By Jaclyn Forrester
How many of you had your parents or teachers constantly nagging you to “sit up straight”? Weren’t you always wondering why it even mattered? When you’re young, there are far more exciting things to worry about than the length of your spine, but once sports and activities come into the picture kids innately tend to stand taller, focus on accuracy, and recognize the benefits of being stronger and more flexible. Over time, most of us grow out of daily sports events and into adulthood and jobs that increasingly require us to use technology that encourages our bodies to favor a curved-forward position. As our eyes and head look down at phones and computers, our upper back curves and our shoulders roll forward, shortening the muscles in the front body and elongating the muscles in the back body. The ribcage folds in, no longer needing to provide a strong breath for activities such as running and playing sports. The lower back absorbs pressure, which leads to over 80% of Americans suffering from low back pain.
Improving posture seems like a solution that is too simple for all these ills, but here we break down a few key effects of poor posture:
Your breath is controlled by your diaphragm, a (very cool) muscle on the underside of your ribcage. As you inhale the diaphragm lowers, giving your lungs the ability to expand. As you exhale, the diaphragm raises, expelling the air out of the lungs.
With a long spine and supportive posture muscles, your diaphragm is able to lower and raise efficiently. Often we see clients with an exaggerated curve in the thorasic (upper) spine. The ribs attach directly to the spine, and the diaphragm attaches to the ribs. When clients present an exaggerated curve in this segment of the spine, it compresses the diaphragm and it is unable to expand and contract the way it is designed. When the diaphragm can’t work efficiently, it means air is not fully filling or leaving the lungs.
We are seeing this exaggerated curve more frequently due to the evolution of our technology. You walk through a coffee shop and everyone is curved forward looking at their phone or a laptop. It’s everywhere; and it takes work to step away and see the effects.
FUNCTIONALITY OF MOVEMENT
All movement is supported by the trunk, whether you’re running, playing sports, doing yoga, sitting at your desk, or cooking dinner. The spine, your core and your ribcage are all working cohesively to keep you upright. But staying upright and moving efficiently are two very different things. Joseph Pilates said, “you are only as old as your spine feels”, and we agree. The ability to move freely through your spine, to articulate the vertebrae, to have the muscles on either side of the spine to function evenly decreases discomfort and increases the ability to move efficiently with balance and control. These skills are necessary for sports and, as you age, to keep you from falling!
Ability to articulate
This is an important skill but why? Think of your spine like a chain between a truck and a trailer. If the chain is supple, it is able to adjust to pulling, pushing, flexing and extending in a variety of directions. Now imagine if the chain is stiff or has a kink in it. Is it going to have the ability to flex, extend, and adjust? Not easily. Your body’s ability to move freely revolves around the mobility of your spine. It’s important to work slowly and efficiently to keep the spine supple. There is also a need to be aware of how your spine feels and moves. In one of my favorite workshops by Jennifer Gianni, she used the term “take inventory” over and over. I have incorporated that term into my sessions and classes since then - “take inventory”. How do you feel today, how do you feel in this exercise, how do you feel through this movement pattern? Everyday can be different, and it’s essential to evaluate that and adjust your workouts and movement patterns around how you feel.
So how can you improve your posture? The first step is recognizing when you are practicing poor posture; bringing awareness throughout your day and retraining your body. You can create a mental checklist- shoulders round back and down, eye line forward, back of head in line with spine, shoulders stacked over hips. Now, take a few long deep breaths and notice that your body is better able to expand and contract through the ribs. Allow the shoulders and neck to relax. This will likely bring calmness to you as well give your body a better ability to breathe.
The next step is finding balance within the muscles that support good posture. Balance in two primary qualities- even tension, and strength. For example, in order for your shoulders to line up with your earlobe and the crest of your hip bone, the muscles in your chest and in your upper back need even tension. Otherwise one pulls more than the other resulting in your shoulder being pulled forward or back. Similar scenario with strength: if your abdominal muscles are stronger than your back muscles, overtime your abdominals will be overworked and will compensate for the muscles in your back.
Pilates has long been known for focusing on posture, form, and alignment. Finding a reputable instructor to guide you in this work will help you to recognize when you’re practicing proper form and working through the muscles evenly. Keep an eye on our instagram - we’ll be sharing a few of our favorite posture techniques soon!