Let’s demystify posture!
Talks and blogs about posture are everywhere on the internet. Some people are obsessed with it and they tend to make bad posture as the number one enemy to beat. But does the spine need to be aligned perfectly all the time? No.
Let me address some of the most common phrases I hear concerning posture.
1- Having a good posture requires constant attention
Posture shouldn’t require your attention 86 400 seconds a day. There is too much information communicated to the brain for you to consciously think about your posture all the time. It’s like breathing. You do it naturally without noticing. Your breathing rhythm normally adjusts to the level of oxygen you consume during different activities.
If you decide to take the stairs instead of the elevator, you won’t need to think about breathing faster. You’ll be concentrated on the conversation you’re having with your colleagues or you’ll be asking yourself what you are going to make for dinner. It is impossible to constantly worry about your posture. Ideally, one should develop the necessary unconscious processes to maintain proper posture.
2- Having good posture is hard.
Many complain that maintaining good posture is difficult. People tend to drastically change their posture and get exhausted trying to keep that posture. Some will go as far as to stop breathing as the task is so demanding. They get tired rapidly and regress to their old posture after a few minutes. It’s an endless battle. It’s not necessarily because you lack endurance or strength in certain muscles. It’s mostly because the changes are too big and require the activation of too many muscles.
As previously stated, keeping a good posture should be an unconscious process. So making huge changes wouldn’t pass unnoticed by the brain. Therefore, it’s not about strengthening your muscles or to increase your ability to sustain effort, but to find the right posture for you. Trying to improve your posture shouldn’t take so much effort. It should make your life easier.
3- Posture means holding still.
When people try to change their posture, they will get stiff and try to hold it as long as possible as if a good posture needed to be motionless. However, staying immobile is impossible since we all need to breath and one can only hold their breath for so long. We are in constant movement. Our body is continually adjusting to multiple oscillations we are facing to keep its equilibrium. Breathing alone creates a light swaying and shifts of the trunk we need to regulate. Standing is a symphony of tiny falls and recoveries of the entire body resulting in a slightly perceptible oscillation of the head. Moreover, the standing position is quite unstable. It’s as if we need to balance a fifteen pounds ball on top of stick on top of two other sticks on top of two bony feet. Therefore, a good posture shouldn’t be restricting and will allow movement to let the body balance itself.
Not convinced? Try standing with your eyes closed for 10 seconds. You should be able to further feel the natural flow of your body since you can’t rely on your sight to balance yourself. Your colleagues will also be able to notice your body swaying back and forth.
What if we apply this to the sitting position where we don’t need to balance as much? Let’s take the situation where you are working at your desk. People tend to have rounded shoulders. To fix this closed posture, try to keep your shoulders straight by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Now try reaching for your mouse, your keyboard, your phone, your remote control, etc. Is it harder?
By over retracting your scapulae and holding them close to the spine, you are restricting the freedom of movement of your arm. Your brain won’t allow you to keep a posture with the shoulder blades always pinned back. You will then revert to your old posture. This is why stiffening your body will not work. In short, posture is a dynamic state filled with subtle movements that allow breathing, preservation of balance, arm movements and much more. It is not a static position to be held.
4- Having a good posture means standing straighter
Ever hear people telling you to keep your back straight? Or that your lower back is too curved and you are sticking your bottom too much? Many refer to a good posture as being perfectly straight and symmetrical, but it’s impossible. In fact, your spine can’t be completely straight. There should be natural curves in the spine to use proper biomechanics while moving. If you try to flatten the spine, you cause more stress and tension on the bones and surrounding structures.
Our bodies aren’t perfect. Your left tibia might not be as long as the right one. Your left shoulder might be slightly higher than your right just like your left eye might be a little closer to your nose than the right one. Subtle asymmetries are normal and shouldn’t be problematic. Our skeleton is shaped by years of growth responding to compressive and tensional forces relative to every single one of us. It gives us a unique bone structure which means each person has a unique ideal posture. It’s not always about straightening up our back.
5- When I’m at my desk, I just can’t sit straight. I’m always hunched over.
It’s impossible for one not to be able to sit straight. Ok, maybe you are part of the minority and actually lack range of motion of your hips, pelvis or spine making it harder to sit at a 90o angle, but let’s be honest and say you probably don’t have any restrictions. It’s not because you are lazy or you lack core strength. Most of the time, people tend to hunch over while working at their desk because the setup of their workspace is not adjusted for them.
When the computer monitor is too low, we tend to hunch over to lower our eye level to match it. We also tend to hunch when the chair doesn’t have a lower back support. Same thing happens when our feet can’t touch the ground. Our body naturally modifies its posture depending on the situation.
Basically, if you don’t adjust your work environment, your body will adapt to it. It’s like when you watch a movie at the theater. Your posture won’t be the same if you are sitting front row or all the way in the back.
The posture is an unconscious process of actions and reactions to balance the body. When you want to improve your posture, don’t forget that it shouldn’t be hard or restricting. It should make your life easier and prepare you to move. Don’t imitate the posture of someone else since your ideal posture is unique. Try to adjust your work space to your dimensions. Check the link below for some quick tips on how to sit properly in front of the computer and get an appointment with me for some personalized tips.
Author : Thalie Forest, M.Sc., B.Sc., Physiotherapist