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Good Posture : What it Looks Like & Why it’s Important to You

Editor’s Note: When Caitlin and I were recently talking about our days sitting at our desks for work and school, our tendency to slouch over started to creep into our conversations.  Lately, I’ve found myself taking small strides to bettering my posture, but Caitlin is definitely the expert between us on this subject. And with that in mind, I asked her to share her experience here, too!

About two years ago I began focusing on my general wellness. I was on a mission to better myself, including the way I felt and the way I lived my life. While this included adjustments in several areas of my life, I became immediately surprised with how big of an impact bettering my posture had on my overall wellness.  It was a relatively small change that drove big results.

Within this new focus, I came to find that posture was more than how my skeletal structure connected to one another, carrying my muscles and skin around on top. It was how I carried myself into the world at the beginning of each day, how I took on the days contents, and how interpreted each day once it was over.

I noticed that my posture was directly linked to how I felt – psychologically, physically, emotionally. A simple shift in the way I was carrying myself began to pose as a remedy for the most common physical discomforts I had been experiencing. This directly translated to how efficient and effective I was in my work, further bettering the way I generally felt.

Who knew posture was so important? I certainly didn’t!  So then I began to research the true depth of importance posture has on our bodies.

Importance of Posture to the Body

While paying attention to maintaining good posture can lead to large benefits throughout your entire body, there are certain pieces of your system where you’ll notice the biggest change.

  • Posture effects breath. If you are slouching over, you are crunching your lungs and preventing them from expanding all the way. You may also not be able to take a full belly breath.
  • Not getting enough air to your lungs means the same thing for the rest of your body – you’re not getting enough air to your brain, blood, muscles, or limbs. Our breath helps to fuel us!
  • Posture can change or affect the quality of sleep we’re getting each night.  
  • Prolonged, inappropriate posture can result in muscle tension or shifting of the muscular or skeletal structure, which could be incredibly painful and could potentially lead to an injury-like instance in the body.
  • Posture can denote ambiguous and arbitrary pains throughout the body (neck pains, lower back pains, slight headaches) that make you feel just bleh.
  • If you’ve had bad posture for a while, resetting your body for good posture will likely make you sore at the beginning.  (I have actually gone to my chiropractor to help out because my body was so used to my bad postural habits. Eek!)

Positive Postural Habits

When I first decided to start focusing on my posture I had no idea where to even begin. Fortunately, in writing this piece, I was able to connect with a chiropractor of many years who has an affinity for promoting good postural habits. Here are some tips and tricks that he suggested for us to keep in mind. He described that good posture means:

  • Standing with equal weight on both feet.
    • Staying centered is the best way for your body to handle your weight distribution.
  • Keeping your hips square.
  • Bringing your shoulders back, chest up, and your core engaged.
    • The core is where the power to hold your head and brain comes from, while your neck is essentially a wire stand for it.
    • He suggested visualizing your head and shoulder blades (not shoulders) as though they have “hooks” under them pulling them toward the ceiling or sky to achieve this stance.
  • Keeping your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears.
  • Your arms should be kept close to the sides of the body.
    • When using your hands, your arms should be kept relaxed and close to the body, bending only at the elbows, creating a 90 degree angle at the elbow. (Check out the standing desk portion of the diagram below to see your ideal arm positioning in action.)
  • Allowing yourself to breath correctly is key!
    • Be sure to breathe into your belly, assimply breathing into the chest could contribute to poor posture.  
  • Keeping your eyes and neck looking forward as much as you can, and looking down for as little time as you can!
    • This can be tricky with the demands of most of our lifestyles… below we outline some tips you can do to help achieve this!

Forming Good Postural Habits

How we carry ourselves is so important. If you’re like me, you are engulfed in a life that constantly condones and even somewhat forces poor postural habits. Right now I have my laptop on my lap on the couch and I am looking down at the screen, which is horrible for my neck!

Similarly, many of us are constantly partaking in behaviors that are not good for our posture. We’re looking down at our phones, reading textbooks for extended periods of time, writing or typing assignments, or just generally sitting at a desk for hours on end, which can all have unpleasant effects on the body if we’re not paying attention!

It is critical, for the sake of good posture, to battle the set up much of our society has in terms of desks, work space, and even some fashion choices! Although there are many new fads out there to try, we’ve offered some basics that will help you to get started in bettering your own posture, today.

How to Improve Your Posture Right Now

Paying Attention to Your Body for Good Posture

    • Just paying attention is a huge part of forming good posture habits. When you notice you are sitting or standing in poor posture, you have an opportunity to change it!
    • To better figure out how to best notice and adjust your posture, we suggest thinking through:
      • Where am I holding tension in my body? Where am I experiencing pain? When does this pain occur?
      • How do I feel when I’m: holding my phone, reading a book, or looking down at my computer?
      • How do you shift your weight when you’re standing regularly?
      • How do you shift your weight when you’re sitting comfortably, driving, or are riding the bus or train to or from work?
      • How is my breath in this position of poor posture? How is my breath in the position of good posture? Which one feels better to me? Am I taking a full breath into my belly?
    • Adjust yourself to a better position whenever you notice yourself in poor posture!

Get Moving Toward Better Posture

    • Many of us are working jobs where we are stationary for extended periods of time. In my experience, that doesn’t make my body very happy, or my mind very productive!
    • If you have a lifestyle that requires long periods of being still (standing or sitting), it is a good idea to get moving every 45 minutes, even if it’s just standing up to go grab a glass of water to get your blood flowing a bit.
    • Adjust yourself frequently! Move your neck and stretch a little from time to time – the featured image is a favorite stretch of mine to use when I’m at my desk.
    • Take a few seconds and breathe! If you don’t feel comfortable, find a position or place you can be comfortable and in good posture for an extended period of time. While it may feel time consuming in the moment, you’ll likely feel noticeably more productive when you go back to work!

Sleeping Well

(I honestly didn’t know this until I was researching for this piece, but your posture while sleeping can do some serious damage on your body!)

    • Overnight, our body is able to reset itself, including using gravity to realign our spine from any way it’s been contorted throughout the day.
    • As an avid belly sleeper prior to learning this information, I was a little disappointed when I learned this! But, the best way to sleep is:
      • On your back,
      • Arms always below your head by your sides,
      • Hands on your belly is ideal,
      • Without any pillows as these can seriously hurt the natural and appropriate curvature of your neck.

Adjust Your Work Space to Allow for Good Posture

  • Alternative working sites, such as standing desks are great to consider, but you need to make sure that you are holding yourself appropriately so you don’t cause further issue.
  • Below is an awesome diagram outlining ideal posture when standing and sitting in a workspace. As pictured, the height of the desk will be relative to the height of the person. Some ideas for adjusting your workspace (standing or sitting desk) if your desk doesn’t allow you to have good posture:
    • Put printer paper under you monitor to raise it to the correct height.
    • Sit on a yoga/stability ball instead of a chair to allow your body to sit correctly if you don’t have an appropriate chair.
    • Put a small pillow at the base of your back to provide lumbar support.
    • Put printer paper, a textbook, or a stool below your feet if your feet don’t touch the ground when your chair height is adjusted.

Adjust Your Accessories for Better Posture

    • How you carry your bags contents can contribute to our postural journey.
    • Side bags are often adorable, but can be contributing to posture problems.  Carrying a side bag shifts the load to only one side of our bodies, calling upon one side of our body to really over compensate carrying its contents!
    • It is best to use a bag that centers the contents in the center of your back. With this in mind, the best kind of bag to carry your items is a backpack, but the specific one (type, brand, etc) will be different for every body and everybody.  Your backpack should:
      • Stay on the shoulders when your back and chest is up in the appropriate postural stance (without sliding off your shoulders and down your arms),
      • Have enough room in the straps that it does not force the shoulders forward in order to carry the bag contents in the appropriate place (in the center of the back)
    • Try limiting the amount of weight you carry OR the amount of time spent carrying the resources.

While we have only touched on the importance of good posture and how to achieve it, what changes each body can benefit from and how to get to a consistent, good postural stance can be very individualized. We encourage you to pay attention to your body, listening to what you need to better your posture, and how best to do it!

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