How is your posture? Do you stand like a ballerina? Can you walk around with a book balanced on your head? Can you sit with crossed legs and a straight back comfortably for 30 minutes?
Even under relaxing circumstances, most of us have less than ideal posture – we round our shoulders, collapse our chests, project our heads forward, and tilt our pelvis either too far forward or too far back. When the world is under the uncertainty of a global pandemic for months on end, the chances are that you are holding more postural imbalance and muscular tension in your body than before.
As our bodies slump, so too does our mood. We all know this from experience – standing up tall and stretching our arms overhead has an uplifting effect on our minds; the stretches we get in a yoga class help alleviate pressures we have been feeling elsewhere in our lives.
And conversely, an injury or the fatigue of jetlag brings a heaviness to our physicality that can make us feel compressed, “stuck” and low in our feelings and thoughts.
The connection between our posture and our feelings and emotions has a lot to do with our breathing.
For ideal health – both physical AND mental – the lungs should be surrounded by a strong, supple and structurally balanced musculoskeletal system of ribcage and spinal column, and diaphragm, intercostal, and erector spinae muscles. Only then can the lungs inflate and deflate with the range and quality that activates your relaxation response (which reduces your stress and balances your nervous system), increases blood flow and oxygenation (improving your vitality, digestion, energy levels), and decreases heart rate and blood pressure.
Good posture breeds good breathing and this is essential for you to feel, think and function at your best.
So how can you improve your posture?
1. Mindful movement is essential
No matter what you are doing – walking down the street, doing a yoga or pilates class, or chores at home – being conscious of how you are holding your body is the only way you can start to make change. Notice your patterns, where you have imbalances, areas of physical tension, and then explore shifting yourself away from them.
- Stand with your feet hips width apart, inside edges of your feet parallel. Breathe in slowly, lifting your arms wide and up over your head.
- Breathe out slowly, lowering your arms back down by your sides.
- Close your eyes and repeat ten times, slowing your breath and slowing the movement of your arms.
2. Start a breathing practice
It will help correct your posture from the inside out. Optimal breathing honnes your core muscles and aligns the surrounding bones, not just those listed above but also the shoulders, chest and neck, abdomen and pelvis. When your core is strong and structurally balanced, the rest of your body has a better chance of aligning.
- Sitting or standing, take one hand to your belly, one hand to your chest.
- Breathing through your nose, as you inhale, push your belly forwards, as you exhale, pull your belly backwards.
- Do that a few times and then lessen the effort so it becomes a natural, subtle movement in your belly.
- Slow your breathing to about a five second inhale and a five second exhale and continue for 1-2 minutes.
3. Know what good posture feels like
Sometimes we think we are standing well when we aren’t. So practice this quick postural hack regularly so it feels familiar:
- Stand with your feet hips width apart, inside edges of your feet parallel.
- Draw your chin back slightly, feeling the back of your neck length.
- Drop your shoulders down as if you are wearing a warm heavy cloak.
- Now take one finger to the centre of your chest and one finger to the back of your skull. Lift up through these two points. Keep them lifted as you return your arms to your sides.
Trying one or all of these exercises will help you feel taller, stronger and more balanced. Try to maintain this posture and breath awareness as you move about your day and use this knowledge to reset yourself after times of stress, illness and fatigue.
For a whole catalogue of breathing practices and exercises to establish a more open, balanced breathing body, download THE BREATH METHOD app. There’s free content and education for everyone.
Stand well, Breathe well, Live well