Posture Exercises

"There are many benefits to these exercises.  You learn to be confident and relaxed instead of fearful and tensed in your everyday life.” - SH

Improve Balance and Lose Fear of Falling.

  • Stand facing a wall or corner. Be sure there is no hard-edged furniture nearby.
  • Close your eyes. Fall into the wall, but catch yourself. 
  • Be safe; start small, with the feet close to the wall. Take your time.  
  • When you feel more confident, walk the feet a few inches farther from the wall.  
  • Practice variations - twist your hips, turn your head, cross your feet or put them in odd positions. By increasing the difficulty, your ability to cope improves.

There are many benefits to these exercises. One elderly client told me it saved her from falling and breaking a hip. By rehearsing that first moment of falling, you learn to be confident and relaxed instead of fearful and tensed in such moments, while greatly improving your ability to balance.  You’ll know how to stay relaxed if you do actually fall – and be less likely to hurt yourself.  It’s often the tension in the body that causes an injury during a fall or accident. It’s often seen that a drunken person is less injured in a car accident than others, because they’re fully relaxed. By being proactive when confronted with a sudden sense of disorientation and loss of balance you’re more likely to deal effectively with a real life situation when it come unexpectedly, as it always does.  Your kinesthetic sense is upgraded – you’re listening and trusting the signals from the bottom of your feet, and other body clues, that are often obscured due to visual over- dependence. Finally, you’re strengthening the muscles of your hands, arms and chest.  It’s best to learn this when you’re younger, instead of waiting until you’re eighty.

Sit Up Tall Isometric. The longer you do this isometric, the more you’ll find yourself sitting erect as if automatically, instead of slumping. Hold the pulling as long as if feels good – perhaps five to seven seconds. Adjust your effort based on your ability and comfort level.

·      Sit in a chair and grasp your lower legs with both hands (Figure 11-1). Slump as you do that, rolling your pelvis backwards while letting your head protrude forward. Deliberately create slumped posture. 

·      Hold firmly with your arms, as if pulling your shoulders down. 

·      Now attempt to roll your pelvis and straighten your back, as if trying to sit up tall. Of course you won’t be able to actually do that since your arms are holding you.

·      Keep your feet firmly planted on the floor as you pull. Although your back will round, and your shoulders will feel pulled, you don’t move because your hands are gripping the chair, holding you down.  

·      At the same time attempt to bring or retract your head backwards over your center. Of course, it won’t move very far, if at all.

This strengthens exactly those muscles needed to be erect in sitting with grounded shoulders. This improves your ability to come out of a slump. If you do this three times, each time holding onto the chair legs at a higher point. Everyone could benefit by doing this exercise several times a day.

Can Clothing Cause Back Pain? Many of us as children were taught, when bending down, to deliberately tuck our tailbone under, to avoid letting our buttocks protrude behind. While it may look more polite and civilized, it’s contrary to the natural movement of the pelvis – which is sticking the buttocks out behind. It’s only because of tight, form fitting clothing that this is an issue.

Traditional and ancient peoples used looser clothing, robes, togas, saris, kimonos, etc. In India, women young and old, fat and thin can still be seen washing clothes in the Ganges, wearing long saris. While fully bending over, they have – to my eye – functional postural mechanics, their buttocks not at all tucked under. Children growing up like that need not be trained to avoid natural movement. It’s not rude or suggestive to stick out the buttocks in that case.  It’s interesting to note that in India there is less incidence of hip trouble and replacement surgery than in America or Europe. It’s a rare event for me if I observe somebody bending down with appropriate pelvic participation – what I see is an epidemic of tucked-under tailbones, over tight abdomens and suffering backs. 

As a reminder, when bending down:

·      Let your buttocks protrude behind while bending your knees. Your tailbone will no longer be tucked under.  

·      Grab your buttocks and pull them back to help in the beginning (when alone). 

·      Maintain your lumbar arch as you bend your knees to lift or reach downwards. 

Unfortunately, others who see you doing that may think it inappropriate. That’s true for men as well as women. You’ll have to decide whether social correctness is more important to you than reducing back pain. 

I’m not advocating a return to the 1890’s, but I do suggest that if women were to wear long dresses from an early age, they’d be less prone to back and hip trouble later in life.  And if men were to use suspenders and wear looser pants, with no belt, they would breathe easier, have less back pain and move easier as well. Belts constrict the breathing and interfere with digestion, while making us think there’s a dividing line at that level – so we move and bend too much from the waist. Our body is not build to bend there; the hip joints are designed to do that job. This is a direct cause of chronic back pain. When you lean forward in a chair, do it from the hip joints, not the waist. That’s not all. 

Our brain works hard to inhibit impulses and sensory input that’s not needed for us to accomplish what we’re doing. That includes blocking out sensations of clothing in contact with the skin. We’d literally go crazy if we were continually sensitive to that. While I am not suggesting that looser clothing will improve our IQ, it’s likely that our brain would have an easier job, movement would become easier and we might function at a higher level.  Over-tight clothing slightly immobilizes the superficial musculature, causing it to slowly turn to flab, while compromising good movement. The flabbiness is not evident, unfortunately, until we’re older and no longer wearing tight clothing. Then it’s a real job to get rid of that look. That’s still not all. 

Looser clothing can even help us make needed changes to our movement and postural habits. That’s because tight clothing, such as a dress suit with a necktie or scarf is a specific learning environment. The context in which we learn or do things will encourage similar ways of being and doing whenever that context is revisited. Thus, clothing can actually program us to move, breath, think and behave in ways that may not be optimal for good movement and posture. That may include rarely turning the head, tightening the back to have good posture, being uptight at the midriff due to a belt that is too tight, using eyes with tension and tunnel vision focus, and not sensing the feet due to painfully cramped shoes.  It always feels so good to remove tight clothing and wear looser garments. As you see, there’s more to it than just improved circulation. 

Finally, looser clothing helps keep our shoulders grounded, by continually and gently tugging on them, reminding us to let them stay grounded.

Low Back and Belly: Here’s a quick way to encourage back muscles to work in harmony with the belly. For many, it’s a quick fix for back pain. It’s something anyone with back pain could benefit from. Too often, back muscles remain rigidly unresponsive. Here you’ll be using your hands to help sense that as the stomach muscles work, the back muscles can relax and lengthen, and vice versa. This also restores a dimensional body image to the lower torso. In sitting:

  • Place one palm on belly, the back of the other hand on lower back. 
  • Arch your back slowly, as if to look up, then relax and slump, as if to look at your belt buckle. Use your hands to guide and listen. 
  • Sense your pelvis rolling forward and back.

Sitting too long immobile leaves your pelvis underutilized. Muscle-wise, it is our power center; we need to re-connect. It’s unusual and potentially transformational to sense the front and back of your lower torso at the same time. Most people only are aware mainly of the front. When this becomes easy, do left-right movements of the pelvis, or circles – let your two hands help facilitate the dance. Soon you won’t need your hands to facilitate your awareness. Use your hands to help like that until you feel your pelvis no longer needs that kind of mentoring. 

Side Bending: If you rarely side bend, the muscles on either side of your spine will tend to atrophy – and tighten, compressing the spine. Every day – in any exercise routine – we need to include side bending. It’s commonly seen that the more elderly one is, the less side bending there is. Conversely, the more easily one can do side bending, the younger they look and feel. In a bucket seat, or swivel chair, it’s not possible to side bend – as in reaching down to the side (without turning) to pick up a pen. The pelvis needs to do something to counterbalance the body weight, and that requires a flat chair. In sitting:

  • Sit comfortably erect facing straight ahead.
  • Relax your shoulders, neck, arms and hands. Let your arms hang loosely down towards the floor. 
  • Slide your right hand several inches towards the floor, letting your ribs on the right side compress, and the ribs on the left side open, flaring out. 
  • Let your neck side bend, so that your right ear comes closer to your right shoulder. Remain facing straight ahead; do not let your head or torso turn. 
  • Your whole spine should now be describing a large C curve. Keep your head over your pelvis – don’t lean over to the side.
  • Repeat on the left side. 

Please note – the experience of many movement teachers has been that side bending, for a beginner, usually takes mentoring. Most likely, as you did this, you were leaning your whole body to one side and the other, instead of keeping your head over your center. Probably your neck was not able to soften into side bending. Most likely you were rushing. Probably you were twisting slightly to avoid side bending. If you’re doing this on your own, take special care to notice what you do.

Minimize Use of Lumbar Supports: The musculature around the pelvis is strong, and can easily support effortlessly erect posture. But instead we keep the pelvis tucked under or rigidly held in some other position. That’s why your upper back muscles are so rock-hard tight all the time. A healthy lumbar curve co-created by dynamically intelligent pelvis and ribs is needed for those back muscles to relax – no amount of massage or stretching or so called correct posture will suffice. Lumbar supports create a lumbar curve too high, and allows you to continue to sit with a tucked under tailbone and immobile pelvis. It can create more stress, not less, for the low back over the long term. If you’ve been deskbound many years, and use a lumbar support, progressively lessen the time you use that support. The lumbar curve in a healthy spine is at the level of the lower lumbar – not higher. For that, the sacrum has to participate – by untucking your tailbone or extending your pelvis.

Hints For Encouraging a Natural Lumbar Curve:

  • Use a foam wedge, or a rolled up towel or blanket arranged like a wedge. Use it as often as you can, until it becomes a little uncomfortable, and then give it a rest. 
  • Belly dancing is helpful for some. Take a class. 
  • Do slow, delicate rocking movements, or circles, with your pelvis – being sensitive to move in only the easy direction, never forcing. Feel your weight shifting on your sitting bones. Soften slightly your belly to allow the movement. Let your pelvis be as relaxed as possible. You can do this lying in bed in any position, while sitting in a soft sofa, or standing in line at the bank. It’s always possible. Find odd moments to do this, now and then. It’s one of the best ways to quickly relieve low back pain.
  • While it’s useful to have a strong and flat belly, it’s also true, and seldom appreciated, that slightly softening belly tightness, while doing little pelvic movements can be a quick method to relieve back tension and pain.  
  • Relax; you won’t get a big belly. That comes from wrong diet, inactivity, lack of muscle tone, and an over-frontal self-image, not from softly pushing out your belly occasionally to encourage pelvis mobility and lumbar arching.  You’ll keep your present arrangement, whether that’s trim or flaccid – only you’ll have less back pain and smarter abs. You’ll breathe easier, and more naturally.
  • The trick is to maintain interest and enthusiasm without making it a major project or setting any definite goals. That’s because we learn new behaviors more quickly by making mistakes and exploring many things, without any pressure to perform or follow a schedule. It’s how babies learn to walk.
© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin