Your mother was right when she said: “Sit up straight!”
(Chapter 8 from The Zen of Joy http://zenofjoy.com/)
First of all, it is actually easier to have good posture than poor posture. If you have been used to slouching, that may be hard to believe at first. Let’s think it through for a moment. Your head weighs how much? I am told about 25 pounds or just over 11 kilograms.
As an exercise, find something that weighs 25 pounds. If you have a 25-pound dumbbell, that will work. Otherwise, we can choose a briefcase and fill it with books. Be sure to weigh it on a scale to approximate 25 pounds. Even a large purse can be filled with 25 pounds of stuff. Now, carry that around for an hour and notice what goes on in your body. You may find yourself changing the weight from one hand to the other, or even using two hands to carry it. Then, imagine carrying that around for 16 hours. That’s what you are doing when you slouch. The head slouching forward means the muscles in your neck and upper back have to support the weight.
Alternatively, if you position your head so it is directly above the trunk of your body, your neck and upper back muscles don’t have to work as hard. Is this making sense? Somehow, many of us have become “slouches” when it comes to posture. The subconscious belief may be that it is just easier to do that rather than try to be a soldier. Perhaps it is if we consider that a soldier may be required to tense all the muscles in the body to achieve a “military” posture or stance.
This is not about tensing. Rather, this is about positioning and then releasing those muscles or portions of muscles that are no longer required to keep the head from falling to the floor. (You may notice that some of these protocols start to blend into each other. Protocol #8, Posture, uses the same procedure as #2, Lifting Money Worries.)
Let’s do this:
Stand comfortably, feet about shoulder distance apart. Imagine a silk cord at the top and back of your head, pulling your head up. This allows your spine to lengthen easily, effortlessly. It pulls your chin in a little as the silk cord gently eases the spine. Imagine the vertebrae being like pearls on a string, suspended by this silk cord.
Notice any tensions in the neck, upper back, lower back. Allow those tensions to ease. Rock gently back and forth, finding the spot where you are most centred, where you are using the least amount of muscle strength to hold yourself in place. Do the same rocking, this time side to side, again finding the spot where you are using the least amount of muscle to hold yourself up. Breathe gently.
Now, let’s practice how to keep this relaxed posture while walking. Stay focused in the present moment by paying attention to the posture or stance and your breathing at the same time. Stay totally relaxed or as relaxed as you can. Imagine your right foot moving forward one step and your left following it. Continuing to breathe and smile, gently allow your right foot to follow your imagination and allow your left foot to follow. As you do so, feel your connection to the earth. You may choose to continue for a few steps.
Notice how this feels. The next time you are outside, you can choose to walk with this posture/stance and with this visualization of energy preceding your steps and of being connected to the earth as you walk.
Here are some other tips for posture: How to Create Good Posture
- As with anything else, we need good reasons to change long term entrenched habits. So, either a) copy and paste the 7 reasons for good posture (listed below) into a Word document, print them out and put them up where you can see them whenever and wherever you are sitting, or b) write “POSTURE!” on some post-it notes and stick them up.
- Pretend your body is held by a string. This is a tai-chi and martial arts technique and it works like a charm. Pretend that at the top back of your head, there is a titanium cord pulling the spine up. Notice as you do this, that your head naturally rises and your chin comes in a little bit. At the same time, focus on relaxing all your other muscles, especially the neck and surrounding muscles that may be chronically tight from constantly holding the head up. Give them time. This is a lifetime habit being changed, so be easy on them. Over time, you may find those muscles relaxing as they get the message that they no longer need to hold up this 25 pound weight.
- Get a head, shoulder and back massage.If you have always been in a bad posture, you will find that it’s hard to change your posture due to the hardening of your joints. A massage can loosen up those joints, which can make it easier to get into a better posture afterward.
- Eliminate bad habits that cultivate bad postures. This includes watching TV or reading while lying down, sleeping on your stomach and working under dim light, which results in slouching.
- Get a good quality chair, one that has good back support, including supporting the shoulders.
- Place your behind at the innermost edge of the chair. This helps set the right base for your posture. Many people have bad postures because they place their bottoms on the middle or towards the end of the chair. This causes them to lean forward or slouch forward and hunch since there is no support behind their backs to press against.
- Get a back cushion. (Optional) Put it at the back of your chair. Whenever you sit, make sure your back is wedging the cushion against the chair. Whenever you lean forward, the cushion will fall down which will act as a reminder to shift back into your proper posture.
- Ground both your feet when standing or sitting. This means having both feet planted flat on the floor and not resting your weight on a particular foot which is a very common habit. While sitting, try not to cross your legs. This helps to keep the upper part of our body straight.
- Invest in a good bed and pillow. Get a mattress that is firm and not too soft. The soft mattresses, that you sink into, may feel nice and comfy initially, but are not good for your back and posture. For your pillow, consider investing in an orthopedic pillow. The most common is contour pillows which are pillows that arch and support your head.
- Avoid carrying heavy items. The simpl act of carrying heavy items is bad for the shoulders and back. Over time, it can gradually lead to hunched shoulders and backs. If it’s not possible to reduce the load of things you carry around, you can consider getting a trolley bag or roller bag—these are really convenient and are becoming commonplace.
- Re exercise: the usual advice here is to work on strengthening the back muscles. The reality is your back muscles are probably already too strong! This was outlined in Mademoiselle Bertherat’s wonderful little book The Body Has Its Reasons. The suggestion instead is to work on releasing the chronic tension most of us carry in the back muscles just as we do in the neck muscles. Yoga, Tai Chi and Somatics are all forms I have tried and can recommend. Good instruction is vital, so seek out someone who feels right for you. Tip # 19 has more detail on exercise.
- If you have a history of back pain and/or back injuries, it may be wise to get a professional assessment with a trusted chiropractor or physical therapist.
- Take regular breaks when sitting. I have a music CD loaded in my computer. When it stops playing, I stop, get up and get a drink of water or a snack.
- Take a long-term view. You are changing life-long habits. Be easy on yourself. Don’t expect miracles overnight. You may, however, see a miracle over time in more joy, energy and health. Especially if you combine good posture with laughing, smiling and breathing. (LSPB!)
7 reasons for focusing on good posture are:
- It helps you to breathe deeper and better.
- It Increases your concentration and thinking. More air, more oxygen. More oxygen, more brain food. More brain food leads to higher quality thoughts and ideas.
- It helps to keep back pains away. Bad posture, over time, can contribute to risk of slipped disc, back aches, back pain, pressure inside your chest and poor blood circulation.
- You experience less fatigue and less stress. Think about it. Your head weighs about 25 pounds, more or less. If your head is not in its proper place resting easily directly above your body, then your muscles have to support it. Why do you think people get sore neck muscles? Because those neck muscles are supporting a head that is tilted forward, not sitting where it was designed to sit and has to be supported by neck muscles. Constant tension means constant stress. (And you have already heard or read about stress being rated as the number one killer.)
- It supports the best possible muscle performance. Because of optimal biomechanics.
- It creates optimal organ function.Good posture ensures your organs are aligned how they were designed and that can lead to them working more harmoniously together.
- It improves your image.People with good posture look smarter and more attractive. Have you ever seen someone with a bad posture and felt the person seemed unkempt, even though the person has not said or done anything yet? On the flip side, someone with a good posture naturally exudes an aura of assertiveness and appeal.
Your mission for this week, should you decide to accept: Do the Posture Protocol.
More, including free resources: The Zen of Joy 7 Step Coaching. The “How Joyous Are You? Questionnaire:
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