Thursday, June 28, 2007

Improve your Posture -- Improve your Health

Are you enjoying Emma's posts as much as I am. She is inspiring me to set goals to improve my health and personal presentation. Her post for yesterday-- regarding posture -- was especially helpful to me. (

Fortunately, good posture and good health feed into each other. If you feel well, you naturally want to stand straighter and walk with more joy in your step. If you work on your posture, you will likely feel better. That, in turn, will make you want to have even better posture. Isn't it nice when you get started on an upward cycle?

Several years ago, I had surgery to correct deteriorated discs in my neck and a pinched nerve. Though the nerve started in my cranium and neck, it ran a long way down my body. Thus, I had pain in strange places, which I never connected to the problem in my neck. Eventually, I began to lose the use of my right arm.

I learned that the neck is one of the first places to wear out, as we use it so much. Hence, middle age and a long-ago car wreck were the biggest contributors to my disc/nerve problem. But, I learned something else as well. Poor posture, especially when sitting at the computer, probably
added something to the mix, as well. Mom was right all of those years that she gently urged me to attend to my seated and standing posture!

There are a number of ways that poor posture can contribute to poor health: It crowds your internal organs and puts unnatural pressure on them. It causes some of your muscles to become habitually shortened and others to become stretched out, which in turn leads to poor muscular support of the spine. It can compress nerves and vertebra. Emotionally, poor posture can signal to yourself and others around you the emotions of depression, sadness, overhwhelming fatigue, and defeat. Thus, if you slump because you are tired, you may end up feeling more tired.

Good posture allows you to breathe properly. It holds the body in the way it was designed to function, thus giving your organs, nerves, and bones the proper room they need in order to function. Emotionally, good posture signals to yourself and others a positive outlook, dignity, grace, and energy. If you make the effort to stand and sit correctly, even when you are tired, you may find that you begin to feel better than you otherwise would.

If you have allowed yourself to form bad habits with regard to your carriage, changing these will take a good deal of energy. At first, you may feel more fatigued and even sore. You may wonder if it's worth the effort. Keep persevering! Your muscles will adjust to better habits, and, when they do, you will find that sitting, standing,and walking take less effort than they used to. You'll wonder how you got along with poor posture for so long without realizing the toll it was taking on your energy level.

Good posture is natural and efficient, thus leading to energy. Poor posture is unnatural and inefficient, thus leading to fatigue.

It's possible that poor posture contributes to headaches, breathlessness, fatigue, certain types of back and neck and chest aches, carpel tunnel syndrome, and other ailments. Do not, however, attribute any of these ailments to poor posture without checking with your doctor!! There are many different causes for each of these symptoms, and it would be both dangerous and foolish to try to sort this out on your own.

However, even as you seek medical help, maintaining good posture can't hurt. Better yet, nip certain ailments before they even start by practicing good posture while you are young and healthy.

Here are a few posture tips that I find helpful, when I use them. (Again, thank you Emma, for reminding me to tend to this!)

1) You may unknowingly carry a lot of stress in your neck, shoulders, and upper back, as well as in your facial muscles. Even when your day is filled with happy and delightful things, you may find yourself hunching up your shoulders, tightening the muscles around your eyes and mouth, and feeling fatigue in your neck and upper back. During a busy day, take a few breaks to consciously relax these muscles and let them return to their natural position.
2) Remember, our bodies were designed to move. In modern times, however, we sit or stand in one position for long periods of time. If you must sit for some time -- such as when on a plane, at the computer, or at a sewing machine -- take frequent breaks. Do some ankle circles. Get up and walk about a bit. Stretch. If you are embarrassed to do this in an office or on a plane, retire to the ladies room. Perhaps, you can stretch there. But, even if you can't, the act of walking to and from the washroom will provide allow you some movement. Regarding a plane ride, doing a few ankle circles every hour and stretching or moving every hour is not only good for your posture, but for your circulation, as well.
3) When sitting or standing, do not duck your chin or head forward unnaturally. If you wear glasses or have worn them in the past, you might be particularly prone to this. Find ways to read and do other tasks with your head held in correct position. Do not slump, round, or hunch your shoulders. It's not necessary to hold your shoulders tightly in perfect military posture. If you are positioning your neck and body correctly, your shoulders should fall easily into a straight, yet relaxed place. Stand perpendicular to a mirror and look at how your head and shoulders are positioned. Adjust accordingly.
4) Make sure your purse and other bags that you carry are not too heavy. Also, try to carry purses in a way that balances the weight. Obviously, the purses that look like backpacks do distribute the weight easily. I don't particularly like the way those look on me, so I just try to switch the arm I carry my purses with from time to time. Carrying all of the stuff that goes along with a baby is a challenge. But, do the best you can to watch your posture. Also, avoid jerky movements as you pick up baby's car seat, stroller, or diaper bag.
5) Check your breathing. Sometimes, in a misguided attempt to achieve straight posture or flat abs, a person will breathe more from his or her chest than from the diaphragm. The same is true if someone has recently recovered from a respiratory ailment, has chronic sinus or allergy problems, has a rushed schedule, is under stress, has had recent surgery, or other otherwise has experienced an interruption in their normal breathing cycle.
Our upper chest muscles are designed for emergency breathing -- such as when running from a burning building or competing in the the 50-yard dash. If we use them for everyday breathing, we may begin to hyperventilate on a chronic, low-level basis. Or, we may even have episodes of severe hyperventilation. This is not generally dangerous, but it can make you feel awful!
According to respiratory therapist, Dinah Bradley, in normal, relaxed breathing, the diaphragm does about 70 to 80 per cent of the work. The lower chest muscles do about 20-30 per cent. The accessory muscles in the neck and shoulders are merely on standby in case a need for quick oxygen should arise.
Chronic over-breathersreverse this ratio. Thus, they put undue strain on muscles that are meant to be normally at rest. They also take in more breaths per minute than are needed. A range of ten to fourteen breaths per minute is fairly normal for adults. Some people breathe up to twice this rate!
If you notice a healthy baby at rest, the baby naturally breathes from the diaphragm. The baby has not yet experienced any traumas that might interrupt his natural breathing cycle. Nor, has he been told false information about how to stand and how to breathe. So, he naturally breathes the way his body was intended. Healthy toddlers do the same.
How do you know if you habitually breathe from your chest or diaphragm? Lie down and place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach, just below your diaphragm. Take a natural breath. See which hand rises. If the hand on your chest rises first, you may not be breathing as your body was intended to. If the hand on your stomach rises, good for you! Note: You may breathe correctly when you do this test simply because you are thinking about it. That's ok, as it reinforces a good habit. Just keep checking from time to time to make sure that you are maintaining this beneficial habit.
If you think your breathing needs some gentle correction, there are many books and Internet sources that offer information about how to improve. One of the best resources is Dinah Bradley's book, Hyperventilation Syndrome. If you read about this subject on the Internet, use caution. There are a lot of medical myths floating around on the net. Be sure that the article you are reading is written by someone with identifiable credentials.
Please note that there are a very few health conditions in which normal breathing cannot be attained and should not be attempted. If you are in poor health, check with your doctor before trying to correct your breathing. Otherwise, enjoy how much better you'll feel when you breathe correctly!



Sharon said...

I am enjoying these classes! I certainly need to attend to my posture when sitting. Thank you for all your tips!

Elizabeth said...

Hi Sharon,

I'm glad you're enjoying the classes. Don't we all need reminders about our posture!