Posture is the position in which you hold your body while standing, sitting, moving or lying down. Good posture involves maintaining positions that create the least amount of strain on supporting muscles and ligaments, while providing the optimal support and balance for the body. Correct posture is essential since poor posture will cause, or contribute to, specific pain patterns in the body. From an oriental medical perspective, healthy posture is very important. It allows the energy of the body to flow unimpeded. Poor posture may cause an interruption in the flow of energy – much like a kink in a water hose can interrupt the flow of water. There is a famous saying in Chinese medicine that states “There is no pain if there is free flow; if there is pain, there is no free flow.” So it is important to develop proper posture in order to decrease the risk of pain.
Some of the benefits of healthy posture include:
- Aligns bones and joints so that muscle movement is balanced.
- Helps decrease wear and tear on joint, thereby reducing the risk of arthritis.
- Decreases the stress on the ligaments.
- Promotes muscles balance on both sides of the spine, reducing pain and symptoms from muscle spasms, vertebral subluxations, and scoliosis.
- Increases overall energy since Qi (vital energy of the body) is flowing unimpeded, and muscle contractions and tension are not draining energy from the body.
- Improves appearance.
Many of us have unconsciously developed unhealthy posture. This can be a result of several contributing factors including:
- Engaging in body habits or exercises that overuse or strengthen certain muscle groups, while leaving other muscle groups underdeveloped. (For example, the abdominal muscles may be too weak to help support the proper low back position, or the hamstring muscles may be too tight, causing the pelvis to rotate backwards. This produces an abnormal slouching posture.)
- Compensatory postural adjustments due to trauma or injury.
- Suppression of feelings and emotions that, left unprocessed, manifest in our posture. This can easily be demonstrated by observing the posture of someone who is excited and happy compared to someone who is depressed and sad. Having said that, consciously choosing and practicing proper posture as a point of intervention can actually help balance the body and emotions (to demonstrate this point, try feeling sad for any length of time with a great posture!)
But what is proper posture? And how do you go about developing it? And, does having proper posture mean you have to sit or stand like an uncomfortable automaton all the time? A healthy posture requires that the entire back and neck be properly aligned. The neck, or cervical spine, should curve slightly inward. The mid back, or thoracic spine, curves outward. And the low back, or lumbar spine, should curve inward. If any of these curvatures is lacking, then the posture of the entire body is compromised.
Focusing on the position of the head when attempting to achieve healthy posture can be helpful. The body seems to naturally follow where the head leads. If the head is stooped or juts forward, the rest of the body will ‘slump.’ If the head is erect and properly aligned, the rest of the body will most likely be as well. A generally healthy posture can be described as follows:
- Feet flat on the floor.
- Thighs parallel to the floor.
- Knees even with, or slightly higher than the hips.
- Back straight and shoulders comfortably back.
- Buttocks lightly touching the back of the chair.
- Normal curvature of the back.
- Both buttocks square on the chair, with weight distributed evenly.
- Legs ideally uncrossed; if legs are crossed, keep hips aligned on the chair and alternate the crossed legs.
- Change positions often to avoid static loading of muscles.
- Both feet flat on the floor
- Weight distributed evenly across foot
- Knees flexible, not locked
- Head held up
- Shoulder blades back and yet relaxed
- Chin slightly tucked
- Knees directly over ankles
- Hips directly over knees
- Stomach slightly tucked into enhance natural curvature of the lower back
- Shoulders directly over hips
- Ears directly over shoulders
- The top of the head feel like it is being pulled upward.
- A position which helps maintain the curve in your back.
- Avoid sleeping on stomach, especially on a soft mattress.
- A pillow under the knees if sleeping on back.
- A pillow between the knees if sleeping on side.
It is important to not confuse a healthy posture with a stiff and rigid positioning of the body. I like to think of healthy posture as our ‘default’ position – a centered and aligned stance from which we move and function. Body movements and postures should be fluid, relaxed and integrated. Changing positions every so often is a great way to allow your body to remain stress free and supple. A balanced, natural and healthy posture ensures optimal muscle function. An imbalance can cause excessive wear and tear, which can eventually lead to pain and chronic symptoms. It is my observation that one of the most common reasons for neck and shoulder pain is poor posture. It is worth the time and energy to develop a healthy posture. Diane Gross, L.Ac.