“Sit up straight, young lady.” The stern voice was quickly followed by a loud thwack on my desk by Mrs. Stinson’s indestructible ruler. Seriously, I don’t know how that thing never broke. She smacked it on someone’s desk at least 50 times a day. “You can’t learn if you’re slumped over in your desk.” She shot me her best, actually I think it was her only, Stepford Wives smile and continued on down the aisle to torture her next victim.
I don't know about you, but I grew up hearing "stand up straight" from everyone I knew who happened to be over the age of 35. Maybe it was a product of private school and a military family. Maybe they wanted to harass me. Or maybe I really did need to stand up straight. Regardless of why, good posture wasn’t always the easiest thing to maintain. Looking back now, it seems that maybe they were on to something.
I recently had a conversation regarding posture with a close friend, Sue, who happens to be a licensed physical and massage therapist. We discussed some information I had come across in an article about the connection between your brain and your posture. I admit, I pulled it up on my tablet and let her read it to get her opinion.
Her response spoke volumes about the importance of posture on so many aspects of our body. She pointed out that good posture is essential for functional mobility (i.e. the ability to lift our arms to improving our balance as we stand). She also said it was helpful in oxygenating and lubricating the body, or at least improving blood flow to our organs.
I can’t speak from a medical point of view, but from an everyday observational standpoint, adjusting a slumped posture can shave years from a person's appearance, miraculously changing someone from looking like the scary old biddy children may be thinking they are into the healthy person they are intended to be.
And it turns out, science has something to support the idea of maintaining good posture with some not so expected conclusions about how it influences the way we think and feel. Dutch behavioral scientist and Professor of Holistic Health at San Francisco State University, Erik Peper, has researched the correlation between our posture, body language and our energy levels and he discusses how posture influences our moods, opinions, and levels of happiness.
According to his research, modifying your posture is a self-awareness technique. Body posture helps you remember positive or negative memories significantly. His studies have shown that sitting in a “collapsed position” and looking downward, it’s easier to recall “hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative memories, than empowering, positive memories.” However, sitting upright and looking upward, makes it difficult and “for many almost impossible” to recall those negative memories and easier to recall empowering, positive ones.
This “collapsed position” Dr. Peper mentions is one we are all prone to. Many of us, without being aware of it, walk in slouched pattern, sit for hours “collapsed” in front of our computer or TV, and “collapse” forward while texting or on our smart phones. We’ve become ‘‘culturally conditioned’’ to these positions. And because of this, we could be inducing negative, hopeless thought patterns and memories. Dr. Peper recommends being more aware of your body posture throughout the day.
Sitting still for long periods of time is the arch nemesis of good posture, but sitting up straight doesn’t have to be painful or difficult. Sue recommends simply lifting your chest toward the ceiling. You can do this sitting or standing. Either way, it stimulates the muscles in your lower thoracic spine (the muscles on both sides of the backbone on your lower rib cage) which draw the shoulders back and align your head over your spine.
I tried it. I’m actually trying it right now. It makes it easier to breathe, feels like it helps me stretch out, and Sue says it should improve blood flow into your head. (She also said my head could use all the help it could get, but that’s a different topic.) One stretch that she recommends to many of her patients is a move called the Thoracic Bridge.
The move, in essence, opens up your body and can aid with pain and tightness in your shoulders, back, and hips. It looks a little odd, but once you get the hang of it it’s a breeze (yes, I tried it too). You will definitely be able to feel it working and Sue says you’ll start to feel the difference in your body's alignment and posture as well.
So if you want to benefit from improved posture and live a healthier and happier life, where should you start?
Start simple. The simplest moves are usually the most effective. Try the Thoracic Bridge. Take breaks throughout your day to get up from your desk and stretch. Try lifting your chest toward the ceiling to align your back. Just don’t hunch over your keyboard until you’re able to type emails with your nose. I’m fairly certain Mrs. Stinson is still lurking around somewhere with her ruler.