Your mother always told you…stand up straight. Well, are you? Learning to stand tall, takes awareness and practice. With a bit of effort, you can learn to strengthen your back, core, and shoulders as well as reduce low back pain—all from maintaining good posture.

With our screen-based society (phones, tablets, computers and TVs), you may notice that your shoulders are rounded, your chest is collapsed, your low back is rounded, and your neck is bent. That just sounds painful.

So, where do we start? We’ll discuss a few basic principles and then start practicing posture.

It’s important to learn proper spinal alignment so that you can maintain the four natural curves: neck-cervical spine, upper back-thoracic spine, lower back-lumbar spine, and hips – pelvis/sacrum. When in alignment, your bones are doing their structural duty and your muscles are better able to perform more efficiently.

The five keys to improving posture include foot foundation, pelvic alignment, core engagement, shoulder engagement, and spinal lengthening through energetic intention.

We’ll start with awareness exercises and bring it all together standing at a wall. Each step will build on the previous one.

For our practice, you will need a chair, a hard floor surface (maybe a yoga mat or blanket for comfort), and a wall.

1. FOOT FOUNDATION

Neutral foot alignmentYour feet are your foundation and connection to the earth. How are you standing on your feet? Are your feet parallel? Is the weight evenly distributed between the four corners of your feet (big toe, pinky toe, inner heel, and outer heel)? Are your arches engaged or collapsed? Are your ankles stacked and centered over your heels (not rolling in or out)?

Awareness Practice:

  • With bare feet, sit on a chair with feet resting on a hard surface.
  • Plant your feet and wiggle your toes.
  • Check the alignment cues above: parallel feet, weight evenly distributed, ankle alignment, and arches engaged.
  • Stand up and pay attention to your feet. Shift your weight side to side and front to back.
  • With active intention, start pushing your feet into the floor.

What happened? Hopefully, your kneecaps engaged and lifted (quads engaged, muscles in the shins and calves enlivened?) If your glutes engaged, release them.

2. PELVIC ALIGNMENT

Pelvic alignment practice arched spine and neutral spineHips and low back suffer most often because this is where the load of the upper body meets the lower body–at the lumbar spine. One of the most mobile areas of the body, the pelvis is able to move in 3 planes: tucking/tilting, hiking up/down (moving the hip toward or away from your ribs), and rotating (or twisting front to back). Too much tucking or tilting of the pelvis adds stress to the low back. The goal of this practice is to discover a neutral position of the pelvis.

Awareness Practice:

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent.
  • Hug your knees into your chest and feel your low back on the floor. Drop feet to the floor with knees bent.
  • Place hands on your waist so the pinky finger is on hips and thumbs are on lowest ribs.
  • While keeping hips on the floor, arch only the low back away from the floor. Take a deep inhalation feel the ribs expand. (tilting the pelvis back – dog tilt)
  • Exhale and press the low back into the floor rounding the curve of the spine downward. (tucking the pelvis under – cat tilt)
  • Repeat this cat/dog stretch 5-10 times.
  • Start to discover a neutral pelvis. This is when the front pelvis bone or pubis and the front of the hip bones are level with the floor. (When you come to standing, you will need to find that again.)

3. CORE ENGAGEMENT

What is your core? It’s not just the six-pack. Think of it as all of the muscles of your trunk – from shoulders to hips on the front and back of the body as well as the pelvic floor. The core muscles encircle your organs and spine like a corset to create stability and mobility. Today, we are interested in engaging the core for stability.

Awareness Practice:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent. Maintain a neutral pelvis.
  • Place hands on the waist so the pinky finger is on hips and thumbs are on lowest ribs.
  • Without sucking your belly inward, start to contract the abdominals inward – slowly like that corset is getting tighter.
  • Another way to find this activation is to press your tongue on the back of your top teeth and exhale “TH”, “F”, or “S”.  The abdominal cavity’s pressure changes and your Transverse Abdominis (TVA) are now engaged.
  • So now that you’ve found them, notice that you can control the amount of engagement – like a dimmer switch: 100%, 50%, or 25%. When standing, your core engagement should be at about 25%.

 

4. SHOULDER ENGAGEMENT

shoulders reached shoulders packedThe shoulder is highly mobile and therefore less stable joint. We are a pushing society – pushing carts, doors, and strollers. So, shoulders are typically held in a forward rounded position. With a shoulder packed placement, the chest will be more open and breathing will be easier. Let’s learn to engage and stabilize the shoulders.

Awareness practice:

You will also need a block or book.

  • Lie on your back with knees bent. Maintain a neutral pelvis.
  • Engage the core (Transverse Abdominis-TVA) 25%.
  • Hold a block between your hands with palms facing each other. Start with the block at your chest and then straighten the arms upward toward the ceiling.
  • While palms squeeze onto the block, reach upwards toward the ceiling and raise the shoulders from the floor – rounding the shoulders.
  • Still squeezing, draw your shoulders back down to the floor so they are pressing into the floor – packing the shoulders. Your collarbones should broaden.
  • Repeat a few times: inhale reach the shoulders and exhale to pack the shoulders.
  • Set the block aside and set arms at your sides. Fingertips lengthen toward your feet while shoulders press toward the floor and toward each other.

5. SPINAL ENERGETIC INTENTION

Energetic spine lengthening; man seated man standingWithout a goal, it’s hard to make progress. The energetic intention is the energy or juice muscles make toward a specific direction. To lengthen the spine or move any body part with intention, tap into that internal spark and move purposefully.

Awareness practice:

  • With bare feet, sit on a chair with feet resting firmly on a hard surface.
  • Place palms face down on your thighs.
  • Find a neutral pelvis. Maybe flex a few times with cat/dog tilt a bit to find it.
  • Engage the core (Transverse Abdominis-TVA) 25%.
  • Pack the shoulders so they are engaged squeezing backward and downwards.
  • Now, here’s the energetic intention: grow and lengthen the spine and head toward the ceiling. Can you feel yourself get taller?
  • Stay here active and engaged with full intention. Breathe comfortably.

Whew! Posture practice is WORK!

If you feel confident that your sitting posture is stable and comfortable let’s try it when standing.

STANDING POSTURE: Mountain Pose or Tadasana

  • Stand with your back to a wall or doorway. The distance away from the wall is depends on your glutes. Heels will also be away from the wall. Back of the head will NOT touch the wall.
  • Start with feet parallel, four corners pressing downward, arches engaged and lifting, and quads engaged with kneecaps lifted.
  • Find a neutral pelvis. Use your hands to check!
  • Engage the abdominals 25%.
  • Activate and pack the shoulders. Lengthen fingers to toward the floor.
  • Engage and lengthen the spine and crown of the head toward the ceiling. Breathe comfortably.

Congratulations! You are on your way to better posture.

Where should you practice? Everywhere! Practice good posture while sitting, standing, and walking! While sitting at your desk or in your car, check your alignment and set your intention – grow taller. You can practice anytime you are standing anywhere. The next time you are at the grocery store waiting in line, practice!

How often should you practice improving your posture? As often as possible! By practicing these techniques regularly, you will build more body awareness, strength, and confidence.


We will be providing weekly Wednesday Workouts. If you have an area you would like to have us feature in our workouts, let us know. Post in the comments below or send us a note. Thanks!