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Posture Prompts: your mother was right!

We’ve all been told we should sit up straight, but usually nobody tells you why. It’s not just to be taller and look better. 


Between each pair of vertebrae of your spine, a nerve exits to the right and left, sending signals to different organs about when and how to function.

If a nerve gets squashed between 2 vertebrae, it is very painful, and that nerve won’t be working properly to deliver its information to the organs it supports. 


The discs between the vertebrae act as shock-absorbers that prevent the vertebrae from grinding together. If they are damaged, that can cause pain and degeneration. Significant damage to a disc, such as from a fracture or bad fall, can cause reduced spinal flexibility and strength. 


Standing tall gives your organs more space. This allows them to move freely. Did you know that the average liver moves 1 – 2 cm down when we inhale deeply? Your breathing is a gentle massage to your inner organs: standing tall makes the most of that! 


But we aren’t always aware of our posture. It can be affected by our work, our habits, and by accidents. People around us may be too polite to comment on our deteriorating posture. 


The spine in our necks should be a slightly C-shaped curve, with the bend of the C at the front. As a result of modern lifestyles, with a lot of leaning forward over computer keyboards and looking down at desks and screens, many of us have necks that curve backwards instead. Our heads may end up inches in front of their optimal balanced position! 


The average adult head weighs about 10-12 pounds or 4.5-5.5 kilograms. If balanced nicely at the top of your spine, that weight is well supported. When your head is held forward of your spine, the muscles at the back of your neck have to work harder and become overworked and stretched. And the muscles at the front of our bodies get used to staying in a shortened tight state, so it’s good to consciously correct those.


Here are some easy ways to do that: 


  1. Roll your shoulders: up, then back, then down, then forward. Imagine making big circles with your shoulder blades.   

  2. Hold your arms out sideways at shoulder height with your elbows bent at 90 degrees so your forearms are pointing up towards the ceiling, then move your arms backwards so that your shoulder blades move closer together.   

  3. Sit up straight with your arms behind your head and gently move your elbows backwards.


Just doing one of these a few times a day is a help. If you are working on a computer, set a timer to remind you to take a minute to do these during your day.

To help you stand and sit better:


  1. Backpacks are better for helping our shoulders stay back, than bags or purses worn over the shoulder.

  2. Roll your spine out before you go to sleep. When you lie down in bed, briefly sit up, move your bottom a couple of inches down the bed, then unroll your spine towards your pillow, thinking of it elongating as you do so. You’ll probably find that your head tucks into the same place on the pillow as it did before, showing that you have just elongated your spine, and the muscles around it, before relaxing into sleep.  

  3. Envisage hanging from a thread at the back of your head, and keep your shoulders wide and relaxed. This is a very good start overall, and makes space that allows your neck and spine to become longer and your neck to become straighter.

  4. Put your fingers on the vertebra at the base of your neck, and mentally push that vertebra backwards into your fingers. Go up the neck, one vertebra at a time, doing the same, until you get to the top.  

  5. Put your finger on your chin and push your chin directly backwards. This brings your neck into better alignment, and tucks your chin down.

  6. If your fingertips are numb or tingly when you wake in the morning, it is likely because of your neck position at night. Nerves from the lower half of your neck travel down your arm. If they are pinched in your neck, it is often your fingertips that will feel it, so look to how your pillow supports your neck at night. You want your neck comfortably supported, but not pushed forwards.  

  7. Keep an eye on your posture: When sitting good and tall in your car, adjust your rear-view mirror to the perfect angle. If later you notice the mirror isn’t correctly positioned, adjust yourself, not the mirror!

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