(The following post is adapted from an article I wrote for Natural Awakenings Magazine, Lancaster-Berks Edition, February 2013)
There are plenty of reasons to practice good posture. “The more mechanically distorted a person is, the less energy is available for thinking, metabolism and healing,” says Dr. Roger Sperry, the Nobel Prize-winning biologist. By simply “sitting up straight” a person can breathe more efficiently to introduce more vital circulation to the cells of the body. He can improve his mood, digestion, concentration, sense of well-being, and immune function.
The practice of good alignment in the body can also reduce physical aches and pains. When the center line of the spine is elongated, the stress of gravity is minimized throughout the entire system, and important core muscles can engage during everyday movements. In this way, the risk of pain, arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases diminishes.
The challenge is knowing how to find and maintain a tall, balanced posture. Often when a person is told to sit or stand “up straight,” the kinesthetic sense of the midline is distorted after years of aberrant positioning. Sometimes it takes a look in the mirror, a third party to give cues, or a trained professional to identify the ways in which unnecessary holding patterns are preventing a person from reaching his optimal orientation.
That being said, there are four steps you can take to align yourself artfully right now. Find a comfortable seat on the front-half of a flat, firm chair and place your feet squarely on the ground under your knees. Then try the following:
Drop Your Pubic Bone For Weight Bearing – Tip forward until you feel your body’s weight shift to the front of your sitting bones and towards the pubic bone itself. As you do this, you should feel the curve in the small of your back increase as the sacrum nods in and the tailbone lifts slightly up and back. This is the critical first step in creating a balanced base of support for your spine to grow tall.
Elongate the Sides of Your Waist – Keep the pelvic tilt from step one above. Now lift your heart and head straight up, and imagine the two lines along the side-seams of your torso getting longer. Feel the skin on the lateral sides of your abdomen and ribs stretching. Breathe, and notice how your breath can help you to sustain this action. Keep breathing! (Note, there is a common mistake made here – often we thrust the bottom front ribs forward instead of lifting the sides of the ribs up and away from the hips – see image below.) You will know you have it balanced correctly when you can maintain the pelvic tilt from step one AND feel the weight of your tailbone drop towards the chair.
Gather the Bottom Tips of Your Shoulder Blades – Keeping the side-waists long, now see if you can feel the sweetest of squeezes near the back of your heart. Just above the bra line, most of us allow the bottom tips of our shoulder blades to float off into space. In balanced, efficient posture, these points press slightly in towards each other and towards the center of the chest. This is foundational for the movement to “get your shoulders back,” but if you move too quickly, you will thrust the ribs forward again and lose your long side waists. Gently, coalesce in your upper back. Keep breathing.
Lift the Roof of Your Mouth and Soften Your Eyes – Let’s check in: do you still have your pubic bone dropping down? Are your side-waists lifted? Can you feel the shoulder blades converging in towards the heart’s center? Good work! Now add the coup de gras: lift the upper palette of your mouth. Straight up is an acceptable trajectory, however, if you’re like most people, you live in “forward head posture” with shoulders slumped forward and the head creeping towards the computer screen before you. Therefore, it might be helpful to imagine of the roof of the mouth lifting up and then angling slightly towards the back wall of the sinuses. You will notice then that the chin can drop and that pressure is taken off your jaw (TMJ). Soften your facial features and feel the eyes rest in their sockets. Notice your breath again and again.
These four steps are like a road-map towards good posture in your spine. Work through the sequence repeatedly until you feel it getting easier to breathe and maintain. You might want to set time aside just for this – a focused meditation. Or see if you can establish these details in your everyday movements – like standing in line at the store, brushing your teeth, or folding laundry.
The goal is to create a buoyant, flexible “container” into which you can invite full, deep breaths. Healing happens when you make space within yourself. By practicing these four steps, you cultivate a peaceful, sustainable efficiency in your body that can help you in countless ways.