When thinking about posture, images of deportment classes and grade one ballet lessons may first spring to mind. But beyond balancing books on your head as you walk, our posture holds a great power over the optimal function and capabilities of the body. Poor posture, particularly poor spinal health, can decrease the function of the body’s organs and systems, even so far as to induce early ageing and mortality. Add on the fact that posture is inextricably linked to body language, affecting the first impressions of power and confidence you portray to the world, and it’s clear that your posture is something you really should give AF about…
We’ve got the low down on just how posture can detrimentally affect your body, plus the tips you need to know to fix it. I guess mum was right all those times she told you to stand up straight and pull those shoulders back after all!
Our most primal, subconscious act—that of breathing—is seriously compromised by the all-too common slumped, forward rounded posture that we desk-bound, glued to an iPhone, humans inhabit. In fact, one study showed that bad posture can affect our breathing and lung capacity by up to 30%. This affects the uptake of oxygen, compromising our energy levels, brain function, concentration and recall, as poor posture compresses the lunges, making them smaller and decreasing the volume of air on each inhale. This compressed position then makes it harder for the diaphragm to work, forcing shallow breathing in the upper chest and triggering a stress response of the nervous system, while simultaneously requiring more energy to complete the task at hand.
The Fix: Try incorporating active, lateral breathing. This Pilates method style of breath, draws the oxygen down into the deepest lobes of the lungs for more effective gas exchange and higher levels of oxygenation. The trick is focusing on the breath expanding the ribs sideways as you inhale, before knitting closer together on the exhale. See if you can find moments in your day to pause and consciously breathe this way for 8-10 deep, full breaths.
Struggle with tummy issues? Your poor posture could be to blame! As proper posture determines the effectivity of circulation around the body and digestion requires a substantial amount of blood flow to complete the process, if something (more specifically, some body part) is impairing the flow of circulation, a lack of optimal digestion may occur. Additionally, the stomach and intestines rely on squeezing and pushing style movements, known as peristaltic movements, to push food through the intestines during the process of digestion. If some dodgy posture is compressing the abdominals organs, the function becomes compromised and a sensation of being “stuck” may be experienced as your food cannot pass through with ease.
The Fix: Turns out being told off for lounging on the couch straight after dinner was actually for the right reasons—this study showed that patients with IBS had less “gas” when they digested food standing up—so it’s worth a shot if you’re constantly struggling with that bloated tum after every meal!
Accidental injuries are frustrating, but gaining an injury that could have been avoided by pulling your posture into check, well they are just the worst! Looking at the body through a biomechanics lens, when your centre of gravity and neutral alignment of the spine and extremities is off, you become higher at risk of attaining an injury when undertaking physical activity or when put under strain—i.e. the classic strained lower back after moving the sofa. This decreased functioning of proper biomechanics compromises the nervous system, while making the muscular system slower to respond to changes, such as terrain, balance and proprioception responses in an expedited, automatic fashion.
The Fix: If you notice postural deviations, such as scoliosis or muscular imbalances, try booking in a session with a bodywork practitioner, such as a physiotherapist, osteopath or Pilates Instructor for a detailed postural assessment and subsequent tailored program. You can also get started at home now with this basic Pilates posture rundown to help you find neutral alignment. A focus on including unit-lateral (one-sided) movements into your training regime will also help build balanced strength throughout the body.
Joseph Pilates famously said “you are only as young as your spine is flexible” and he wasn’t wrong. Chronic poor posture is served with a side dish of prolonged misalignment and subluxation of the spinal joints and some extremities which can result in inflammation, pain and even osteoporosis. Not only does poor posture induce the look of advanced ageing—think of the hobbled, curved inwards posture of the elderly—but some research indicates that those with poor posture have a 44% higher risk of death—caused by heart and lung decreased functionality.
The Fix: Focus on implementing and then maintaining exercises that encourage good spinal health. This could include mobilisation work, Pilates, yoga or swimming. Additionally, assess your office posture, especially if you are seated at a desk all day long. Some swaps such as moving to a standing desk or more ergonomic chair may enhance healthier workspace conditions for long term benefits. If you are in chronic pain, it is always recommended to seek qualified medical advice.
We humans are very interested in body language and the dynamics of non-verbal communication. The way we interact and subsequently assess our interactions, is commonly influenced by the first impressions of body language and communications expressed by how we hold ourselves—i.e., our posture. Social scientists often study the effects body language holds over the judgements we form about others, and how those judgements implicate real life situations, such as who we hire or promote in business. Traits such as confidence, power, dominance and control can all be expressed through body language and posture, as can their reverse. When we feel powerless, or frightened, we make ourselves smaller, taking up less space and reflecting these emotions.
However, they have also found that we ourselves are influenced by our own non-verbal communications! Social scientist, Amy Cuddy revealed in her Ted Talk that not only can the mind change the body, but indeed the body can alter the mind. In fact, just two minutes of “power posing” can help you not just fake it ‘til you make it, but actually fake it ‘til you become it. She explains that non-verbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves, for example when you bring yourself to a powerful posture, you feel more powerful and subsequently are more likely to act powerfully! Whilst additionally it changes our hormonal levels to be more assertive, confident and self-assured! So, if it’s a confidence and power boost you are after, get that posture sorted—stat!
The Fix: See if you can take a quick scan of your posture before or during interactions with others and assess what you find—do you draw yourself up to full height, or curl inwards slightly? Awareness can be the first step to knowing what you need to address. If it’s more power and self-assertiveness you are after, try adopting Amy Cuddy’s “Power Posing” technique and see if it helps boost your confidence levels!