(NaturalHealth365) To reduce pain within your body – you’ll have to fix bad posture as soon as possible. Are you too tired to sit up straight? Well, slouching is actually harder work than sitting or standing with a naturally aligned spine.
When we slouch, we enlist muscles to perform functions they are not designed to do. Superficial muscles in our back and neck area become strained, tense and over-stretched. These muscles are designed to rotate the head and flex the neck, but not for long sustained contractions involved with alignment.
The hidden dangers of sitting (too much) at a computer
Deeper slow twitch postural muscles should do the work of holding our head up and our body graceful, powerful and pain-free. Slouching is an epidemic in the Western World, and I feel it is primarily a result of too much sitting poorly in chairs and hunching over laptops.
Our young people have the worst posture of any generation and x-rays of some 20 year olds look like the arthritic spines of older people. We need to take serious measures to teach good posture, provide ergonomic chairs in our schools and stop slouching.
Are government health officials really interested in saving money on healthcare?
Chronic pain costs billions every year taxing our health care system and the economy and much of the pain is a result of slouching when sitting in chairs and cars.
The chair has an unnatural right angle shape that does not conform to our naturally curving spine shape. Many people slouch in a chair and roll back and sit on the lower tailbone and sacral area instead of aligning their hips and ribs so they can balance on the sit bones at the base of the pelvis.
When we let the pelvis tilt backward, the breastbone sinks, the head goes forward and the neck and back muscles get drafted into dysfunctional habits. The diaphragm gets compressed and the movements of breathing are forced into the upper shoulder area that in many cases will enlist a low level flight or freeze response in the nervous system.
Poor posture contributes to chronic disease
The chronic adrenal fatigue created by slouching can eventually lead to chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other autoimmune diseases.
Another bane of slouch sitting in chairs happens because we lose the tone of our core postural muscles, since the back of the chair does the work of keeping the spine upright. We get up out of our chairs but the chair habits stay in our body leading to chronic slouching.
Slouching is a result of dysfunctional breathing habits created by poor posture and also poor posture creates dysfunctional breathing habits. They are one in the same and the connection between the two is a huge blind spot in the medical, yoga and fitness world.
Stop and take a moment to breathe
One can avoid slouching by learning powerful breathing practices that engage the muscles that support the spine and diaphragm.
Exercising good posture involves waking up the core breathing muscles. Tight abs and shoulders drawn back are inefficient ways to stop slouching that can actually drain energy and restrict movement. Try holding your stomach in or pulling back on your shoulders while walking — you can see and feel why this is not a good way to get aligned with better posture.
Many yoga poses and exercises engage our muscles to make us slouch!
Some athletes exercise in body positions that are a muscled up slouch position. Yogis do forward bends that shorten the front and overstretch the back, compressing the diaphragm and making the ligaments in the hips and spine too lose. Many people engage daily in ab crunching moves that enlist the muscles of the trunk to be short and tight which can cause the organs to protrude and make a ‘pot belly.’
Cyclists in particular are known for hunching over their handlebars, and paddlers – seated as well as stand up – are often in very poor postural alignment when they exercise. The muscles that people engage to shorten the abdominals and round the upper back in these positions mimics slouching. Working the body hard in these positions engages the deep exhalation muscles and locks them in, so it is like they are literally stuck in the exhale.
Is the fitness industry really helping us to get fit?
Many fitness or yoga exercises that direct us to keep the belly tight and flat unnaturally stifle the breathing process, while shortening the front of the body and pulling the head and shoulders forward into a slouch.
Try taking a deep coughing action and then hold the action of these muscles to get an experiential feeling for what happens when our abdominals are trained to shorten. Exercising with our natural spine curves reversed or compressed restricts breathing, and forced tight abs can inhibit downward contractions of our diaphragm.
When exercising, doing things like keeping your back flat, tailbone tucked, belly tight, knees straight, or pushing belly out on inhale will actually inhibit your ability to breathe and can lead to more slouching.
How can we stop slouching?
Practice self-massage daily on the head, neck, feet, and arms to release unnecessary tension. Don’t wait for someone else to massage you, you can and should massage yourself. Sit on chairs with the knees lower than the hips and stay upright on your sit bones.
Manage your stress levels with walking and deep breathing. Focused breathing methods can greatly improve posture by aligning your spine from the inside out. The aim is to get rid of ingrained tension habits from slouching so that breath happens easily and naturally.
You can practice breathing through a straw while you sit on the edge of a bench or stool. Make sure you are on your sit bones with the curve in your lower back and abdominals relaxed. Keep the middle of your ear, shoulder, and hips aligned and practice keeping your shoulder blades drawing down as you breathe in through the straw.
After inhaling, hold your breath for a moment, take the straw out and slowly exhale making a SSSSS sound while focusing on keeping your waist area long and shoulders dropped during the exhale. Inhale again with the straw and notice how pulling the shoulder blades down will bring your breastbone up.
Again on the exhale, take the straw out and make a SSSS sound like a snake while you practice being on your sit bones and keeping length in your spine during the movements of exhalation. By practicing a lengthening of your trunk muscles when you exhale, you will teach your body how to enlist your abs to stabilize your spine rather than shorten and compress it with exercises that shorten your abs.
An easy way to improve your posture and your health
You can do this standing or sitting to get your body aligned from the inside out, turn on your intrinsic postural muscles and turn off all the extra work you have been doing by slouching.
Relax, walk around the room and notice how light your body feels and how easy it is to hold good posture and stop slouching by using the internal movements of breathing to activate your deep core.
About the author: Michaelle Edwards is a licensed massage therapist, yoga teacher, musician, and postural therapist living on Kauai. She invented a new painless way to do Yoga, fitness, self-massage and stretching called YogAlign that incorporates natural spine alignment and breath work to create good posture from the inside out. She is devoted to giving people the tools to heal themselves. Michaelle has a new book/DVD combo called YogAlign – Pain-free Yoga From Your Inner Core available at her website – YogAlign.com