Sitting for extended periods of time at our desk, or, worse, on the couch with a laptop, can wreak havoc on our back and neck.
Poor posture when sitting looks and feels like this: shoulders hunched up toward our ears, head dropped forward to look at our phone, exaggerated forward curve in our upper back as we lean over our laptop, and a lack of core support and stabilization for our low back as we slouch in our chair. Couple this with the general feeling of low energy and fatigue that accompanies poor posture, and the workday feels pretty grim.
Taking time to counter this posture with simple movements we can do right at our desk can give us instant relief—soothing aches and pains, improving our mood, decreasing our stress level, and yielding an immediate energy boost. These short breaks throughout our day will save us time addressing postural injuries in the future and make us feel more energized, productive, and creative as we work.
Try these three techniques and you will notice a key difference in how you feel physically, as well as in your stress and energy levels throughout the day:
Postural Reversal: This is a simple movement to remedy slouching. When you sit (or stand) with poor posture, your upper back rounds forward in an exaggerated curve—think of a hunchback. Counter that movement with a simple back bending action.
Take a throw blanket and fold it in half, then roll it tightly so you have a long roll. Place the roll on the floor, position it horizontally, and lay back over it, placing the roll at the base of your shoulder blades or your bra line. Extend your arms out to a T position along the roll. Breathe here for 1-3 minutes and note how this position is the opposite of the rounded forward action that leads to neck, back, and shoulder pain. You will also feel an energy boost as putting your torso in this position will allow you to take long, full breaths.
World’s Greatest Stretch: There is much debate in the physical therapy world as to which stretch is the “world’s greatest,” but I vote for the counter stretch.
Stand at your kitchen sink or the back of your chair and hook your hands over the ledge of your sink or chair. Step back with your feet hip width apart until your spine is long. Drop your head so your ears are in line with your shoulders. Stay here and take 5-10 belly breaths. This position stretches your hamstrings, which supports low back and hip alignment. It lengthens your spine to counter slouching and stretches multiple muscles in your torso that get short and compressed with prolonged sitting. Do this stretch twice a day and you will see a marked decrease in back and shoulder pain as you stretch and lengthen important structures for postural health.
Belly Breathing: Does poor posture contribute to poor breathing or does poor breathing contribute to poor posture? The answer is both. Simple belly breathing will dramatically improve your posture. When you belly breathe you are using your diaphragm—your primary muscle of respiration located in your rib cage—which improves spinal mobility and function. When you inhale fully, your breast bone lifts, giving you the spinal extension that counters slouching. Your diaphragm also descends in your torso, creating intra-abdominal pressure, which supports the low back.
Practice belly breathing while you lay over your blanket roll, during World’s Greatest Stretch, or take a few breathing breaks throughout your day with 3-5 rounds of conscious breathing. Belly breathing is a potent tool to decrease your stress response and calm your nervous system, so this breathing technique will also leave you feeling more grounded and relaxed.
To really benefit from good posture and to feel and look better with good posture, it is about the long game. Consistently breaking up your day with counter movements that support healthy alignment in your spine will help you stand taller, breathe deeper, and feel better.
Keep your eye on the prize, notice the effect, and take these life-long tools with you to feel strong and centered in your body and mind.