Balance your Posture to be Active for Life

Balance your Posture to be Active for Life

By Mary Williams, MSEd, CPE

Many people spend a great deal of their lives combating musculoskeletal pain, injury and/or physical limitations when the source – and remedy – is quite simple and largely within their reach. When we relearn how to balance our postures, to sit, stand and move the way that our bodies are designed, the way that each of moved as young children, we can be active and healthy throughout the entire span of our lives.

To clarify, “relearn” refers to returning to the movement patterns and postures we were born with. Due largely to cultural and media models and inactive lifestyles, many of our bodies are no longer balanced and we experience pain or injury as a result. Over time, we modified our movement patterns, but we are able to relearn how to move as we’re designed and rebuild a balanced musculoskeletal system.

Another important point to clarify is that our current cultural perception of “good posture” is not based upon sound biomechanical principles. Picture a soldier or a fitness instructor – chin up, shoulders pulled back, abdominals tight. While we may see them as models of good posture, these are actually examples of body systems in tension, and these postures are unsustainable, imbalanced and undesirable. When a body is oriented as designed, bones are stacked properly and muscles are relaxed, healthy and available for natural, fluid movement.

Picture a teenager slumped at a keyboard or sitting in the bleachers at a football game. If you could examine a section of their upper spine, you would see that the muscles in front of the spine are shortened. They are in this position so often that they become tight and inelastic and no longer function at their best. In fact, if the teenager decided to sit up straight, it would be difficult for these shortened muscles to lengthen and allow this change. Conversely, the muscles behind the spine are chronically lengthened and thus also inelastic and lacking full function.

To begin balancing your posture, try this a quick step-by-step instructions for the Balanced Posture Standing Position.

  1. Stand with your heels ~6 inches apart, toes ~8 inches.
  2. Position legs nearly-vertical. A slight (very slight) bend in the knees and hips is fine and may help with proper orientation of your pelvis.
  3. Relax your abdominals. Yes, relax them. One of the grandest bits of misunderstanding is that we should keep our abdominal muscles contracted to stand properly and ‘protect’ our backs, while the effect of tight abdominals is the opposite.
  4. Allow your pelvis to naturally fall forward, or antevert. Don’t push your pelvis forward; just don’t pull it back. The “suck and tuck” approach is also incorrect and throws the entire musculoskeletal system out of balance.
  5. Lengthen your spine, as if it is being pulled from above. Make it as long and as straight as you can.
  6. Take a breath and, as you exhale, relax your rib cage. Imagine your ribs as hangers on a closet rod, with no more effort required than that of the hangar.
  7. ONE AT A TIME, lift your shoulder, roll it back, and rest your shoulder girdle atop your rib cage. It is very important to position your shoulders one at a time because otherwise you will be using your rhomboid muscles (like the military person standing at attention) and these muscles cannot sustain this tension. You are simply placing each shoulder (shoulder girdle) onto its natural resting place, allowing your muscles to relax.
  8. Extend and elongate your neck.
  9. Balance your head on your neck. For most people, it will feel like you are looking a little downward. Practice locating a balanced position by tilting your head forward and noting the muscle tension in your neck and shoulders, then tilting it back, again noting the tension, then slowly bending back and forth until you locate the position with the least amount of muscular tension.

The purpose of balancing your posture is to orient, move and live with ease, as your body is designed, so that you can continue to be active and enjoy the things you like to do for the duration of your life. Pain is not a natural, expected component of life and aging, so balance your posture and get moving!

– Mary Williams, MSEd, CPE, teaches the balance posture technique for individuals and groups, for people with chronic back pain through the BACKCoach™ program (www.BACKCoach.net), and for runners and walkers through Long May U Run (www.longmayUrun.com). She can be reached at 601-434-1991 or marywlms@comcast.net.