December and January are aptly named the “dead” of winter—although what appears dead and dormant is in truth preparing for the fresh burst of spring. We, too, naturally follow this rhythm with the tradition of setting New Year’s resolutions: We see where we are now, and determine to change for the better. Many New Year’s resolutions naturally focus on health, as we resolve to get more exercise, eat better (and perhaps less), rest more, or spend more time in meditation or contemplation. Yet, one key aspect of health that contributes to all of these is typically overlooked, even though it is right before our eyes.
That aspect is posture.
When you think about it, it is easy to understand how posture influences every activity of your body. With good posture, blood circulates more freely to tissues, nerves and muscles. It helps you relax, enabling your mind and body to function efficiently without strain or fatigue. Digestion is better, exercise is more effective, and you are more productive and creative at work.
So if you want to make one New Year’s resolution that will bring benefits in almost every aspect of your life, then resolve to improve your posture. Actually, this is one of the easiest resolutions to keep, for three reasons. First, your body naturally wants good posture. Second, you don’t have to take any special time to do it. And third, you will experience the benefits immediately, which will in turn encourage you to keep up your resolution through January and beyond.
How to begin? The first thing is to understand what “good” posture is, and determine exactly where your posture needs improvement. Then, learn a technique that will exactly target and improve your problem.
Good posture can be generally described as a way of holding the body consistent with its structure. More specifically, this means that the spinal vertebrae are aligned on top of one another so that you are upright with very little muscular effort. Young children, people in indigenous cultures, and art from ancient civilizations offer models of what good posture is.
To get started, examine your own posture in the mirror, and see how it compares with the pictures.
First, and most importantly, check your pelvis. The top of it should be tipped slightly forward, though not far enough to cause a “swayback” (see Fig. A below).
Next, check your shoulders. When the shoulders are relaxed and well-positioned, the arms hang toward the back of the ribcage (Fig. B below).
Finally, check your neck and head. Ideally, the neck elongates, and the head pivots freely in any direction (Fig. C below).
After examining your posture, you will know which areas deviate from the ideal. You may find that these are also the areas that give you the most trouble through your day. For example, swaying your back will tend to produce low back pain. Hunching your shoulders will tend to interfere with blood flow to the arms, resulting in problems in the wrist and hands. Holding the head forward will tire you quickly because it requires so much more energy than when it is balanced on top of the neck and spine.
This is how you can correct each of the three problems targeted above:
Pelvis: Tip your pelvis as far forward as you can. Feel how much effort this takes. Now tip your pelvis way backward. Feel how your torso collapses. Now, look for the spot just in the middle (not too far back, not too far forward) where almost no effort is needed and the spine tends to elongate. At first you may feel that your tailbone is sticking out too far, but this is actually appropriate and normal.
Shoulders: The remedy for hunched shoulders is a simple shoulder roll. Move the shoulders forward, then up and then back. You will find that the shoulder naturally drops at the back of the rib cage. Do not hold it there; just let it drop naturally.
Neck and head: Drop the chin and gently move the head back and up. You should find that the head easily maintains its balance—and that the neck is more comfortable.
Time spent in regaining your natural way of sitting, standing, and moving will bring innumerable benefits. Stand tall, look great, feel at ease—make 2009 your best year yet!
Esther Gokhale is a posture expert of Indian descent, author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, and founder of the Esther Gokhale Wellness Center in Palo Alto. Find out more and subscribe to Esther’s monthly newsletter at www.egwellness.com
Below, left to right: Figure A, Figure B, and Figure C.