When you stand, stand tall

As any of you who read my blog or sit in my workshops know, I am a little obsessed with what I call the 6 key drivers for good health and much of my work evolves around these 6.

In Michael Harner’s pioneering book, ‘The way of the Shaman’ he references Albert Schweitzer (the man behind our quote this month) as having observed that witch doctors succeed for the same reason all doctors succeed- each patient carries their own doctor around inside of them and the outer doctor’s job is to give that internal doctor a nudge to go to work.

Our bodies have an intrinsic drive to wellness ‘under the right conditions’, as good health just means everything is working as it should be. These 6 key drivers provide these ‘right conditions’, so are, in my opinion, the foundations from which to become more resilient and grow. They come in a hierarchy of importance to our survival; breath, hydration, sleep, nutrition, posture and exercise.

The fact that good posture shows up on this list shows how important it might be. How many of you sat a little straighter, just by seeing the words ‘good posture’ on the page!

Posture is defined as ‘the position in which someone holds their body when standing or sitting’. It is that counterbalancing force that allows us to stand upright within gravity’s field. The beautiful and curvaceous human spine is an engineering marvel, in both form and function. When our spine is properly aligned and our joints correctly stacked and our body parts are supported by the right amount of muscle tension, it allows us to work with gravity rather than against it.

But how we hold our body is so automatic that maintaining or restoring this proper alignment takes practice and conscious awareness, it won’t just improve on its own, and there are 2 areas to consider; alignment and muscle tension.

Looking at alignment briefly first, the thing that helps me most was looking at my feet.

Your feet are the first 15% of your upright posture. It is CRITICAL that your feet are properly aligned on the ground as this assures no added stresses on your other joints (like your knees, hips and cranium) that are stacked above them.

To test your foot alignment, take off your shoes and see where they show wear and tear.

If you observe the outer edges of your shoes wearing out more quickly, it is probably because you have a supinated foot. Those who have a high foot arch tend to supinate as the arches do not flatten while you walk so the body weight is likely to fall on the outer edge of the foot, often leading to ankle and knee problems.

If you observe the inner edge of your shoe wearing out faster than normal, it means your feet pronate meaning your foot arch collapses during walking which leads to your ankle rolling inwards when you walk, often leading to calf and lower back problems.

Both these misalignments can be simply corrected with insoles (which have made a massive difference to me) but also being more aware of how you walk and making corrections or doing exercises to strengthen your feet and arches.

It is good to have some posture ‘check-ins’ through your day. Why not try the 3-H technique: Hips-heart-head, a great technique whether you are sitting or standing.

This is an easy yogic method of spinal alignment. Imagine you have a big helium balloon attached comfortably to your neck and head. It is strong enough to lift you but not quite enough to lift you off your feet. Close your eyes and imagine your hips, heart and head are all gently lifted into vertical alignment. Feel that lift in your whole spine and body, the more you practice it, the more it becomes second nature.

Another handy add-on to this is where possible, go palms up- whether sitting, standing or walking

Feel what happens to your shoulders when you gently twist your palms around to face out. This is a particularly good exercise if, like me, one of your poor posture habits is rounding your shoulders!

So we have briefly touched on improving alignment. But good posture also requires good muscle tension. Systems like Yoga and Pilates, Qi gong and Tai chi are particularly good for improving posture because they focus on core strength and gentle movements that can reverse the daily stresses put on your body. Balance-specific exercises are great for addressing postural improvements by building strength where it counts and stretching regularly can loosen tight muscles.

I have found doing simple stretching exercises helps free all my joints and muscles up for the day From my experience, if my body isn’t freed up, those little niggles or tight spots can cause me to compensate and this is what leads to bad posture, especially if I am avoiding pain from an injury or long term misalignment.

The sequence I use can be found online, designed by the lovely people at DRU (druyoga.com), based in north Wales and where I did some training. They are called energy block release sequences and at the school they use them before the usual yoga postures to get your body ready.  Energy Block Release 1 is the one I use daily as it is great for mobilising the spine in all directions.

I hope you have found some tips amongst this post to help keep your posture in check. Research has found that good posture not only projects a favourable image to others but it also affects how we think of ourselves :)

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