Whether you are exercising, weight lifting, lifting in your everyday life, or simply sitting or standing, posture is a very important aspect for your health, general well-being, and avoiding those pesky aching stiff muscles! Posture is even important in our sleep! And I know since I don’t always follow what I preach and I wake up with a stiff neck so often!! So, let’s try and see what we can find that can help us during our everyday activities!
So I am sure that some aspects do overlap but we will be dividing this into three sections: standing, sitting, and sleeping since these are the everyday use that almost everyone has to use daily, and if not all, for sure everyone uses at least one of these every single day! Then we will try and look deeper into lifting postures since this is also something that most of us need to do at least every now and again, so, let’s get started!
Standing: I have heard a saying in yoga practice on Youtube (Yoga with Adriene) that makes this a bit more simple to follow: “Head over heart, heart over pelvis, pelvis over heals”. This breaks down the keep straight idea into sections and will help our minds focused on parts and sections of our body to fix our postures. Now if you have had a bad posture for all your life, this will not feel good at first (I know, I’m with you in this one), however, as your body adjusts, it feels better and reduces the aches that bad posture give. So let’s break this down a bit further into a standing exercise (this is great to do integrated with our Breathe exercises, get a good posture and take a few deep breaths daily, maybe to start your day with a calmer set of mind and more energy for your day, or before you sleep to let go of any stress of the day, or maybe simply as a break from the daily rush of activities to just find that few minutes of well being on the go!).
- Stand up tall and straight, of course, try to lengthen your spine, and feel a little pull from the top of your head
- Keep your head level
- Keep your shoulder back, let a little weight tug down your arms, and let your heart lift (this will play on our next yoga topic: Balance)
- Let your arms hang down naturally at your side
- Pull your stomach in (if the previous step didn’t get it in already), soften your ribs and try to focus on a straight spine
- tug your tail in, lengthen your spine further as you let your thighs shift slightly forward pushing your hip bones slightly forward
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart to start with this exercise for better balance, you can close them once you’re steady enough
- Place most of your weight on the ball of your feet, however, try and keep a consciousness about all four corners of your feet
Most of this can also be applied to walking, keeping a straight back, shoulders back, and head straight to look ahead rather than down at your feet (This doesn’t mean do not look at the ground, just at a more distant ground, and having your eyes looking slightly down rather than having your whole head down. If you can walk straight without looking at the ground, sure, however, if you’re like me, I need to look where I am walking not to trip so I will not suggest for people to not look at where they are walking). Now let’s note some specific points you might want to keep in mind while walking!
- Reduce impact – let your fore or midfoot hit the ground first so that your heel is cushioned. Thus will not only help prevent damage to the heel, which is a rather sensitive area but also reduce shock radiating up to your knees and hips
- Keep your straight posture, however, it helps if you push your chest slightly forward, just a slight tilt, an active push forward from your heart while keeping your neck and back straight
- Try to integrate your glutes, they are bigger, stronger muscles and they can help a lot while walking.
- Shorter but faster steps can help, both to give the correct footing and to keep yourself lighter and so reducing weight from your spine and less impact
- If you are just taking a walk or walking for the sake of exercising, walking in nature is better, both for your mind and the softer ground is better to walk on
Sitting: Now this is a position many of us spend a good amount of time in, and it can do major damage to our neck, shoulders, and back. Just like standing, here we’re going to try and keep a straight back, shoulders relaxed and head not too lowered to avoid neck tension. Here we will need proper seating equipment, however, this doesn’t mean expensive equipment, blocks of wood (footrests or elevating your desk area), as well as cushions, can solve most of our problems. So let’s break it down and see what we can do to improve our sitting posture.
- Keep your feet flat, if your feet cannot reach the floor, then use a footrest so that you can rest your feet flat supporting a little of your weight
- Avoid crossing your legs, even at the ankle, as this is harmful to your circulation, keep your feet more or less in front of your knees
- It’s best to have your thighs well supported, however, your chair should not touch the back of your knees
- Knees should be at the same level or slightly lower than your hips
- Keep your back straight and supported, if the back of the chair doesn’t cater for the curve in your back, use a cushion to fill in the gaps
- Keep the thighs and elbows parallel to the floor where possible
- Preferably, keep your arms on armrests and close to the body
- Relax your shoulders, do not crouch forward, but do not pull them backward, just find a relaxed straight position avoiding any tension what so ever
- Keep the neck nice and long, keep your gaze comfortably in front of you, avoid crouching forward or backward as this will strain the neck
- Shif in your position and stretch your muscles often, take small breaks at least once every hour, and take a few steps
If you are using computers or screens, make sure you have enough distance between yourself and your screen. This will vary depending on your screen, however, it is important for your eye health. The screen size distance ratio is roughly 1.5 times the diagonal width of the screen, that is if you have a 1meter diagonal screen you will need to sit 1.5 meters away from it, however, the quality of the screen also plays in this ratio so maybe you would want to do a quick search about your screen.
Sleeping: Now since we should at least spend around 6 to 8 hours daily sleeping, even though this is the time when we just want to relax and not have anyone telling us what to do, unfortunately, it’s too long of a time not to have a look at what is the posture we should sleep in or if at least there are some tips we could integrate into our customs and favorite poses.
- Fetal Position: (lying on your side and holding your legs and arms close to you) this position is good to help with lower back pain, reduce snoring, and good for pregnant ladies. It’s best to sleep on your left side rather than your right side, and it’s important to relax your body before you sleep. Holding your muscles stiff (as you are crouching in this position) will probably result in waking up with stiff or sore muscles in the morning.
- Sleeping on your left side: (without crouching into a little ball, the above will have some of this benefit but relaxing your muscles and opening up seems to be better) this position reduces snoring, helps reduce sleep apnea, helps your digestion, and may help reduce heartburn. Sleeping on your right side on the other hand might trigger heartburn! However, sleeping on your side the whole night might still result in stiffness and even a more wrinkled left side. This position seems to need some turning during the night, however, it can be helped by placing a pillow between the knees to align the hips.
- Lying on your stomach: This only helps with opening airways in contrast to sleeping flat on your back, however, it’s a bad position for your muscles and may result in stiffness in your muscles and joints and it triggers neck and back pain. Placing a pillow under your lower belly might help reduce back pain, however, this is the one posture you should really try to avoid!
- Flat on your back: Now as posture is concerned, this is the best way to sleep, your spine is straight and relaxed, with no pressure on the ‘lower’ joints and it’s basically restorative sleep for your hips and knees. Placing a pillow under your knees might even make this position better (just make sure your feet are well supported and not hanging if you are adding a pillow), it will help support the natural curve of your spine and is also great for your circulation. However, this is not ideal if you have sleep apnea or you snore. This position isn’t the best for opening the airway. It may also be hard if you already suffer from back pain, in that case, the fetal position might work better for you.
So basically there isn’t one universal best sleep, so at least, the chances are that your posture is good enough and might only require a few adjustments. Of course, a good mattress is also a must, having some spring poking you throughout the night will definitely not help! Also, softer mattresses may work better for side sleepers as they allow more bend for pressure points and support the curved up areas better, while firmer mattresses are better for flat back or stomach sleepers as they support a straight spine better. Weight is also a factor, the heavier you are, the more support you need, so if you are looking for a new mattress, take a look around, find some good mattress shop and get some well-informed consultation before you make your choice (after all, asking and looking around, even on the internet, is free!!)