“You are as young and healthy as your spine is strong and supple.”
- Ancient yogic saying
Indeed. The relationship between posture and good spinal health is clear: Good posture affects our health on every level. When core muscles are strong and flexible, and when the spinal column is aligned, our spinal area is a column of flowing biological energy.
On the other hand, poor posture creates a cascade of structural changes throughout our body with painful consequences. When our spine is out of balance, the rest of our body re-patterns itself to compensate. Some muscles tighten up and shorten, while others become overstretched and weak. Certain muscles work overtime to stabilize the body and over time this re-patterning becomes habitual. This is when true imbalances set in causing pain and injury.
If shoulders consistently “slump” forward, our chest collapses over our tummy, compromising our breathing, heart function and more. Other distortions include a chronically tilted pelvis and a “forward head thrust” where head and neck drop forward. These will shift and compress the spine, putting added pressure on muscles and joints and restricting mobility.
However, when our spine is properly aligned and limber, it moves freely, without subtle or chronic limitations caused by a guarded nervous system. The good news? It’s easy to start aligning your posture today:
· Breathe diaphragmatically—making each inhale/exhale as smooth, slow, gentle and long as you can. Breathe in through your nostrils filling your lungs as widely and deeply as you can (belly moves outward). Fully exhale through the nostrils or mouth (belly comes inward). This “belly breathing” engages our diaphragm, an important part of our core and a spinal stabilizer.
· With feet planting into the earth, stand or sit up tall—long and strong like a mountain—with your spine reasonably straight. This “mountain pose,” along with proper breathing, activates your core.
· Roll your shoulders back and down away from your ears with your shoulder blades moving in toward each other. Feel the opening through the chest, rib cage, lungs and heart center. Relish in it!
· Keeping your chin parallel to the ground, draw your head back over your shoulders. This eliminates excessive strain/weight on delicate neck muscles.
· Gently draw your tailbone downward toward the earth (your lower abs will tuck in) bringing your pelvic bowl into “neutral spine” or an upright cup position. This protective position (from orthopedic medicine) helps prevent overarching the lumbar spine.
· Imagine a silk string attached at the crown of the head gently drawing you upward. As you reach your crown toward the heavens and your tailbone toward the earth, you’re nurturing and decompressing the spine.
Try to use this posture consistently and make it your “default” position amidst your daily activities—whether sitting, standing or walking. This posture not only exudes strength, poise and self-confidence, but it will also make you look taller and slimmer—guaranteed.
A final point: As with all structures of the body, the best way to keep them healthy is to use them and move them. Get enough regular physical activity that will stretch and lengthen the entire spine, release tension in your joints, loosen up tight hip muscles and strengthen core muscles to take the load off the back. Consider a devoted yoga practice and Pilates. These healing modalities positively influence overall mind-body health.
Please note: the information presented here is not meant to replace the care of a medical professional as needed.
MARY BETH JANSSEN, CAyur, RYT-500, CMT (marybethjanssen.com) is President of the Janssen Source, Chief Wellness Officer for The Inspired Wellness Group, author of seven books, and certified Ayurvedic/Mind-Body health specialist for the Chopra Center for Wellbeing.