The alignment of our body when standing, sitting, or lying down is known as posture, and it has a significant impact not only on our appearance but also on our overall health. Proper alignment reduces stress on muscles, tendons, and ligaments, enhances the efficiency of the nervous system, and lowers the risk of conditions such as overuse injuries and arthritis.
Adopting good posture offers numerous benefits. It can increase energy levels, improve circulation and digestion, enhance lung capacity, boost balance, alleviate lower back pain, and reduce the frequency of headaches. Additionally, good posture provides the added bonus of making you appear taller and more confident.
Unfortunately, poor posture is prevalent among individuals of all ages. It is often the result of weak core muscles, limited flexibility, obesity, and unhealthy habits like excessive sitting, slouching, or constantly hunching over a mobile phone. However, with increased awareness, incorporating stretches, and engaging in simple exercises, it is possible to improve your posture.
Stretches to Help Your Posture
Take on some, or all, of these stretches daily or several times per week. Hold each for 10 to 30 seconds while breathing naturally.
- Neck Stretch – Seated or standing, drop your chin to your chest to elongate the back of your neck. Then point your chin up toward the ceiling; hold and return to neutral. Drop your right ear to your right shoulder; then the left ear to the left shoulder.
- Chest and Shoulder Opener – Standing tall, grab your fingers behind your back and gently lift the arms. To modify, hold a rolled-up yoga towel, belt, or yoga strap.
- Modified Backbend – Standing, place your palms on your lower back, tip up your chin and gently lean back to point your chest to the ceiling. Aim to open your chest rather than hyperextend your back.
- Cat Cow – On all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips, inhale and arch your back (drop your belly and lift your head); exhale and round your spine, tuck your tailbone, and lower the crown of your head.
- Child’s Pose – From all fours, shift your hips back to your heels, with arms extended forward, and rest your forehead down.
- Hamstring and Calf Stretch – Lying on your back, extend your right leg straight and pull it toward your chest (use a towel, belt, or strap to assist if necessary). Flex your foot by pushing your heel toward the ceiling. Repeat on the other side.
- Figure 4 – Lying on your back, bend your right knee and cross your right ankle over a straight left leg. Loop your hands around your left hamstring, bend your left knee, and pull both legs toward your chest. Repeat on the other side.
Exercises to Help Your Posture
Perform these exercises a few times a week to strengthen your core and increase kinesthetic awareness for proper alignment. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds and repeat each 5 to 10 times.
- Isometric Row – Standing with your feet hip-distance apart, extend your arms in front with palms facing each other. Squeeze your shoulder blades back toward the spine, bend your elbows, and pull your elbows back alongside the torso. Extend your arms and repeat.
- Downward-Facing Dog – From all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart, lift your hips toward the ceiling and extend your legs straight, pressing your heels to the floor and dropping the crown of your head. Modify if necessary by bending your knees.
- Plank – In a push-up position with your hands about shoulder-width apart and your navel pulled into your spine, keep your head and neck aligned with your spine and tailbone and maintain a straight line from your head to your heels. Modify by dropping to your forearms.
- Side Plank – Lying on your right side with your right elbow directly below your right shoulder, stack your hips, and extend your legs with one ankle resting on top of the other. Modify by dropping your right knee. Hold, then repeat on the other side.
- Back Extension – Lying on your belly with your arms in a goal post position on the floor (elbows bent to 90 degrees), gently lift and lower your torso.
- Bridge – Lying on your back with your feet hip-width apart, lift your tailbone, glutes, and lower back, with your hands resting on the floor.
- Thoracic Rotation – Lying on your back, pull your knees to your chest and twist them to the right, stacking your hips and knees. Extend your right arm to the right side, and rotate your torso so your left arm meets the right. Open your left arm back to the left side, aiming to lower your left shoulder blade to the floor, and repeat.
Awareness of your posture is half the battle, so correct yourself if you find yourself slouching throughout the day. Improve your alignment by performing these stretches and exercises regularly.
And remember to keep your head aligned over your spine, shoulders back and down, chest open and lifted, navel to spine, a natural lower back curve, and soft knees (not locked).
For additional guidance on improving your posture, consult a personal trainer or your primary physician.