Sitting in a chair, look down and slouch forward so your torso and head are rounded forward and take a deep breath.
Now. Pretend that there is a hook in the top of your head, and someone above you is pulling up on that hook so that you are sitting up tall, elongating the space between your hip bones and your lowest ribs. Try taking a deep breath again.
What a difference, right?
As you just proved to yourself, proper posture lets you take deeper breaths, which increases the amount of energizing oxygen in your body. When you’re upright, you can expand all the muscles in your chest and lungs, which makes breathing easier. As you just noticed, hunching over has the opposite effect.
Unfortunately, as we spend more and more time sitting in front of computers or checking our cell phones, we develop “forward-head position.” Tilting your head forward even 30 degrees (like when you are looking at your phone) is like asking your neck and spine to carry an extra 40 pounds, creating chronic neck and back pain.
Here are a few suggestions to improve your posture:
Get moving! The human body wasn’t made to sit for long periods of time. Set reminders for yourself to stretch or walk for a few minutes every half hour or so. Moving around helps blood circulate, bringing oxygen and nutrients to muscles and helping wash away some of the substances that cause soreness. This can improve mobility and strength in parts of the body that help with posture.
- Stretch! When the chest and neck muscles are too tight, they contribute to hunching. To stretch those muscles, interlace your fingers behind your head, resting them on the base of your skull. Inhale as you broaden your chest as you arch your upper back, gently pulling your elbows backward and gazing up towards the ceiling. Exhale as you return to your starting position.
- Stand up! To check your standing posture, stand with your heels a couple of inches away from a wall, with your hips and shoulders touching the wall. Try to bring your head back so that it touches the wall, keeping your head level. Don’t fret if you can’t touch the back of your head to the wall right away, but keep practicing this movement, imagining that you’re like a turtle bringing its head back inside its shell.
- Give yourself a hug! Either sitting or standing, exhale and wrap your arms around your chest, hunching forward to give yourself a massive hug, and then inhale and release your arms and bring them back behind you as far as you can with elbows bent and thumbs pointing up and back for a scrumptious chest stretch.
- Breathe DEEPLY! While sitting or standing tall, put one hand on your upper chest and one hand on your belly, right below your ribcage. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise. Tighten your abdominal muscles as you exhale. The hand on your belly should return to its original position.
Even the seemingly simplest small moves done consistently over time build awareness and potential positive change that will make your body work better and you feel better.
Real Simple Magazine