Proper posture

Assuming the correct stance can give you an instant makeover

Woman doing a yogasana that helps maintain good posture

A combination of many factors gives rise to poor posture such as a strained back or stooped shoulders. If the natural curves of your spine [which takes a gentle, sloping S shape] are overly arched or flattened over long periods of time, it is only a matter of time before your spine turns stiff. So make the effort to get your posture corrected NOW!

Causes of poor posture

There are several reasons why people tend to develop poor posture over a period of time:

Impossibly high heels look delectable, but can take a toll on your spinal cord.

Overcome it: Don’t throw those high-heeled Jimmy Choo sandals away. Flaunt them by all means, but only for shorter durations and when not too much walking/standing up is involved. Keep a pair of sensible and comfortable shoes handy in your car, to be slipped into when the party is over.

You like to carry your world with you, in your suitcase. Lifting heavy luggage can result in back strain.

Overcome it: Travel light, even though it might seem like a tall order. When travelling, be careful while lifting or carrying heavy objects such as your suitcase, in order to avoid straining your back. Here’s how to do it right: assume a wide stance, bend at the knees rather than at the waist, keep your back straight and lift slowly with your arms and legs, not your back.

An improper bra size is likely to tug at your breasts and consequently at your back

Overcome it: Spend some time on getting the measurements right and tryout different styles before choosing one that falls in line with your centre of gravity.

 Spending hours hunched before the computer screen

Sitting hunched before the computer screen for hours together isn’t doing any favours to your back. In fact, it’s what can give rise to a hunched back in the long run. “I have difficulty getting up from my chair at the end of a long, tiring day,” a client of mine admits.

Overcome it: Invest in a chair with a straight back, arm support and a firm cushion. When seated, tuck a small, firm cushion in the small of your back for support. Use a footrest to elevate your feet slightly. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” as Mandar, an architect, so aptly demonstrates: “I put a carton under my desk to rest my feet on.” The screen of the computer should be at eye level so that the spine and neck are not strained. Avoid sitting for long periods. Take frequent breaks to move and stretch your muscles. If your job keeps you standing for long hours, use your breaks to sit down and relax.

 “I feel a tugging pain in my lower back every time I try to get out of bed,” is a frequent complaint of a client of mine. An improper sleeping position may be to blame.

Overcome it: Lying on your back forces your back to be flat, thereby placing too much pressure on your spine. If you tend to adopt this position in your sleep, place a pillow under your knees for support to prevent lower back pain; if you sleep on your side, place a pillow between slightly bent knees. It will ease pressure and help maintain the natural curves of your spine. Sleeping on your stomach may increase the curve of your lower back; so this position is best avoided. When getting out of bed, swing your legs over the side of the bed to the floor instead of twisting your body to get up. Finally, opt for a firm mattress. A good mattress will conform to the spine’s natural curves and keep it in alignment. If you don’t have a firm mattress, insert a piece of hardboard underneath.

Being overweight affects your posture and overburdens your back as well. If you tend to accumulate fat on your abdomen, it makes you a prime candidate for lordosis [excessive inward curvature of the spine].

Overcome it: Extra pounds are better off in your bank, not on your back. Make an effort to knock them off.

Having trouble carrying groceries home? Surely there ought to be a better way of doing it?

Overcome it: Avoid lugging it all in one hand or holding it in front of you. Divide your shopping into two bags, to be carried in each hand.

Ever feel tiredness seeping in to as you move from one chore to the next all day long? Ignore it and you will feel your body, and your posture, wilt under the pressure.

Overcome it: Take regular breaks from your chores. And if possible, how about sneaking in a short nap in the afternoon? It will enable you to stay energetic for the remainder of the day.

To a client, who came to me complaining of exhaustion and back pain at the day’s end, I suggested the following. They should work for you too:

  • Get a therapist to give you a massage at least once a week. If you are the romantic kind, how about getting your partner to massage your back—you DO have a medical reason to indulge in a back rub now and then.
  • Take a warm bath or direct a pulsating shower on your back and feel the strain ease out. You could use a warm water bottle on your back, hips and other sore spots to relieve pain.
  • Exercise regularly. Strong muscles are better able to support your body even after a long, tiring day.

Some general tips you can use to improve your posture

The easiest way to a good posture is to start at the beginning and to learn how to stand, sit and walk right. As you work repeatedly at improving your alignment, your mind’s computer will store this improved version and make good posture a habit.

Sitting

Sitting puts more stress on your spine than any other activity, so it pays to do it right. When you sit, position yourself to maintain correct alignment, with the pelvis, spine, chest and head falling into a straight line. If you slouch when you sit, reposition your body to sit upright.

Standing

Keep your shoulders relaxed and your spine tall and in a neutral position. The chest should be upright, the abdomen tucked in and the head and neck aligned with the spine. Distribute your body weight equally on both feet.

Walking

In general your standing posture is the one you tend to exhibit when walking. If you slump when standing up, you will exhibit the same poor alignment when you walk. So stand upright first before you start walking. Take quiet, smooth steps and keep your sternum or breast bone lifted when you walk. This enables you to breathe properly and eases the tension in your neck.

Fight Plan

Consult a certified trainer for specific exercises. In general, a fitness regimen for good posture would include:

Strengthening exercises

You need strong muscles for a good posture. If your upper back muscles are weak, it is only natural that you will tend to slouch. So make strength training a part of your exercise routine.

Stretching exercises

Posture and stretching are directly related. Most postural problems result from incorrect alignment caused by tightness in the muscles. Yoga and stretching exercises help loosen muscles and realign soft tissue structures, thus reducing the effort it takes to achieve and maintain a good posture in daily activities.

Relaxation

It is just as important as exercise. If your mind is relaxed, tension is released. Many scientists believe that emotional and muscular tension are related and can give rise to headaches and joint and muscle strain. Find the time to relax at least once a day so that it becomes part of your routine.

Back To Work

One of the common outcomes of a bad posture is a stiff back. To avoid this, try yoga. It enables you to flex and extend different parts of your spine, thus keeping it supple and capable of all the normal range of movements available to the spinal column. I have listed simple postures for your back; which you can perform everyday. Please consult your physician before attempting them. Also learn them under the supervision of a yoga expert.

Bhujangasana [Cobra pose]

Lie down on your stomach with your arms resting on the side. Now bend your elbows and place your palms just below the shoulders. Raise your arms, back, chest and neck off the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.

Setubandhasana [Bridge pose]

Lie down on your back. Raise your hips and back off the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.

Pavanmuktasana [Knees-to-chest pose]

Lie down on your back. Bend your knees and bring them to your chest. Clasp your hands over the knees and use them to compress the knees to your chest. Hold for 30 seconds.

Excerpted with permission from Sexy @Sixty by Namita Jain published by Westland Publishers. Price INR 200

This was first published in the December 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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