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Perk Up Your Posture

What does it mean to have “good” posture? The answer may surprise you!

WRITTEN BY Molly Ramsey
PHOTOGRAPHS BY (woman) Josep Suria & (man seated) Africa Studio

Sit up straight with your shoulders back has long been considered the golden rule for proper posture. Problem is, “that’s actually not good advice for keeping optimal posture,” debunks Tara Pickett, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated physical therapist and rehab educator. “That positioning can detract from the three natural curves of our spine.”

It’s true that shoulder placement plays a role in having excellent posture; you neither want them slumped over, which can happen when you work at a desk, or pulled up by your ears, which we often do when stressed. However, if you want to improve your form, start by adjusting your breath, says Pickett. “When it comes to posture, the most important muscle in the body is the diaphragm. When we don’t optimize the function of the diaphragm—which happens when we only take short, shallow breaths—it affects the positioning of the spine.”

Improving your posture, or the positioning of your body in space, is indeed a worthy goal. How you carry yourself impacts your mood, energy level, productivity and confidence. And years or decades of improper posture can create musculoskeletal imbalances, orthopaedic ailments and even bodily inefficiencies, such as incontinence. Here, Pickett shares how to improve your form.

Breathe deeply. To increase the strength of your diaphragm, take full, deep breaths in through your nose (you should feel expansion in your upper back) and slow exhales out of your mouth.

Get grounded. While sitting, you should feel both sitz bones (the bones in your bottom) evenly in the seat. Keep your feet flat on the floor with your heels touching the ground or a stool. “This lets your pelvis and hips totally relax and feel grounded,” says Pickett. When you stand, distribute your weight evenly between both legs and feet. “Many of us, often unknowingly, stand with our weight shifted to one side.”

Stack your core. Mindfully draw your rib cage in, stacking it over your pelvis, says Pickett. “Imagine that your rib cage is an upside-down bowl and your pelvis is a right-side-up bowl. You’re aiming to stack them on top of each other.”

Mix up your sides. If you always brush your teeth with your right hand, or vacuum with your left, make an effort to mix it up. The same goes for sleeping: “One of the worst things you can do for your musculoskeletal system is to sleep in the same position every night,” says Pickett.

“Our neck and lumbar, or lower, spine naturally have what’s called a lordosis, or a small curve, inward,” says Pickett. “We also have a small curve in our thoracic (middle) spine called a kyphosis. Kyphosis is a slight rounding, and it’s not a bad thing unless it becomes excessive.”

➲ Can’t feel both sitz bones in your seat? That’s an early red flag that you should have your posture evaluated by a professional, says Pickett, who recommends seeking help from a physical therapist or personal trainer experienced in postural restoration. “We can help identify imbalances and postural issues now to ward off pain down the road.” To find a Roper St. Francis Healthcare physical therapy location, visit rsfh.com/rehab.

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