Beware the S-Word

“Sit up straight!”

At one point or another we’ve all been on the receiving end of such nauseatingly redundant orders but as it turns out, this time, your mother was right.

As a jazz, tap and ballet dancer in my younger days, I’d always been conscious of my posture. “Shoulders back!” — it wasn’t a suggestion; it was a demand that I was to rigidly adhere to. One that would result in a swift jab in the back with a suspiciously long stick if I weren’t obedient to. Actually, pretty much every part of my body was studied and scrutinized for proper alignment those days and, scrutiny I ended up carrying into my adult life. Or most of my adult life.

Because of my inherent love for the stage, my kinaesthetic passions shifted in the direction of fitness competitions. Once again, swift orders rang clear: “Stand tall!” They didn’t stop when my dance career did and didn’t fall far from a “tummy tight!, either”

But then, I moved on and my passions shifted to yoga. I became fascinated with the way it made me feel, but also how it helped me focus my exercise routine around measureable results without obsessing over my appearance. An hour a day trying to perfect my “dancer’s pose” or “side crow” would melt away faster than I could realize my arms were shaking on an almost waterlogged mat. And, as any exercise routine would hope to boast, faster than I could notice my body responding the way I wanted it to. And there were no wooden sticks, but there were soft nudges and talk of long spines — a familiarity I understood and welcomed.

But then I decided to go back to school and began writing about yoga more than I was actually doing yoga. Along with my 35lb backpack, homework was a weight on my shoulders that craned my neck and led my back to — god forbid — slouch behind my laptop. I began to notice my upper back and neck tightening and suddenly, I had injuries with no blunt-force trauma to speak of other than hours logged by the s-word. I hurt. Truth: textbooks and word documents were fully and literally kicking my a$$.

So, because I know it’s important to address these types of issues before they become chronic (or worse), I re-visted  Elite Physiotherapy and had a rehabilitation program made up for me to nix my pre-hunchback problem in the bud. 20 minutes of corrective exercises a few times per week not only encourages my less dominant muscles to work the way they’re supposed to, but help prevent any alignment issues that may stem from the not-so-athletic type of work I’ve been doing. And the most important part, they’ve rekindled my awareness of my posture.

While reading and studying is good and well, years of typing, page turning and office door opening take their toll and mould you into our Cro-Magnon ancestors. Those “push” muscles continue to activate, but those opposing muscle groups really get no love. If you think about it, when are you really ever learning back or pulling throughout the day? The deltoids are one of the toughest muscle groups to activate, which is why it’s even that much more important to actively train them.

Some things, like style tastes, are subjective, but good posture isn’t one of them. Here are a few reasons you should care about your posture as much as what you eat, or your weekend wardrobe:

  • It improves your self-image and overall appearance – Good posture demonstrates confidence, athleticism and good health. Clothes look better on a well-statured physique and you look taller, to boot. But it also goes deeper than that. Poor posture ages you from the inside out and it’s not just because you’ll look like Mr. Burns it’s because poor blood flow prevents oxygenation of the blood. You should care about this because without proper oxygenation of the blood, free radicals in the blood stream occur and lead to wrinkles, sagging and joint and organ problems. Poor posture is just not pretty.
  •  It promotes health benefits – Like we can have too many. Our brain uses 20% of oxygen to perform optimally so when you sit tall, you breathe better. When you breath better, you feel better. When you feel better you perform better. And the cycle continues — when you sit tall you’re just smarter. Adjust your posture right now for 60 seconds and tell me you don’t physically feel better.
  •  It improves your mood and outlook on life – This links back to point 1 and 2 but it’s worth highlighting. Since posture-conscious folk have less injuries and as a rule, healthier tissue and organs, you’re apt to feeling better in general with those shoulders back. Mix in the benefits of a higher dose of oxygen and you’re prone to feeling much better about yourself and more inclined to taking part in exercise and other activities.Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 8.09.15 PM

All fine and dandy, but how do I stop myself from slumping into slouch-back territory? Here are just a few.

  • Avoid carrying excessively heavy items, especially on one shoulder – Student or professional, chances are you’re lugging heavy books and laptops around daily. Try to lighten your load in any way, and if you have to rock a backpack, throw on both straps.
  • Partake in exercises that engage your rear delts and back – Get into the habit of balancing your upper body workout with exercises like these, and work on strengthening your core. However, even the most basic exercises require perfect form, so make sure you’re reaping the benefits and not working backwards by straining your neck and back.
  • Twist and shout – Depending on where you work it may not be possible to do both, but do get up and stretch. Take 5 and walk around and forcethose muscles to snap out of the position they’ve memorized for the past few hours. Here are a few great chest openers (that you can even do in your chair).

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