Ester Marsh: Stand straight and notice Posture Awareness Month

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 27, 2015

Did you know that May is Posture Awareness Month? I didn’t, either.

Someone asked if I could do an article on good posture, and when I started my research it popped up that May is Posture Awareness Month. Since it is April 27, we are close enough to give you reasons, tips and exercises to help you improve your posture.

Fortunately I have a mother who was focused a great deal on her children having good posture. Many of times I felt her finger poke me hard between the shoulder blades and hear her say “back straight shoulders back” (in Dutch of course). It actually aggravated me at times but am I happy that she did. When you look around ,you see all kinds of postures.

Unfortunately, many people didn’t have a mother correcting them. (By the way, I do/did the same thing with my children.)

Just the other day when I was speaking for the Lion’s Club at Ryan’s restaurant, we spoke about posture and I showed them the correct way, back straight, shoulders relaxed and back, chest up, belly tight and I showed them bad posture, shoulder forward back slouching forward head coming forward and hips tilting forward.

I asked them, “How would you feel if I would stand before you this way and speak?” Not only is it bad for your back, but if they had measured me I would have been at least two inches shorter. My appearance negatively changed from standing straight to slouching. So what are the advantages of good posture?

Height can be lost due to bad posture. By standing up straight your body functions much more efficiently due to the fact it’s balanced and weight is distributed correctly. When posture is poor, different parts of the body have to work harder and therefore get fatigued sooner.

Standing correctly, your chance of muscle pains, tendon strains and back aches can be prevented. Good posture helps to prevent extra wear and tear on the joints and ligaments. Even your digestive system can be harmfully affected by bad posture.

Here’s the definition of good posture in the Physical Therapy Dictionary:

“State of muscular and skeletal balance which protects the supporting structures of the body against injury or progressive deformity irrespective of the attitude in which these structures are working or resting.”

I think we all agree that good posture is important.

How do you know if you have bad posture? Well, you could stand in front of a mirror and observe how you stand, even look at pictures that have been taken of you. Of course, a physical therapist, doctor or chiropractor can give you professional feedback about whether you have good or bad posture.

In one of my searches, I found a neat way to see how your posture is. Have someone take pictures of you from the front, the back, and side (no mirror to give you feedback). Now print them and put a dot between the feet on the front and back view and on the ankle on the side view. Neatly fold them vertically by the dot. On front and back view both sides should be the same. Is your head leaning more to one side? How about your shoulders? Check your arms. On the side view do the same, fold it vertically. When you open it up the line should be going from your ankle through your shoulder and ear. Is your head forward of the line? Is it behind the line?

My mom would say (again in Dutch), “If I would let my body tell me how to stand or sit, I would already be walking with my back hunched over and to the side.” It takes effort to have good posture but the benefits are abundant.

First, find out where you are; Are you one who leans to one side? Are your shoulders relaxed and back? Is your chest open? How about your belly? Is it pushing forward?

Lordosis, also called “sway back,” is an excessive inward curvature of the lowerback

Kyphosis is your upper back abnormally rounded, and scoliosis is sideway curvature(s) of the spine. Again, your family doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor can diagnose these spinal abnormalities.

So what can you do for good posture? First you need to figure out where you are lacking. Most “bad” postures we see is shoulders rounded forward, upper back relaxed and rounded and belly out. Stand with your heels and back, shoulders and head against a wall. Is that comfortable or do you really need to work to put your body there? With good posture it should be no problem to do so.

When we work with people, we always try to incorporate good posture because you will feel so much better and your appearance improves instantly.

So, if this is the case, I would be working on stretching out the front and chest, opening it up. And I would strengthen the upper back muscles; the low row machine and cable row work great at strengthening those muscles.

I believe in working the whole body and emphasizing the areas that need extra attention. Classes such as yoga, pilates or Estelatte (yoga and pilates-like moves, stretches, balance and core strength,taught by yours truly) work on body alignment, flexibility, core strength and balance. A great way to work on your posture! So don’t wait until May to work on good posture. Start today.


Ester H Marsh is associate executive director  of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.