3 minute read

Show Some Backbone

Next Article

Up Your Game

When you read the word “posture,” you immediately sat up straight, right? You were programmed to do that. Perhaps you even made yourself a little promise not to slouch from now on. Good for you! But, fast-forward sixty seconds, and your body has probably already slumped back into its comfortable old position.

Slouching is the emblematic asana position of modern times. There seems to be an invisible magnet hovering in the air about thirty centimetres in front of our diaphragms, pulling our body towards it. Our shoulders curve forward, our facial features start drooping, and even the gluteal muscles gravitate towards it. According to recent research, it’s not only our body that is sucked towards this magnet. It may also be sucking our energy and self-esteem.

Elizabeth Broadbent, professor of psychological medicine at Auckland University, is fascinated by the link between body posture and mental wellbeing. She has conducted tests on subjects who perform stressful tasks either upright or in hunched position to see how this affects their mental responses.

Her research shows that people who walk and sit straight are more alert, confident, and determined. They are also better at staving off fear, negative feelings, and even pain.

“There is a bidirectional relationship between posture and mood. Your posture can affect your blood pressure and physiology, thereby altering how you feel,” Broadbent explains.

Good posture leads to lower blood pressure and skin temperature, which signal calmness. Moreover, when the back is straight, the head follows. Wellmaintained posture literally changes a person’s point of view.

“Once you lift your eyes, you get a much broader perspective and, consequently, you are less introspective,” she says. Occasional introspection is a good thing, but too much of it shuts us from the world around us, leading to insecurity, fatigue, and even depression.

Put in such simple terms, it sounds like a no-brainer. Obviously slouching is making us tired and miserable, whereas nice upright posture gives us an extra boost of wellbeing! Duh. But as the 21st century saying has it, “common sense is not that common.” People are good at ignoring the obvious, especially when it comes to their own physique.

SECRET SIGNALS

“Our bodies accumulate tension in ways we are not aware of. We often live in our heads and are not present in our bodies,” says Paris-based massage and bodywork therapist Craig Dennis, who is the go-to guy for ballet dancers, singers, and Parisian socialites alike.

One of the ways in which people disconnect with their bodies is by holding their breath. This, for starters, leads to hunched posture. In his 20- plus years of practice, Dennis has noted that many adults hold their breath and, when breathing, they only use a tiny percentage of their lung capacity. This builds up tension all over the body.

“Massage therapy can help you to gain awareness of how you accumulate and hold tension in your body. Awareness is the key to breaking harmful tension patterns. Eventually your body starts to notice when you are doing something wrong,” says Dennis.

Once the body is reminded of how good it feels to relax and get oxygen flowing again, it’s easier to remain mindful of tension in everyday situations.

“Taking 10 deep breaths every day is already a good start. You may not have time for Pilates, but everyone has time to breathe,” advises Dennis.

Posture also affects the way we are perceived by people around us.

Stockholm-based Doctor of Psychology Angela Ahola has investigated the role of posture in social interactions. She specialises in the psychology of perception, a discipline explained in her recent book The Art of Making a Good Impression (Minerva 2019).

“People interpret each other in a very primitive way. We may think we judge others based on their kindness or other objectively meaningful parameters, but deep down, we are drawn to power and status. When we meet strangers, possible partners, or choose a person to promote, those are the signals we are looking for,” Ahola says.

If posture speaks volumes to your own body, it’s equally vocal to others. If you slump around looking defeated, people probably think you are defeated. And, being such status-hungry creatures, people adjust their actions accordingly. Slouchers get worse treatment – which probably makes you shrink a bit more. It sounds like a vicious circle. Fortunately, it can be turned into a virtuous one.

“It’s pretty simple. People have neurons specially designed to mirror the behaviour and mood of others. Once we sit up straight, we radiate energy and others usually mirror it right back to us,” says Ahola.

STRIKE A NEW POSE

What, then, is good posture? For a very long time, it has meant a military-style upright position with shoulders pulled back. Maybe that’s why most of us get unpleasant shivers running down our spine upon mere mention of the word.“To me, good posture is a combination of flexibility and strength,” says second-generation chiropractor and posture specialist Nicholas Bliss, who runs the renowned Bliss Clinic in the Finnish city of Turku. “You need flexible joints and ligaments, and your organs need to have room to make their own micro dance – and muscle strength for support.” Suddenly this all sounds like a fulltime job – but Bliss is quick to confirm that it’s not. If you have problems staying straight and relaxed at the same time, a specialist can help you to tackle the issue head-to-toe. For the rest of us, it’s just a question of resisting the pull of the slouch magnet.

“Posture problems follow from tension, scarring, and stress, to mention a few triggers, but laziness is part of the problem,” Bliss says with a laugh, “we slouch basically because we are lazy.”

When it comes to posture, “lazy” doesn’t mean “relaxed.” If you want to see for yourself, slouch as deeply as you can. Then turn your head from side to side and breathe. Notice what you see and how you feel. Next, sit up straight with your knees below hiplevel, and repeat the exercise.

Things look different, don’t they?