What is posture? Is it how we stand? Is it based on how well we hold ourselves upright? What makes posture “good” or “bad”? According to the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI), posture is “a reflection of the ‘position’ of many systems that are regulated, determined and created through limited functional patterns.” These patterns reflect our ability to breathe, rotate and rest symmetrically. In other words, our posture is reflected in our ability, or inability, to move and function optimally.
Although we are generally put together with two arms, two legs, two eyes, two feet and so on, each on one side of the body, there is nothing symmetrical about our intrinsic physical make up. Outwardly, we may look even, but on the inside, the intricacies of our physiology reveal the asymmetrical nature of our bodies. For example, we have a liver on one side of the body and a heart on the other. Our entire nervous, respiratory and circulatory systems are not the same from one side to the other. So what does this mean?
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Because of the various functions of each area of the body, balance is created through the collective of all the systems’ imbalances. As wonderfully made as our bodies are, these asymmetries can often lead to overcompensation patterns. For example, because the diaphragm is larger on the right side than on the left, and it enjoys feeling “compressed” on the right side, we tend to have a stronger abdominal wall on the right side of our torso. This often results in limited rotation to the left and compressed lumbar vertebrae. Conversely, our abdominal wall is typically weaker on the left side, but it has greater range of motion when twisting to the right.
These imbalances are normal, natural and often undetectable due to the powerful ability of our bodies to compensate for faulty movement patterns. However, over time, these compensations can lead to a variety of health issues, including lordosis (chronic back extension); forward head posture; knee, hip and back pain; and poor breathing mechanics, mirroring what we typically think of as “poor” posture.
Fortunately, with self-awareness and consistent practice, you can restore a healthy relative balance within your body’s systems. Have you ever noticed what side of your body you habitually stand towards? Or what arm you usually use to reach, grab or pick up things? Is your balance better standing on one leg versus the other? Noticing our individual habits is the first step to improving posture. You cannot correct what you don’t know. So, firstly, check in with your seated and standing posture periodically. Leave reminders for yourself to assess your posture and even to take a few slow deep breaths. Also, try these functional movements to improve your posture and breathing mechanics.
Exercises to improve posture
• Stand with the right foot slightly in front of the left, with the weight primarily on the front leg. Inhale.
• Begin to lift the left leg forward and up to 90 degrees while reaching the opposite elbow (right) to the lifted knee. Exhale.
• Return to the starting position, keeping most of your weight on the right leg. Repeat for 10 rounds on the same side, then repeat with the left leg forward.
• Stand against a wall with your feet in front of you, knees slightly bent, and weight in your heels.
• Lift your arms into the shape of field goal posts, pressing the elbows and forearms to the wall.
• Tuck your tailbone forward and feel your lower back press into the wall. Maintain this position and breathe through your nose.
• Inhale to lift the arms overhead (keeping the trunk position stable)—only go as far as you can without compromising the rest of your posture.
• Exhale to bring the arms back down, reaching your elbows toward your sides. Repeat.