"Stand Up Straight!!"

“Stand up straight!!” Someone in your past has probably barked that statement at you at some point. Good posture reflects a beautiful orchestra of the mind, body, and spirit. Not only do we look better, we actually feel better both physically and psychologically. I hope that this article leads you to understand why this is true and important.

We humans are unusual in the animal kingdom in that we put all our soft and vulnerable parts right out front (see fig. 1). This puts us in a precarious position, and we have a tendency to retract these areas in response to a perceived threat. For example, the Startle Response (the physical reaction to an unexpected loud noise) is characterized by a forward lean of the body and a hyperextention of the chin. In theory, we are folding over to protect our “soft bits”. This postural response is also seen in states of negative emotion. We have all seen the slump of depression, the hunch of anger, and the cringe of fear. Unfortunately, we humans tend to maintain the Startled posture over extended periods and come to own it. This postural stance has a negative effect on almost all bodily functions.

Consider someone with painful neck and shoulder issues. They would tend to hold the head forward, have rounded shoulders, a crowded rib cage, changes in spinal contours, and an anterior tilt to the pelvis. This body would have reciprocal muscle groups that would be either “locked long” or “locked short”, causing inefficient movement and quick fatigue. The subsequent wear and tear on joints and skeletal structure would contribute to arthritis. Our internal organs just aren’t hanging too well, and this posture has a huge negative effect on our breathing pattern. Shallow, upper chest breathing can lower oxygen levels and cause blood chemistry to become more alkaline. This creates many negative physiological effects on our system, but it also has the psychological effect of creating a heightened pain perception and level of anxiety. Now our poor person is in a terrible state of mind, body, and spirit!

Hopefully the reader can now consider how good posture can contribute to healthy homeostasis of the body. It is important to note that our culture does not value the development of a kinesthetic sense of the body. Imagine how different America would be if we grew up doing yoga!

To make successful postural changes, the tissue in question (whether it’s muscle, bone or fascia) needs to be re-opened to restore function and sensory-motor connection. Also, the cause of the original stress to the tissue must be alleviated. Therapies that may achieve these goals are deep tissue massage and chiropractic care. There is increased awareness of the phenomenal results of Structural Integration, or Rolfing. This therapy involves working with the body’s fascia, which is our structural, connective tissue network.

Also important in reinforcing this process are the movement therapies, such as yoga and tai chi. Making these changes in your lifestyle will not only make people take notice when you walk into a room, but will also make you happy to live in your own body!