How "Perfect" Posture Can Hurt You (And What You Can Do About It)
Perfect posture is a myth. If I asked you to sit up like this (I do my best impression of an Army sergeant) all day long, you would eventually hurt.
Earlobe over shoulder over hip, spine and wrists in neutral, feet flat on the ground, hips and elbows at about 90 degrees … that’s what we were taught in school 20 years ago. But all those standbys of "perfect posture" were badly prioritized.
The problem with perfect posture isn’t the position of the body parts, it's the length of time they stay that way. It won’t matter how perfect you are, too many hours in any one position (even the best, right one) will make you ache. The body was meant to move, it’s bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments beautifully designed for varied, complex action.
Perfect alignment plus a sedentary job or lifestyle still equals pain and dysfunction. Movement is the key. Without awareness there is no opportunity for change or healing. So here are three important "strikes" to test yourself for when it comes to posture:
- Strike one: Too many hours in one position causes tightness, asymmetry and restriction in the myofascial system.
- Strike two: Without a daily, frequent way to counteract the hours of flexion, a body will tighten down, begin to restrict movement and set the individual up for injury.
- Strike three: Without body awareness, we'll stay locked in unconscious patters of bracing, tension and shallow breathing, which after time will cause restriction and pain.
By now, you're beginning to see that movement, especially varied movement, lifestyle and breathing/body awareness are going to be important for your health. If you got three strikes, don’t despair. A little awareness and change go a long way toward improving and healing body, mind and soul.
Here are some things you can do to address posture and overall health if you happen to have a desk job or otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
1. Get in the best alignment you can.
Start by following all the good posture rules at your desk, but then give yourself a break about those rules. Take a breath, drop down inside your body and relax.
Trying too hard to maintain perfect posture will cause undue tension in your system. Extra tension requires extra energy. Check in with your body throughout the day to see where it’s tense, breathe and soften. You can still maintain great alignment and function while softening and relaxing into your chair.
2. Use cushions to help support your system.
The problem with the “good” chairs you buy is they don’t all fit every body. The more adjustable the chair the better, but even then you might find it doesn’t feel like it’s supporting you where you need it. Don’t be afraid to bring a few cushions or towels into work to support your low back, hips or forearms. Cushions aren’t a cure-all though, and switching them out or changing them up is better than the same position all day long.
3. Take breaks from sitting.
Move your butt. Often. You know you need to move, but making that happen is tricky. If you can’t afford a standing desk or a treadmill desk, try the old fashioned solution: take a lot of breaks. Even a two minute breathe and stretch will help. Getting out of that seated, flexed position is key. Consider walking for half of your lunch break.
4. Amp up your exercise routine.
Even the ill effects of the worst sedentary job can be trumped and balanced somewhat by a good, vigorous exercise routine. What do I mean by vigorous? It makes you sweat. What do I mean by regular? Three to five days a week.
If you don’t have any exercise routine, you need to start slowly and build up. If you're no stranger to exercise and just need a little motivation, then quit your excuses and schedule it into your calendar like your VIP meetings.
5. Breathe deep and often.
Breathing is one of the most important — yet overlooked — activities we do. We take, on average, 20,000 breaths a day so they should be good ones!
Deep breathing is a massage for your insides, all the organs, nerves and blood vessels that govern all the vital functions of your body, mind and soul! The deeper and more often you breathe, the more you feed all of those vital structures with oxygen. This "exercise" can be done anywhere, anytime, in any position.
If you did one thing and one thing only for your postural health, and it was breathe deeper during the day, you would create a healing change in your body.
Remember, good posture is relative to what you're doing in any given moment. Expecting your body to stay in one position for hours on end, without moving, even if you have aligned yourself perfectly, isn't going to work. Eventually you'll hurt — it's a blood flow thing. Muscles that lack blood flow and oxygenation, over time will be painful.
Posture yourself for good health by making movement, including breathing, stretching and exercise a frequent part of your routine and lifestyle.