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Do you feel pain and discomfort in your neck and back? What are the benefits you can gain from having good posture?
Having poor posture not only causes aching joints and shortness of breath, but it can also have a negative impact on your mental health and social life. Improving your posture means you get to experience the physical, psychological, and social benefits of good posture.
Let’s look at the benefits of good posture, along with what a healthy posture should look like and how to achieve it.
What Should Good Posture Look Like?
What does good posture look like exactly? Educator Murat Dalkilinç gives a basic breakdown of what your posture should look like in a healthy position:
- All 33 vertebrae should be stacked in a straight line, and your spine should have three curves that help you stay upright: your neck curve, shoulders curve, and the small-of-your-back curve.
- You should be able to draw a straight line with your spine, which helps you keep your center of gravity.
Now that we know what your posture should look like, let’s get into the physical, mental, and social benefits of good posture.
Physical Benefits of Good Posture
Feeling physical discomfort in your body can be alarming, but there are some instances where this pain is just from a constant slouching position or sitting for long periods. Bad posture can increase the chances of accidents and cause organs such as your lungs to work less efficiently. There’s also a link between poor posture and scoliosis, tension headaches, back pain, and a compromised emotional state.
Below are the benefits of good posture that you can reap, along with multiple experts’ explanations of why our bodies can’t function correctly with poor posture.
Proper Muscle Alignment
Your spine depends on the rigidity of your muscles and bones. Likewise, your muscles depend on the state of your spine. If you constantly sit slouched, or constantly sit in general, you’ll experience chronic or acute pain that results from muscle misalignment.
An example of improper muscle alignment would be your neck being stuck in a position that looks like it’s looking down at your laptop, even when it’s not. This causes your muscles to be pushed out of their natural place. Your neck should be vertical—not horizontal—to your spine.
This can be explained by The Cinderella Hypothesis, which theorizes that, just like Cinderella, some muscles do all the work and end up doing the wrong job when you’re putting your body in a position it’s not naturally supposed to be in. This causes muscle pain and joint deterioration.
Just because your muscles have readjusted themselves to an abnormal position, that doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. Pete Egoscue invented the Egoscue Method in the 1970s to combat this pain and prevent musculoskeletal dysfunctions. The method is meant to act as a therapeutic solution to “return musculoskeletal balance and symmetry to your body.”
Poor alignment with your posture means you have to breathe from your chest rather than your diaphragm. The chest relies on the backup breathing muscles in your neck, but these neck muscles are not designed to be used for the 17,000 breaths the lungs take per day. They’ll end up overworking themselves and cause extreme pain and discomfort.
Physiologist Emma Ferris says that staying in a slumped position means your organs can’t move out of the way so that the diaphragm can expand the lungs fully. As a result, your lungs will resort to the backup muscles in your neck, which will end up getting tired. Along with possibly having trouble breathing, you might feel fatigued and have headaches and neck pain.
When you have poor posture, your breathing pattern could become altered to adjust to fast and shallow breathing. This makes it hard to accomplish even the smallest amount of exercise, which can lead to further health difficulties. However, extending your posture upright can allow your diaphragm to use the proper muscles to gain access to oxygen and make it easier to breathe.
Reduced Chronic Lower Back Pain
Dr. Chris Gilbert had a patient with an odd case of lower back pain that prevented him from sitting at the dinner table or on the toilet. At first, Dr. Gilbert theorized that it was bone cancer, but she rebutted that claim when her patient’s condition wasn’t getting worse in 18 months. She then figured out the cause of his back pain: he constantly twisted his back when he wiped on the toilet. After using a different technique to wipe, his back pain eased.
Repeatedly doing simple things such as wiping or picking something up off the ground wrong can throw your back into a state of horrific pain.
As reduced lower back pain is one of the benefits of good posture, Dr. Gilbert gives a few recommendations on how to change your bad posture habits to reduce this chronic pain:
- Don’t lean on one side of the chair or couch when sitting.
- Rather than bending your back, bend your knees when picking up things, especially heavy objects.
- Replace your mattress or sleep on a different part of the mattress so it’s not uneven.
Mental and Social Benefits of Good Posture
Your body will be thanking you after you fix your posture, and your mind will be thanking you, too. A slumped position can cause your body to send negative signals to your mind that diminishes your mental health. On the other hand, an upright position can increase your positivity and even improve how others perceive you. Here are the mental and social benefits you can have from good posture.
Positive Attitude and Confidence
In his self-help book The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene names one psychological benefit that an upright position can enforce: a positive attitude. A positive attitude can, in turn, lead to further benefits. If you change your attitude, you can change your circumstances. Your health might improve because you’ll be more energetic (the mind and body are linked). Finally, having a positive attitude gives you more control over your life because it stimulates your willpower.
Tony Robbins’s own statement about posture in his book Awaken the Giant Within supports Greene’s claim. A way to change and control your state of attitude and confidence is to alter your physical position. Your posture, facial expressions, breathing, and gestures not only reflect your emotional state, but they also influence it. If you’re walking with slumped shoulders and dragging your body as if it’s heavy, you will feel tired, and that feeling will reinforce your physical state, creating a feedback loop. Develop patterns of physical states and movements that support a happy, powerful, strong emotional state.
Change Your State
Robbins gives more insight into the mental and physiological benefits of good posture in Awaken the Giant Within. He says to achieve these benefits, you need to learn how to control your mental-emotional-physiological states, which can be done by exploring the factors that influence your states in the first place. As mentioned, your physiology—your posture, facial expressions, breathing, and gestures—and the things you focus on both determine your state.
Most people develop physiological and mental patterns that consistently produce the same states. For example, if you have a habit of hanging your head down and dwelling on thoughts about your failures, you will habitually feel disheartened and depressed. These habits become wired in the brain and can be regular patterns in your life.
Developing these patterns creates two consequences that will prevent you from experiencing the benefits of good posture:
- You experience only a handful of emotions in your day-to-day life, which means that you miss out on a rich spectrum of emotional experiences.
- If the patterns are disempowering, you are habitually in negative states.
Higher Social Status
Because social status is so important in life outcomes, you try to figure out where on the social hierarchy you are, signal that position to other people, and jockey for a higher position. These are deeply evolved, biological behaviors, as Jordan B. Peterson states in his book 12 Rules for Life. To support this claim that a desire for a higher position is biological, Peterson uses an example of the behavior of crawfish when fighting over power. Two stranger lobsters, placed in the same tank, will within 30 minutes determine the dominant and the subordinate lobster. Their subsequent behaviors match their position—one strutting, claws in the air; the other sulking, dejected, prone to flight.
If all this is true, then to elevate your social status, first you need to signal your confidence through external body language. Peterson suggests, “stand up straight, with your shoulders back.” People will perceive you as higher in social status, and they’ll treat you as competent and able. This will then kick off a virtuous cycle—because you’re receiving positive signals from others, you’ll increase your own self-worth, which will make you act even more confidently.
Some experiments suggest that alterations in body language can change mental perception—smiling makes you happier and adopting power poses can make you feel more confident.
This begins with your body language, but you also need to improve your self-beliefs. Speak your mind, put your desires forward, and dare to be dangerous. This is the beginning of developing self-respect, accepting the demands of life, marking your space, and standing up to tyranny.
(Shortform note: This is a variant of “fake it ‘til you make it.” Even if you don’t feel confident, act confidently. Others will treat you better, and you will develop real confidence.)
You might worry that all this posturing will make you a target for attack by stronger people. Peterson argues that the ability to respond with aggression decreases the probability that actual aggression will become necessary. In other words, acting confidently is a deterrent to attack.
But fake it ‘til you make it might go only so far. Doesn’t this ignore the problem that there’s such a thing as real ability and that a person’s low social status might be warranted? Peterson acknowledges this but suggests that there are people who specifically prey on those who behave submissively. This could cause an artificially low perception of status and make it hard to crawl out of your vicious cycle. Instead, if you kick off the change by appearing confident, people will treat you as though you have value. You get positive responses, and this makes you less anxious, which makes you better at conversation and social interaction. As you enjoy things more, you will seek them out more, and so forth.
Improved Public Speaking
A benefit of good posture is not only the improved confidence you feel in yourself—but also the confidence other people have in you.
Dr. Nick Morgan claims that an audience’s perception of you can be easily influenced by just how you present yourself. Knowing this fact can help you stay calm while speaking in public. You’ll also have a better reception from your audience, who is your main target when making a speech—especially about something important.
A slouching position might give off a relaxing and comfortable aura, but it could also be negatively received as inconsiderate, which detaches the speaker from the subject of the speech.
How to Achieve Good Posture
Correcting your posture isn’t difficult to achieve. It’s just a matter of changing your sitting habits or even just wearing the correct shoes. Here are a few exercises you can perform to experience the benefits of good posture that are listed above.
How to Sit With Good Posture
In Mindfulness in Plain English, Henepola Gunaratana is clear to say that you should learn by doing, not by following dogmatic prescriptions. However, certain meditation practices have been optimized over millennia, and they’re worth trying out to achieve the benefits of good posture.
Sit with your back straight. The spine should be erect, with the head in line with the spine. Be relaxed, not stiff. Have no muscular tension. Straightness invites alertness. Slouching invites drowsiness.
Your clothing should be loose and soft. Don’t wear clothing so tight it restricts blood flow or nerve sensation. Take your shoes off. You can choose to sit on the floor or in a chair.
When sitting on the floor:
- Use a cushion that is relatively firm, at least three inches thick when compressed.
- Sit close to the front edge of the cushion, and let your crossed legs rest on the floor in front. Use some padding to protect your shins and ankles from pressure. Sitting too far back causes the front edge of the cushion to press into the thigh and pinch nerves.
- Fold your legs in a style you’re comfortable with. The lotus positions are best because they are the most stable for long periods of time. The Yoga Journal details four different sitting positions that are used as postures for meditations:
- Burmese style—Both legs lie flat on the floor from knee to foot. They are in parallel.
- Half lotus—Both knees touch the floor. One leg and foot lie flat along the calf of the other leg.
- The Quarter Lotus—The right foot is tucked under the left knee, and the left foot is tucked under the right knee.
- Full lotus—Both knees touch the floor. Each foot rests on the opposite thigh.
- Cup your hands one on the other, resting them on your lap below your navel with your wrist pressed against your thigh, with your palms turned upward. Relax your arms.
When sitting on a chair:
- Choose a chair with a level seat, a straight back, and no arms. Do not lean against the back of the chair.
- The seat should not dig into your thighs.
- Place legs side by side, feet flat on the floor.
Sit in the entire session in that posture without moving.
Wear Flat Shoes
The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss provides two practices to achieve stellar posture. The first is wearing flat shoes. Wearing shoes with heels forces the body to assume an uncomfortable posture to stay balanced. The fix is simple—wear flat shoes most of the time, and wear heels only sparingly.
For example, when Ferriss switched to wearing flat shoes (Vibram Five Fingers and Terra Plana Barefoot Vivo shoes), the low back pain he’d been experiencing for ten years disappeared.
The Egoscue Method
The second of Ferriss’s recommendations to achieve the benefits of good posture is The Egoscue Method, which was mentioned earlier as a solution to muscle misalignment. The Egoscue Method is a series of exercises designed to improve posture. To fix bad posture caused by working at a desk, do the following exercises one to three times after every two to three hours of sitting, and do all six exercises at least once every seven days.
Exercise #1: Static back
- Lie face up.
- Put both your legs up on something. Your knees should be bent 90 degrees.
- Stretch out your arms, palm up, with your thumbs touching the ground. Your arms should be 45 degrees away from your body.
- Relax. Your lower back should be flat on the floor.
- Stay in this position for five minutes.
Exercise #2: Static extension
- Get into a crawling position. Your wrists, elbows, and shoulders should be in a line, as should your knees and hips.
- Move your hands six inches in front of you.
- Put your elbows where your hands were.
- Make a thumbs-up shape with your hands and pull your thumbs away from each other.
- Pull your hips towards your feet until your lower back arches.
- Lower your head.
- Stay in this position for 60 seconds.
Exercise #3: Static shoulder bridge
- Lie face up, and bend your knees.
- Put a pillow between your knees and squeeze it.
- Lift your hips and back off the ground, still squeezing the pillow.
- Stay in this position for 60 seconds.
Exercise #4: Active shoulder bridge
- Follow the first two bullets of the static shoulder bridge.
- Lift your hips and back up and down for 15 reps.
- Do three sets in total.
Exercise #5: Supine groin progressive (Shortform note: There are two versions of this exercise. One requires specialized equipment, and one can be done at home. We’ve combined the instructions for a more robust at-home version.)
- Create a loop—for example, tie the legs of a pair of sweatpants together—and hang it over a doorknob or chair.
- Lie on your back, face up.
- Put one foot in the loop with your leg straight. Your back should just be starting to arch. Adjust the loop height if necessary.
- Put the other leg up on something. Your knee should be bent at 90 degrees.
- Hold this position until your whole lower back is touching the ground (probably around five minutes).
- Adjust the loop so your leg is a little lower and your back is arching again.
- Hold the position until your back is flat again.
- Adjust approximately every five minutes for 25 minutes.
- Repeat with the other leg.
Exercise #6: Wall sit
- Stand with your back to a wall.
- Spread your knees and feet hip-width apart. Point your feet straight forward.
- Slide down the wall and move your feet away from it until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your ankles should be a little forward of your knees, and every part of your lower back should touch the wall.
- Stay in this position for two minutes.
Adopting an upright posture can eliminate the negative effects that are putting a damper on your life. With the benefits that good posture brings, you’ll see a positive wave of confidence and the absence of pain that will make your life easier and more enjoyable.
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