So try anything and everything you find in theindex of self-help exercises.
If you are seriously worried about your posture, seek professional help.
Strengthening and Exercise
Undoubtedly your ability to stand naturally can be affected by how well your muscles and joints are working. Keeping fit and flexible will help your posture.
I'm Worried About My Friend's Posture...
Often a friendly kiss or hug (without advice!) will do more for a person's posture than correcting them. Remember, posture is partly an expression of our emotional state. But if you still need to say something, here's a suggestion:
- It takes time and commitment to make permanent changes in posture. Nobody's posture is perfect. Work on your own posture for a few days. Take a look in the mirror and see if you can see something fixed in your own movement. You could even ask the person whose posture worries you, for advice on yours, as a non-threatening way to broach the subject. No-one can see their own habits clearly
- Second, gently find out if there is something troubling your friend. Don't add to an emotional burden by piling postural advice on a person who's already feeling "down". Their posture may be telling you something valuable about how they're feeling
- Third, after this work on yourself, do you still want to talk to them about their posture? You may find that the need has somewhat diminished, just by waiting
- Read the section on this page called "Some Problems with 'Stand Up Straight!'" before you starting advising your friend
- Finally, broach the subject gently. Say how you've been getting on with the self-help exercises on back-pain-self-help.com, and what they've done for you. Be honest-- was it hard? Have they made a difference?
- Let the sloucher make their own decision
Good luck. I hope improving your own posture helps you to feel better and encourages your friend. Thanks for your concern.
"Stand Up Straight"
Some of the traditional advice on posture is not that good. It's not so easy to give good advice about posture in fact. Let's take a look at that old favourite of parents everywhere, "stand up straight!":
- If a person has injuries or weaknesses in their body structure, it may cause further damage to tell them to "stand up straight". A deeply-curved upper back should not be asked to stand up straight, particularly not if the sufferer has fused vertebrae or a condition such as osteoporosis
- Posture is partly an expression of our emotional state. Make us happy, and we grow in stature. Criticise or belittle us and we tend to slump. So how anxious parents, friends, medics and teachers say "Stand Up Straight," how and when advice is given, can have a huge impact on a person's posture-- before you even get to the advice itself
- Human backs are not straight (and shouldn't be!) A spine naturally has four curves, in the neck, upper back, lower back and buttock. "Stand up straight" is anatomically inaccurate. Your spine is your body's suspension system, and the curves in your spine, much like the springs in a car's suspension, ensure that the body's delicate systems don't get a shock at each step we take
- "Stand up straight" sounds like it's about "looking good." Well, people who use their bodies well often look wonderful, but not everyone who is bent over is "lazy" or has something that can be remedied simply by following postural advice. And not everyone who looks "straight" is free from back pain. You can get back pain from being "over-straight" as well
- It is easy to set up muscle conflict and tension with well-meant advice. If my awareness of my posture is poor, asking me to stand up straight will not improve it. It may lead to "stand up straight" being overlaid on my habitual "poor posture", so that I have some muscles pulling me into a slouch, and others pulling me upright, simultaneously. Two wrong and opposing sets of directions to the muscles where before there was only one!
The Alexander Technique is one of the approaches best known for postural improvement. Alexander Technique teachers usually prefer "poise" or "using yourself well" because most peoples' idea of good posture is unhelpfully rigid. A teacher will help you to think and to notice during everyday movements like sitting, reaching, standing, walking.
One of the great things about Alexander Technique lessons is that they make moving a joy. If moving is a joy, you are more likely to move, and have an active and healthy lifestyle. So if you don't do enough exercise because you don't enjoy it, consider having an Alexander Technique lesson or two and see how you get on.
Physiotherapy, Pilates and Yoga all go about strengthening muscles and freeing joints so as to improve posture and eliminate posture-related pain. These techniques are best overseen by professionals. Some exercises will be unsuitable for people with some back conditions. Your teacher can tell you which, but be careful in groups, where the teacher has too little time to check everybody.