Posture on your mind – “Think Tall”
This is the second part of a series on how to achieve good posture for all ages
(First part: Importance of Posture – For All Ages)
By Lionel H. Phillips D. O.
There is no machine anywhere compared to our very own machine – our human body. Surely it should be an asset that we take maximum care of 24/7. It requires simple actions by us in order to work efficiently for a lifetime in a healthy mode.
The key to good posture is the position of the spine relative to its natural curvature. The spine has three natural curves – at your neck, mid/upper back, and lower back. Correct posture should maintain these curves, by not increasing or decreasing them.
Let us take note of a few extremely important basic acts required in order to achieve the correct posture.
Refer to the illustration below – Take note of the curvature in the left illustration and note how it relates with the illustration on the right. The design provides safety, strength and mobility.
The middle illustration is full-on from the back, stretching from the back of the skull in a straight line to the Coccyx where the last 4 vertebrae are fused together. That is what we want to achieve.
When viewed from either the front or the back – middle illustration – the vertical line passing through the body’s center of gravity should theoretically bisect the body into two equal halves, with the bodyweight distributed evenly between the two feet.
Stage One is a Fast Check – Necessary items are a mirror – preferably full length – as well as your cellphone and an assistant. All three will play an important role throughout the checking and correction process.
- Stand in front of the mirror facing full on, wearing light comfortable but fairly tight-fitting clothing. Preferably barefoot, but certainly without high heels. Relax the body completely so as to view your natural posture. We need to record your posture as accurately as possible whilst breathing normally.
- Have someone take a picture from the back, side and front. Then, whilst still in this position, check the alignment of your shoulders and hips. Are they parallel one side to the other? Are the gaps between the waist and elbows similar? Write any variance down. For example – right shoulder lower and left hip protruding to the left.
- Move away from the spot and then return to the same place. Without any body movement, increase your height by pushing yourself up from your heels and the balls of your feet, whilst imagining that you have a hook in the middle of you head tied to the ceiling and stretching you upwards. Don’t involve any body parts but try to STAND TALL. Breathe normally.
- Have pictures taken once again from the back, side and front.
- Write down what you observe. There should be a variance in all 3 of the positions, as well as the chin having moved slightly backwards.
- The pictures will tell you, in some small way, about any variance.
Now take a seat in your usual dining room chair. Sit as naturally as usual. Take pictures from the front, side and back. Stand up and be seated again. This time you must be seated with your lower back and buttocks as far back in the seat as possible. Once again take 3 pictures and then compare.
Did you feel more upright on the second set?
Were your shoulders relaxed yet more upright?
There should have been no gap between your lower back and the backrest from the waistline and lower. In addition, you should find it much easier to stand up when seated correctly. Let’s give it a test. Sit with what may have been your “slouched” posture. Inhale through the nose and exhale as you rise to a standing position. Next, sit with your lower back flush against the chair. Repeat the inhalation through the nose and exhale as your stand upright. Feel any difference?
Next step is to analyze the pictures and note the variances, if any. Assuming that there were changes, it would require actions that you, and only you, can perform.
What are we looking for? Muscles in the body are attached to the spine with the help of tendons. At times, due to poor posture, overuse and strenuous activities, these muscles get inflamed, especially the upper back muscles of the cervical and thoracic spine which are more susceptible to inflammation due to overuse. Bad posture, such as slouching, pulls the shoulders forward. Correcting poor upper body posture can avoid and alleviate the pain and limited function associated with shoulder tendonitis.
The cervical region of the spine is the most flexible, followed by the lumbar region. The thoracic spine, however, has a more limited range of motion as it is anchored by the rib cage. The illustration below left should be our aim. Upright, relaxed for maximum efficiency.
The illustration below indicates – to some degree – how crowded, yet perfectly, our organs are packed. Imagine the negative pressure effect on our organs if say one shoulder is lower than the other, or if we are in a slouched position.
Where do posture imbalances come from? It is important to note that having good posture is a combination of flexibility in your skeletal muscles, and balanced strength, which helps you stand and walk gracefully. The conscious activation of the postural muscles is very important, especially when standing or sitting for an extended period.
The illustration below, will give you some idea of the numerous muscles that are affected by poor posture. And this is only the upper body.
Solutions are non-invasive, other than one having to have the discipline and make the effort. The results will certainly be worth one being able to change poor postural habits for the better.
A full-length mirror, if available, will be your best guide. Please delete the often-well-meaning advice to a) Pull your shoulders back. b) Lift your chin.
The most important two words for one to ingrain are – THINK TALL. Whether sitting, standing, walking, jogging or running. THINK TALL.
Imagine that the top of your head is attached to a crane which is lifting you upwards. All whilst you are in a relaxed posture.
Below is an illustration of the right knee. Poor posture of one’s head always drooping to the right, will cause the right shoulder to follow suit, whilst the left hip will move outwards to the left, affecting the right knee which will be taught, whilst the left knee is relaxed.
Whether sitting, bending, jogging, running, lifting or pushing / pulling, or climbing a staircase, NEVER ALLOW THE KNEES TO BEND FORWARD BEYOND THE LINE OF THE TOES. Our knees have to put up with enormous pressures as well as strain.
Common falls whilst walking. Test yourself with the following. Stand upright, feet shoulders apart. Then slouch slightly into a poor posture. The shoulders will be ahead of your waist. Lift one leg with a bent knee as high as possible and note the height achieved. Then stand upright with an upright THINK TALL posture. Once again, lift the same leg with a bent knee as high as possible. You should notice how much higher the second lift was compared to the slouched posture. This accounts for the large number of persons tripping and falling, resulting in a variety of injuries due to being hunched forward and not allowing for a natural lift of the leg. It is also difficult to do Nose Diaphragmatic Breathing whilst slouched.
Breathing and Posture whist Walking in general or as an Exercise. THINK TALL and inhale through the Nose, and Exhale through the Mouth.
Note how the abdominal section rises when inhaling through the Nose. This is followed by the abdominals returning to the start position, whilst the chest has remained unmoved throughout. This can be done whilst lying or sitting.
The diaphragm is a parachute-shaped fibrous muscle that runs between the chest and abdomen, separating these two large cavities. When you breathe through your chest, the intercostal muscles and diaphragm don’t get to contract like they’re supposed to. This keeps the body from getting the optimal level of oxygen that it needs. This is the reason why you may feel stressed and fatigued even when you do not engage in physically extraneous activities. According to a 2004 study from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the main reason why most people do chest breathing instead of diaphragmatic is because of poor posture.
Diaphragmatic breathing is different. In diaphragmatic breathing, the air enters through the lungs and the diaphragm is actively contracted. The chest does not rise. Instead, the belly expands.
No matter how busy one is, squeeze in a few minutes to practice diaphragmatic breathing. Do it while on your way to work or school, during lunch breaks, watching TV, before or after working out and before or in bed.
Car Seats. The backrests are generally set sloping too far backwards. It will assist one to sit more upright by adjusting them to a more upright position. This will have an added positive by allowing the knees to be slightly higher than the buttocks.
In addition, by using a rolled towel – or similar- to be placed in the lower back, at the natural curvature of the spine, one will be seated more upright and prevent air from the open window or air conditioning from hitting the lower back. This happens to be the area where one usually sweats the most.
Photo below is in a lounger. Same principal applies to a car seat.
(Photo on the left illustrates the position and effect of using the towel.)
What is the Correct Standing, Sitting or Walking Posture?
- THINK TALL – Stretch the top of your head toward the ceiling. Do this by imagining that you have a hook pulling at the hair on top of your head towards the ceiling. This will also help to keep your shoulder blades well aligned (but relaxed) and in a strong, confident position. This concept must be practiced when you are standing or sitting. Don’t pull your shoulders back or upwards un-naturally – you cannot hold them in such an un-natural position.
2. Hold your head up straight with your chin relaxed. Do not tilt your head forward, backward or sideways.
3. Your earlobes should then be in line with the middle of your shoulders.
4 Keep your chest naturally forward, not sunken.
5. Straighten at the knees, but do not lock or tighten them.
6. Tuck your abdominal area in by a slight tensing / squeezing of the abdominal muscles, which will tilt your pelvis slightly forward and up.
7. The arches in your feet should be supported by good footwear.
8. Avoid standing in the same position for a long time. When this is necessary, keep shifting your weight from one leg to the other, and try to elevate one foot by resting it on a stool or box or bar if possible. After several minutes, switch to the other foot.
9. If possible, adjust the height of the work table or desk to a comfortable level.
Stretching, should be done until you feel a slight pulling of the muscle, but not pain. As you hold the stretch the muscle will begin to relax. Then as you feel the tension easing, you can increase the stretch again until you feel the same slight pulling. Hold this position until you feel no further increase. 20 seconds for each.
The PSOAS MUSCLE is one of the most important muscles in your body. It lies deep within the center of your core, connecting your femur to your lower back. The psoas muscle is the deepest muscle of the human body.
It affects our structural balance, muscular integrity, flexibility, strength, range of motion, joint mobility, and organ functioning. Three muscles are associated with what is commonly referred to as “the psoas”: the psoas major, psoas minor, and iliacus.
Without this essential muscle group, you wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed in the morning!
In fact, whether you run, bike, dance, practice yoga, or just hang out on your couch, your psoas muscles are involved. That’s because your psoas muscles are the primary connectors between your torso and your legs. They affect your posture and help to stabilize your spine.
They attach from your 12th thoracic vertebrae to your 5 lumbar vertebrae, through your pelvis and then finally attach to your femurs. In fact, they are the only muscles that connect your spine to your legs.
The VAGUS Nerve (seen in the two red tubes running vertically on two sides of the Cervical Spine in the illustration below) is the longest cranial nerve, and runs from the brain to the gut. It sends sensory information to the brain and controls certain motor functions throughout the body. It’s part of the parasympathetic system, which allows the body to “rest and digest.” Please note the key to stimulating the Vagus Nerve – Nasal Diaphragmatic Breathing!
When you breathe deeply into your belly, it stimulates the Vagus Nerve, which then sends a message to the brain telling it to make the body relax. Stress hormone production is reduced – and other physiological stress effects (like capillary constriction, muscle tension, decreased digestion, etc.) are improved as well.
The result? In the moment, you feel better and in the long-term help to prevent disease.
You can use deep belly breathing to stimulate the Vagus Nerve. This sends a message to your body causing it to relax and relieve stress. It’s fast and easy!
Be mindful of posture during everyday activities, like watching television, washing dishes, walking, driving and whenever using your computer and mobile phone.
Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can weaken the abdominal muscles, causing problems for the pelvis and spine, as well as adding pressure to the hips and knees, whilst contributing to lower back pain.
Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes. High heels, for example, can throw one off balance and cause postural problems, while placing more stress on numerous muscles.
About the writer:
Lionel Phillips is a Doctor of Osteopathy (1975), an International Fitness & Health Instructor, Consultant and Lecturer. He has researched and designed ‘The Needs & Functions of the Human Body’ as an educational subject for inclusion in all School Curriculums World-Wide. A past Federation Member and Israel Liaison Representative of IHRSA (International, Health & Racquet Sports club Association) and member of their worldwide “Panel of Experts”, Phillips is a recipient of the “Prime Ministers Award of Merit” (PM Menachem Begin).
Links to various Stretching and Free Exercise routines–
Stretches for the Lower Body:
General Stretches for Flexibility:
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