So far in this series on fixing bad posture, we’ve covered the importance of good posture, four posture myths that are actually hurting your body, and defined a new model for good posture that’s far more functional than what you’ve likely been taught.
(To see all the posts in this series, click here.)
I’m sure by now you’ve realized I’m not the typical stretch-this-strengthen-that posture and movement therapist. One of the core principles in this new model for good posture is that it doesn’t require you to hold your body in a stiff, contrived, static “pose.”
But that doesn’t mean that alignment doesn’t matter. Obviously, if your shoulders are hunched and your chin juts forward, there’s going to be a lot of extra strain on the muscles in your back as they work hard to hold up the weight of your head.
In fact, for every inch forward of your center line that your head moves, there is a corresponding ten pound increase in the amount of strain placed on your spine. That means that if your head shifts a mere three inches forward of your midline, it can effectively weigh a total of 42 pounds1!
So, we need to fix that, but not by tucking your chin back and holding your poor shoulders in place. Remember that every muscle in your body has a “set point” determined by the brain. This is like a default setting for tightness, informed by your daily habits and activities.
Repeatedly using a muscle in its shortened capacity causes this to become its habitual place — its neurological set point.
So, you don’t want to just force your body into “good alignment” and tell it to behave. Your body is actually really smart, and if it senses that muscles need to have their default settings rebooted, it will do that.
But you have to go underneath the original pattern rather than trying to wrestle with the one you already have established.
When you force your body into a position, you’re really just overlaying one pattern on another, like the proverbial onion. You can imagine this like donning an Armani suit over the top of a pair of sweats. Sure, you’re wearing the fancy clothes, but the sweats are still there, looking all bulky beneath your suave exterior, causing your suit to bulge and ripple in odd ways.
Your body is a lot like this. Take on a new neuromuscular pattern over the top of the old one and the result is tense, jerky movement rather than ease, fluidity and grace.
Somewhat paradoxically to conventional wisdom, your body wants to be in optimal alignment. Like water, it seeks the path of least resistance, and if you can give your body an experience of balance and ease, you’ll find it naturally gravitates toward beautiful posture.
So, the secret to optimal alignment isn’t to assume an arbitrary upright posture — a “pose,” if you will — but rather to peel off the layers of tension that are shifting your body out of balance. This helps bring your physical body into what I call “neutral alignment.”
Functioning from neutral alignment also grants much more potential for movement and expression as you let go of all the artificial tension that’s holding you up. You see, in order to contract, a muscle must first relax. You can’t pick up a coffee mug with a closed fist; you have to open your fingers first before they can grasp the handle. Relaxed muscles are a lot stronger than tense, rigid ones because they have a greater ability to generate force.
So, how do you peel off these layers of tension and fix head forward posture?
While you might think that in order to correct head forward posture that we’d need to address your neck, this is actually not the root cause of your forward jutting chin. In fact, head forward posture starts from much further down in your body, sometimes even initiating in tight hips.
But for our purposes, we’ll start with your breath. Virtually every muscle in the core of your body is related to breathing, and if they’re tense, your breathing will be restricted. Tense, constricted core muscles also pull your chest and shoulders downward, rounding your back and spine.
This collapse through your core is like having the rug pulled out from under your neck and head. Your neck and shoulders “stack” on your rib cage, so when it curls forward, there’s no supporting foundation for keeping your neck and head upright.
The result is the dreaded head forward posture. In order to start the process of peeling away layers of tension so that your chest can lift and support your head and neck properly, let’s start with dissolving tension in your core using this breathing practice:
- Lie on the floor or another firm, supportive surface (most beds are too soft, futons are great). Notice which parts of your body touch the floor and where you’re holding yourself up. You’ll probably find there are a few points of pressure where you’re connecting to the floor and a lot of body surface that’s held away from it.
- Take a deep breath into your body. Focus your breath into the sides and backs of your ribs, envisioning the flow of breath falling down your spine like a waterfall on the inhale.
- With each exhale, allow your body settle down and be more supported by the floor.
- As you inhale, notice areas of your chest, ribs, and back that don’t move with your breath. Pay specific attention to your armpits, directing your breath all the way out into them (yes, you have ribs and lung space here, and it’s a common place to hold tension).
- Allow your breath to fill your chest all the way up to your collar bones and down deep into the bowl of your pelvis. Mind that you don’t arch your back up off the floor to extend breath further down.
- Feel how allowing your breath to flow down your spine like a waterfall lengthens each vertebra, unfurling your spine and creating space in your core.
- If you are having difficulty feeling all of these sensations, be patient. Developing internal sensory awareness is a skill, and one that many of us haven’t spent much time cultivating. Pay more attention to what you can feel, even if it’s only small movements of your breath.
- Repeat the breathing process for 5-15 minutes, letting your body settle more and more heavily into the floor with each exhale, feeling the weight of your shoulders, ribs, spine, pelvis, legs and feet.
- When you are ready, slowly come to a seated position, and then standing. Notice the difference in your chest and ribs. Clients often report feeling lighter and breathing more easily when this rib space has been opened up.
This practice is an excellent way to decrease overall body tension any time you have a few private moments. It can also calm your nervous system and reduce stress levels while bringing your tension levels back to baseline.
If you’d like a few more posture restoration practices like these, my ebook Perfect Posture for Life is chock full of them. You can order it here, download it immediately and get started right away!