Is bad posture a matter of strength-stiffness of our muscles or a matter of conscious control?
Most people think that in order to avoid a hunched posture while sitting or to maintain yourself in a more upright position it is required to strengthen the back muscles, your abs, stretch and get the best ergonomic accessories. Yes, this helps but its not all that is needed. To achieve real and long lasting solutions for your posture problems you need to work on what you want to improve, to be more clear, if you want to improve your sitting or standing position you need to also re-educate your body through the mind for this specific act, very similar to when you learn a sport. For example a football player, if they want to be a better player they need to train their muscles, use the appropriate outfit and learn and practice the specific movements to play the game (dribbling drills, shooting drills, crossing drills and so on).
So, what do you need to stop having problems with your posture?
This will help your muscles to be stronger, resistant and to develop a better tone but it’s not good only to focus in just one part of the body, like the back or core because our body works as a system. For example walking or swimming are excellent and complete ways to engage all of your body in one activity and in a balanced way. If I may say, my favourite top 1 activity is climbing, like our ancestors or like a child: hands, arms, back and legs working equally and strong enough to lift our own weight. I don’t mean to climb mountains or complicated walls. You can climb a tree, a ladder, and even the climbing frames in a playground which can be also challenging for adults. When my children’s school built a climbing wall for teenagers I was super happy.
Stretching exercises should be part of our daily routine like washing our teeth, it brings a lot of benefits and it can take just 10-20 minutes of your day. Soft and gradual stretching of the legs, back and arms. The best are stretching exercises that are made to stretch the muscles in chains and not just individually. I find that some Yoga exercises are very interesting for this and also the SGA or Global Active Stretching exercises from the Souchard Method.
3) Ergonomic accessories
I can’t stop thinking about our new reality of ”home office” I saw so many people suffering just because they didn’t have the correct furniture. If you are going to buy a new chair, please! try it first! It has to be good for YOU. There is so much information about the parameters you need to check when you are at your desk. In short: ”May the furniture adapt to you and not you to the furniture”. Observe carefully this simple graphic, that I found on the internet:
Scan this image from top to bottom:
-Eyes: the imaginary sight line parallel to the floor helps your head to be in the right position.
-Head, neck and back effortless in balance and supported.
-Elbow in a 90 degree angle and supported.
-Hips in 90 degrees (never less, it will overload your lumbar spine and discs).
-Knee angle (not the most important in my point of view, everybody move de legs constantly, but in this case I would mention that it is very important that the back of your knees are not touching the seat, ).
-Feet resting on the floor or a support.
Now coming to our key point. If I go to walk everyday 30-60 minutes, stretch 10-20 minutes and have a very nice chair and table to work. I have less pain in my neck, but it’s still there and I still hunch when I sit, what’s wrong?
The answer is Conscious Control.
The truth is that if you are used to a certain way of moving, sitting, etc this frequent and habitual way is recognized by the brain as ”good” and all automatic adjustments in an unconscious level are set in order to optimize your attention into another task (work, playing an instrument, studying, even watching a movie). So, to make a real change you need to work consciously on this specific activity, for example: how to sit or how to walk. Of course it takes time to practice this new way, keeping in mind the adversity that you’ve already been doing it, but, let’s say it, in a wrong way. What you need first is to recognize what was wrong and stop doing that and now you will be able to start a new way of thinking in this task. To explain this to my patients I use the example of learning a language; to re-educate your body you need time and practice and it will require you to think until it becomes natural. To support this learning process I found that the Alexander Technique is an excellent approach. Through the lessons your body awareness expands and you learn more about how ”your” body works, not the body but ”your” body, with all its concerns, body-mind and emotions. To practice it during your day you can dedicate 5 to 20 minutes at any time or at a more advanced level, while performing any other activity, integrating this to the way you move and live.
From a physiotherapist’s point of view who works with patients with chronic pain it helped me a lot to find out more things about the unconscious/automatic body. Gave me the tools to listen to their body in a different way and now I’m able to help them to learn and make changes from inside to outside.