5 Steps to Better Posture

by Curt Donohue on June 18, 2010

It seems that the majority of aches and pains that I work on in our day spa find their source within the combination of the clients postural imbalances and the strain of daily activities on their body.  The question clients most frequently ask is “what can be done to improve my posture or relieve my pain?”  I have found that, for the majority of people, there is no single magic answer to perfect posture, nor is it something that can be “fixed” for you.  The good news is that there are steps that you can take everyday that add up to enormous long term benefits.

Step 1 – Realize that it’s not going to be solved overnight.

During my second year of training at the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado, my husband and I visited my parents in Denver.  As we were looking through old family pictures, I caught a glimpse of myself at the age of 9 or 10 standing in front of a railroad engine.  With my newly trained eye, I looked at my hands and noticed that the right hand was lower than the left.  I now know, and feel, the reason for this discrepancy – I am side bent to the right.  After years of believing that my imperfect posture came from sitting at a desk, I realized that the side bending in my body and all of the aches and pains associated with it had been developing since childhood.  Most postural issues build up over time, to the point that it becomes what your body tends to settle into.   It takes time to retrain the habits that your mind and body have developed over the course of your life.

Step 2 – Increase awareness of your body’s relationship with gravity

ResearchPain Free, written by Pete Egoscue, was one of my favorite first books on posture awareness.  This book is a great beginner’s guide, with daily exercise routines included to help relieve specific pain issues related to posture.  Start with this book, then start searching online and you will find this and many other health related resources that will bring you the knowledge and motivation that you need to get start living a healthier lifestyle.

Use your senses – Take a look in the mirror.  Is one shoulder higher than the other is? Is one shoulder more forward than the other one?   Which way are your hands facing as they hang along your sides?  Now, notice how you feel at different times of the day.  For example, my left shoulder tends to burn when I am sitting at my desk; however, my right side aches more than my left.

Pay attention to your daily movement and adjust for better balance – I have a secret to tell you…When you weren’t looking, your body was developing habits that feed daily into your misalignment and pain.  I will illustrate with a story:

I have a client who came in with chronic low back pain.  She worked with horses and found herself frequently shoveling stalls.  As we talked, we realized that she was shoveling with the same side, every day.  Six weeks later, we noticed the low back pain was gone.  When I asked her why she thought it was gone, she commented that it must have been acute and that the massage must have taken care of it.  Through more questions, we realized that the pain had dissipated because she had started using both side of her body when she shoveled.  Most of us have habits that contribute to postural issues and pain.  Want to find out what your body’s been up to?  Start out by answering the following questions:

Hands and Shoulders

  • Which shoulder do you carry your purse on?
  • Which hand do you use to open the door?
  • Which hand do you use to brush your teeth or eat?
  • Do you tend to carry with one hand and open doors with the other?
  • Which hand do you use to reach down for things?
  • Which shoulder do you use to hold the phone up?

Legs, Feet and Hips

  • Which leg to you use to step up onto something?
  • How do you fold your legs when you sit on a couch?
  • Where are your legs when you sit in a chair at a desk?
  • How do you position your feet when you stand or walk?
  • Do you arch your low back when you “sit up straight”?

As you walk through your day, try to answer each of these questions and develop an awareness of your daily habits.  If you notice that you tend to do a task mainly with one side, try doing the same task with the opposite side.  It may look and feel funny at first, but it may be just what you need to do to relieve pain in your body.
Step 3 – Exercise, Eat Right and Reduce the Stress in Your Life.
Have you ever looked at the profiles of people in those before and after weight loss pictures?  Try getting online, pull up some good side shots and notice where the hips and shoulders are in relation to the rest of the body.  In the before shots, the line of the pelvis is more slanted, and the shoulders are more rounded.  You can see the strain that the extra weight puts on the body.  In the after pictures, the line of the pelvis is straighter and there is not as much of a curve in the low back.  Along with looking better and living longer, living a healthy lifestyle helps you to live with fewer muscular aches and pains.

Step 4 – Take a Movement Education Class
There are many, many forms of movement education, including Yoga, Pilates, Hellerwork, Feldenkrais, the Alexander Technique , Tai Chi and Qigong to name just a few.  You can find classes for every level of fitness, from the athlete to the beginner, to the person in chronic pain, to the elderly.  Several years ago, my mother was suffering from fibromyalgia and had spent many years recovering from a severe back injury.  She found a Feldenkrais class and fell in love. I picked her up from class one day, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say that they were all just laying on the floor.  I finally attended this subtle movement class and felt amazing afterwards.  Over time, my mother went from tea toddling side to side in her walk, to walking with more ease, grace, and confidence.

Movement education helps you to better understand and improve your body’s relationship to gravity.  It reduces stress, improves mental clarity, and creates greater fluidity and awareness in movement.

Step 5 – Get Massage and Bodywork Regularly
Massage, chiropractic, and other forms of bodywork have so many mental, physical and emotional benefits.  In terms of posture, even a light massage will increase circulation in the muscles and help your body to relax into a more neutral position.  In addition, massage can help release chronically tight muscles and counteract the repetitiveness of daily activities.  Used in conjunction with exercise and movement therapy, massage can help you to feel where your body is supposed to be, so that you can work toward keeping it there in your classes.  Finally, massage can increase awareness of what is happening in the body and what areas need special attention.

Listen to your body, eat right, exercise, get bodywork regularly, and your body will reward you with decreased stress, better movement, less headaches, more energy, and increased mental clarity.  You will develop better posture and reduce chronic pain. Finally, you will feel empowered when you discover that no one can improve your posture better than you can.

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