There is no doubt that your self-image, and the way others view you, are directly affected by your body posture. We have all observed people who seem to draw attention and attract positive energy, simply because of the confident, self-assured way that they carry themselves through a room, or briskly stride down a crowded street.
Conversely, poor posture is very often related to poor self-image. You have probably noticed that many people with slumped posture have a tendency to look helpless, weak, and tired. Some people seem to literally carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. There are many causes of poor posture, including structural and biomechanical problems that should be treated by a qualified professional. Some of the possible negative effects of poor posture are much more than a cosmetic concern and can include muscular pain, headaches, neck and back pain, fatigue, reduced lung capacity, and reduced levels of blood and oxygen supplied to the brain. Since some spinal conditions can only be detected by x-rays or by thorough physical examination, I personally believe that it is a good idea to consult a qualified Doctor of Chiropractic for a spinal checkup, even if you are not currently experiencing pain or symptoms.
As far back as 1250 B.C., the ancient Greeks were looking to the spine as a cause of dis-ease in the human body. The nerves exiting the spinal cord through the openings of the spinal column directly supply the pure energy that regulates and controls every system of your body. A healthy spine positively affects the free flow of pure energy throughout all the systems of your body, including the digestive, reproductive, respiratory, and immune systems.
As a chiropractor who has treated thousands of patients over the years, I have personally witnessed the phenomenal healing and energizing power of the human nervous system on a daily basis. Consequently, I truly believe that maintaining a strong, healthy, properly aligned spinal column is essential to achieving overall health and optimal well being in your daily life. A healthy spine is the strong foundation of a healthy body. Strengthening the muscles of the back increases the stability of the spinal column and can help prevent serious problems caused by musculoskeletal imbalance. By balancing the strength in the front and the back of your body, you will have less chance of injury in your daily activities.
Usually, the most under exercised muscles in the body are in the back. Building up some muscles, while ignoring others, may pull your body out of balance. For example, if you develop strong chest and abdominal muscles without working on strengthening your back, you will eventually start to slump over. Strengthening the hamstring and abdominal muscles also helps stabilize the spinal column, due to the connection of these muscles to the pelvis.
Exercising both sides of your body evenly can prevent imbalance of muscle strength on either side of the spine. Muscular imbalance can be a result of overuse of the muscles on one side, and underuse on the other and can eventually lead to structural imbalance of the bones and joints. Musculoskeletal imbalance can also be caused or aggravated by the type of work that you do, by unilateral sports such as tennis or golf, or by always favoring one side when you carry a briefcase, handbag, child, or other heavy object. Whenever possible, change sides or positions to prevent muscular imbalance and subsequent structural imbalance. Most of us favor one side or the other for certain activities in our daily lives without being consciously aware of our patterns.
Another example of a repetitive physical activity that negatively affects the musculoskeletal and nervous system over the years involves the cervical (neck) portion of the spinal column. Any activity that requires you to look down for long periods, especially reading, computer use, and deskwork, can produce a chronic forward head position. Eventually, this repetitive strain can lead to a decrease of the normal C-shaped curve in the neck, which makes it difficult for the neck to support the heavy weight of the head. Biomechanically speaking, the normal C shaped curve in your neck makes it stronger, and with a decrease of that natural curve, (which is sometimes the case after whiplash type injuries and ligament damage caused by trauma) the neck loses some of its weight-bearing strength.
Fortunately, one of the most effective ways to improve your posture is simply to become more aware of it. Seeing yourself as others see you is often the first step to making improvements in your posture. I recommend evaluating your body in a full-length mirror from the side view -- a position in which you rarely see yourself -- viewing your posture while using a hand held mirror. You may even want to have a friend take a picture of you from the side, standing as you normally stand.
With correct posture, when viewed from the side, your ears are balanced directly above the arches of your feet, and your head is only slightly forward of the neck, shoulder blades, and lower back. A plumb line dropped from overhead should pass through the ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle. Your head should not tilt to one side or the other.
To help you become more aware of your posture, try the following exercise while standing in front of a mirror. Imagine two gentle hands on either side of your head pulling you upright, and a light helpful hand at your back pushing your shoulder blades together. Think tall, lengthen your neck, and let your head move upward, with the chin slightly in. Concentrate on lengthening your spine, still imagining the top of your head reaching toward the ceiling. Keep your stomach in and buttocks tucked. Slightly bend your knees without locking them, since locking your knees puts unnecessary stress on your lower back.
Now, visualize yourself walking with a certain presence, a way of carrying your body that projects self-confidence and inner strength. Picture yourself with regal posture, head held high, shoulders back, feeling tall, proud, and self-assured. With continued practice you will start looking and feeling like the self-confident person that you have always known you are.
I have always loved the old saying “To be, act as if.” When you assume the body posture of a strong, energetic, and confident person, walking with a spring in your step and a smile on your face, you will find that the physiological changes also positively affect your mind and soul --lifting your spirits and sometimes even changing your whole outlook on life.
Taking some time to pay attention to your posture and take care of your spine is an integral component of achieving optimal health and expressing your pure life energy. Remember, it is how you carry yourself that counts. Think strong, energetic, and confident!
Dr. Suzy is a retired Doctor of Chiropractic and active Health And Fitness Educator. The information and suggestions that she shares on this website are for reference purposes only and not intended to be diagnostic in any way nor a substitute for consultation with a physician or other licensed health-care professional. Always obtain a complete physical examination and discuss your specific conditions, limitations, and health history with the qualified health care provider of your choice before making major lifestyle changes. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA.