Did you know that a poor posture adversely affects you not just physically, but mentally as well? Here are some ideas to improve your posture so that you can be your best self.
“My teachers always say that I’m a very good student, but way too shy and lacking in self-confidence. I have noticed myself slouching forward after long hours of reading and writing. This not only gives me aches in my shoulders and back; more importantly, I don’t look good when I walk,” says 17-year-old Cindy, who is troubled by her poor posture.
But bad posture can affect you in more ways than one.
Posture: Spine Position is Key
Good posture can be easily understood as standing and sitting straight, while bad posture usually means slouching. The key is our spine position.
Many core muscles, and nerves — including the nerves to our internal organs — are closely related and attached to our spine. We can imagine our spine as the main highway in which everything flows. A poor posture is like a damaged highway that hinders the traffic.
People in ancient times realised the importance of good posture in maintaining health and well-being. For instance, both yoga and qigong (气功) pay great attention to resting and moving postures so as to mobilise and maintain good flow of body chakra and qi (气) respectively. In traditional Chinese medicine, the stagnation of qi gives rise to body aches in that specific area; however, good posture can improve our health and make us feel better.
How Bad Posture Can Affect You: 3 Risks
1. Weaker muscles and spine
When you slouch and continue to hold that bad posture for a long time, you can shorten muscles that are flexed and lengthen muscles that are stretched.
Both shortened and lengthened core muscles are weaker, and provide less support to your spine. This puts you at higher risk of injuring your spine during activity. Your spine is also more prone to malalignment. As a result, you tend to overwork certain groups of muscles — for example, in the lower back or neck — leading to aches and pains in these regions.
In the long run, without good core muscle support, the extra stress will wear off your joints (osteoarthritis of the spine), causing chronic pain.
2. Poor Digestive and Urinary Systems
People with poor posture often suffer from poor appetite, indigestion, heartburn or stomach acid reflux, constipation, diarrhoea, as well as urinary urgency and incontinence.
When we slouch, our abdominal pressure increases, compressing our stomach and bladder. Therefore, our stomach feels bloated and we feel a burning pain in our chest (from the stomach acid that is being forced out and up). It is also harder to hold in urine as the poor posture would have squeezed the bladder — this can lead to urine leakage when a cough or sneeze occurs.
Bad posture is stressful for the body. Stress hormones cause our gut to move slower, resulting in constipation and poor digestion. Also, we can get diarrhoea from undigested food.
3. Mental Stress and Bad Mood
When we slouch, we tend not to relax our minds. We can have thoughts that pop up and recur. This makes us look withdrawn and preoccupied.
This was something that physicians back in medieval times noticed. A person who slouched lowered his head like a curled worm (vermis in Latin), projecting an image of someone deep in thought or trying to process pieces of memory (vis cogitatio). If the process prolongs, the person starts frowning and feeling sick.
In the context of traditional Chinese medicine, a person who slouches is trapped in his thoughts because the qi cannot reach the ‘liver’. The ‘liver’ helps relieve repressed thoughts, desire, anger, prejudice and disgust. The person sits still more often, moves less, and finds it hard to breathe deeply.
In fact, the abdominal pressure pushes on the diaphragm and prevents us from inhaling fully. Lack of oxygen in blood stresses our body and tires the brain. In this context, it is not surprising that people with bad posture share similar symptoms — body aches, indigestion, constipation, urinary urgency, etc — with those who suffer from chronic stress, anxiety and depression.
Tips for Better Posture
1. While Working in the Office or Driving
Working long hours with poor posture at your office desk or in a driver’s seat can make you miserable and sick.
At the office, sit with your feet touching the ground and uncrossed. Keep your back straight, relax the shoulders, and keep the forearms and thighs parallel to floor. Sit with knees at same height or lower than the hips, with a small gap from the chair. Keep your back against the chair and support the lower back with a cushion, if necessary. It is also advisable to take a short break every hour to avoid prolonged periods of sitting.
If you’re at the driver’s wheel, sit forward or close enough to your steering to avoid slouching. You should not bend your upper body or neck forward to reach your steering. It is important to make sure that the seat is flat, and avoid sitting with wallet in your back pocket. Fix your car cushion if it bulges or loses volume on one side. These ensure that your spine doesn’t get twisted. Incline your car seat only slightly, as it should provide firm support.
2. While Standing or Walking
A simple trick is to keep your shoulders pulled back and your tummy tucked in. Rest your arms by your side and avoid crossing them in front of your chest.
3. While Lying Down
If you sleep on your side, get a firmer pillow to keep your neck straight. Place a pillow between your knees to avoid twisting your spine. If you sleep on your back, get a softer pillow to avoid over-bending your neck. Place a pillow under your knees to relax your back.
Bad posture can affect a person negatively. Its impact extends far beyond physical muscle aches and soreness — you will feel a little bit more down, demotivated, trapped, tired and anxious. Sometimes, you can experience symptoms such as constipation and indigestion, which form a vicious circle of making you feel even more troubled and anxious. If you need help improving your posture, approach your chiropractor or doctor for assistance.
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