Why am I sharing my travel stories?
Founder & CEO of TruStory. I have a passion for understanding things at a fundamental level and sharing it as clearly as possible.
Are you hunched over or sitting nice and tall? Is your chin sinking into your neck or lifted high? Are your shoulders rounded or nicely squared off? Is your chest caving in or is it open and proud?
How often do you actually think about these things when you’re sitting in front of a computer or looking at your phone? What about when you’re walking around your home, office, or city?
One of the many things that dance has taught me is the importance of good posture. When I first started learning dance, I was horrified to discover how bad my posture really was. I remember watching video clips of my early practice sessions and wanting to cry.
I couldn’t believe how bad my “nerd neck” had gotten, how rounded my shoulders had become, and how squished my lower back looked.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, I did spend over a decade working 12-14 hours a day in front of a computer. Not only that, but I refused to use an ergonomic setup.
To be honest, I should consider myself lucky. I managed to get through an entire decade working with poor posture without any serious neck or back issues. I believe that my daily exercise routine undid some of the damage I was doing to my body, but I undoubtedly put my body under a lot of strain by sitting with poor posture every single day.
It's no wonder I would have frequent mild back pain, tight hips, and a strained neck. At the time, I ignored these warning signs because the pain was manageable and all of my attention was diverted elsewhere (like my startup). Unfortunately, that wasn’t the brightest idea.
Our bodies are incredibly good at warning us when we’re doing something wrong. Pain, weakness, tightness: these are all signals your body is sending you to try and convince you to change your ways. A healthy body should NOT be in pain, feel overly tight, or have disproportionate weaknesses. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, chances are your body is telling you, “Pay attention to me, please!”.
Unfortunately, most people in the modern world are disconnected from their physical bodies because they spend all of their time in the digital realm. When their body starts sending warning signals, they ignore it in order to continue focusing on their phone or computer. It’s only when their body begins breaking down that they finally pay attention. It is no wonder that 31 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time (hint: lower back pain is usually a result of poor body alignment and posture).
When we’re young and foolish, it’s easy to ignore early warning signs like lower back pain and just persevere. However, we can only ignore these signals for too long before serious damage is done. The longer we ignore small pains, the more likely the damage is to become much harder to reverse or even impossible to cure.
Back and neck pain are just the tip of the iceberg of negative consequences caused by poor posture. The long-term effects of bad posture can be catastrophic and cause significant issues down your entire kinetic chain.
The negative consequences of bad posture include:
In short, poor posture leads to a whole train wreck of issues.
Never take your posture for granted. Posture is one of the most important parts of living a healthy and pain-free life. It is also a relatively easy fix if you’re willing to put in the conscious time and effort.
Good posture is not only beneficial for your physical health, but also your mental health. Your mental state manifests itself in your physical posture and your physical posture affects your mental wellbeing.
When a person is mentally vibrant, she will walk tall and proud like a queen. It takes energy and courage to walk around with your shoulders back, chest open, chin high, and back straight. Conversely, if a person walks around with his head low and body curled into itself, it’s likely he isn’t in a great mental state.
In short, posture isn’t only important for how we look on the outside, but for how we feel on the inside.
I have a challenge for you. Try walking around your room like you are the ruler of the world: chin lifted, shoulders down, spine tall. I bet for many of you, this is an incredibly difficult exercise. We are so used to hiding and curling up inside our bodies that having to open ourselves up can feel very intimidating or even outright scary. I know it was for me!
I have always been a very shy and introverted person. It was incredibly hard for me to learn how to open myself up to the world. I felt so vulnerable and intimidated.
However, I’ve been consciously working on improving my posture over the last 9 months. Not only has this fixed all the pain, weakness, and tightness I was feeling, it’s also rewired my brain to be more receptive and connected to the world. I no longer feel vulnerable when I walk around with my head held high!
Of course, I’m nowhere near perfect. Maintaining good posture is still something I have to work on every day. It took a lot of energy and courage to learn how to open myself up and I’m still learning today. I constantly find myself slouching and curling up, physically closing myself off from the world. Every time I catch myself doing this, I hurry to correct my posture.
No one has perfect posture all the time, but we can at least try our best to make positive changes. Just like everything in life, it’s the journey that matters most. The positive end result is just a bonus!
Now you know that bad posture can lead to all sorts of issues both physically and mentally, but do you know what it means to have good posture?
Before learning dance, I had no idea what all good posture entailed. I assume there are probably some of you out there in a similar boat. In essence, having good posture means you’re distributing the force of gravity evenly through your body so that no one part is overstressed. This can be achieved by maintaining a neutral spine and vertically aligned body.
Whether you're sitting or standing, your spine has natural curves. In order to have good posture, you want to maintain those natural curves in a “neutral spine”. This video is a good primer on what it means to have a neutral spine.
If any of your spinal curves are either flattened or overly curved, you end up with posture problems. The two most common posture problems in the modern world are a hunched upper back (kyphosis), or an extreme sway in the lower back (lordosis).
By maintaining a neutral spine, you can eradicate both of these issues and take the first step towards having good posture.
Understanding how to maintain a neutral spine is NOT intuitive to most people. But that’s okay because there are a ton of videos on YouTube that explain this in more detail. I recommend you start here and spend 10-15 minutes watching some of the videos until you feel like you fully grasp it.
The second step towards good posture is to keep your skeletal structure aligned vertically. When viewed from the side, your body should align in a relatively straight line.
Proper vertical alignment when standing means:
If you’re confused or just need good pointers on proper posture, I highly recommend this 3 minute video.
If you only take one thing away from this blog, let it be this: your main goal is to distribute the weight of your body equally throughout your body. If your spine is not neutral and/or your body is not properly vertically aligned, you’ll put unnecessary strain on certain muscles and joints. Over time, this leads to muscular imbalances, injuries, and/or chronic pain.
Let’s look at a more specific example. Did you know that your head weighs approximately eight pounds? And that every inch your head protrudes from the front of your body increases the load on your neck and shoulders by ten pounds? Imagine the effects that excess load has on your neck and shoulders after happening for months, years, or even decades.
Get the picture?
Our bodies are incredibly resilient and will deal with our bullshit for a long time but they can’t hold out forever. Eventually, your body is going to give in and you’ll run into all sorts of issues like chronic neck and back pain.
Now that we’ve discussed why posture matters and what it means to have good posture, I wanted to share with you some of the things I realized were leading to my own bad posture and how I fixed them.
The root cause of my bad posture was my weak core muscles. In this case, when I say “core”, I don’t mean just those 6-pack abs. The core muscles, also known as the "powerhouse" of your body, include the muscles of your back, side, hips, and butt. Having a weak powerhouse encouraged me to slump because I didn’t have the strength to maintain proper alignment for my body. Moreover, the countless hours I spent on my computer made my upper back and shoulders tight. As a result, I was subconsciously rounding my shoulders forward.
In order to improve my posture, I had to strengthen my powerhouse (especially my back, core, and obliques) and gain more mobility in my shoulders. Below are some of the things that have helped me strengthen my core and maintain good posture; hopefully, these tips can also help you on your path to better posture.
Yoga has been a game changer for me when it comes to improving posture. Yoga is full of poses that require you to elongate your spine and open up your chest, hips, and shoulders. It strengthens and lengthens your muscles, reversing any tightness you might be feeling in your body.
I have found yoga to be really effective at strengthening my powerhouse, which automatically helps with posture because you learn to engage your core muscles to stabilize your body. This stabilization is useful whether you’re sitting, standing, walking, jumping, and more.
Additionally, yoga can do more than just improve your posture. For example, it teaches you how to breathe while you move, which is essential to any movement practice. Moreover, it serves as powerful tool for self-discovery by making you more aware of your body and mind, giving you the tools to feel in control or your mind and body (vs. your mind and body controlling you).
I’m serious when I tell you that you need to start recording yourself practicing yoga or exercising. It will completely shatter any illusions you have of what you look like when you’re moving your body. You can't know what to fix if you don't know what you’re doing wrong. The camera provides a total and complete truth.
Before you ask: no, looking at yourself in the mirror is NOT enough. Most people only see what they want to see in the mirror. The camera shows us what we need to see.
Once you record yourself, check for these things:
These are all cues that yoga instructors or fitness trainers will constantly tell you. Use their cues as a guide when you watch your own recordings to see if you are doing things with proper form and posture.
Of course, you don't need to record yourself every time you do yoga or exercise. Just start recording yourself every once in a while to check on your posture. Watch the recordings and list out the things you need to work on. Then, focus on improving one of those things at a time.
This is a really important point. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Your brain will shortfuse (like mine did). It wasn’t until I started to chip away at each problem individually that I finally began seeing results.
It might take you two weeks to get one thing down. For me, learning how to keep my shoulders from lifting up to my ears took me close to a month to correct. During that time, my only intention when I was doing yoga was to keep my shoulders from lifting up. Once that became muscle memory, I focused on the next issue. Slowly but surely, I have been chipping away at my problems one at a time. I am still very much on this journey and that is totally okay.
Improving your health isn’t going to happen all at once. It’ll take time and effort, but the reward is so worth it.
Even though lockdown sucked and kept us all out of the gym, I am thankful for COVID closures forcing me to explore body weight exercises. Body weight exercises are great for many reasons (which I plan to elaborate on in a future post). The main thing I really love about them, though, is that they help you develop body control and spatial awareness.
Unlike machines at the gym which stabilize your body for you, body weight exercises teach you how to stabilize your own body. I’ve personally found this gives me a much more balanced workout. It’s also helped me bring my core strength to another level.
When I first tried to do Supermans and Snow Angels, I found them incredibly frustrating. I had no idea how to lift my own body weight using only the strength of my back. I seriously felt like a log as I laid there trying to engage my back to do the exercises. Every time I would try, I would lift my head up like I was sinking underwater and gasping for air but struggle to engage my back and core.
After many weeks and months of practice, I finally developed the back and core strength to do Supermans and Snow Angels. It was such a wonderful and freeing feeling! I’m grateful for all the struggles and the failed attempts because they brought me the success I have today.
If you are looking for a place to start, try doing this routine 2x a week for 4-6 weeks. Your results might surprise you! :)
Every dancer swears by Pilates. Invented by Joseph Pilates, it is a movement practice designed specifically to improve flexibility, build strength, develop endurance, and gain control of the entire body. Pilates really emphasizes body alignment, breathing, core strength, coordination, and balance‒all of which help with improving your posture.
The caveat with Pilates is that finding a good instructor or studio can be hard. If you can find a studio or even online classes, I encourage you to give it a try and see what you think. Pilates is not for everyone, but if you find that you love it, that’s wonderful!
Face pulls are a seriously awesome exercise that you can do almost every day to help open up your shoulders and reverse bad posture.
Jeff Cavalier has a great video explaining all things face pulls so you can get started today. Watch the video and follow his advice. Trust me: you’ll start seeing results in no time! As a bonus, you don’t need any fancy equipment to start doing face pulls. You can use a regular exercise band or a TRX band.
YouTube is a gold mine when it comes to health and fitness advice, tips, and routines. I encourage you to use it to watch a few videos about good posture.
If you need a place to start, one channel I love is Original Strength. In my opinion, this channel is seriously underrated and Tim (the guy who runs it) is super rad. Essentially, he teaches primal movements anyone can do to restore their bodies in order to move like we were designed to move.
Here are some of his videos worth checking out:
And honestly, there’s so many other great videos out there! I really encourage you to take the time to find some videos that interest and will work for you.
The suggestions above have all worked for me, but by no means do you need to do all of them.
Honestly, if you take anything away from this post, I hope that it’s the need to be more mindful and aware of your posture. Even if you don’t do any of the above exercises, simply taking the time to think more about your bad posture and how to improve it is a wonderful first step.
I believe the foundation of your health starts with posture.
Fixing your posture can have a dramatic effect not only on your physical health, but also on your mental wellbeing. Aside from all the health benefits, one of the best things about improving your posture is the feeling of freedom in your own body. Rather than closing yourself off to the world, good posture can lead to you feeling more connected with the world around you.
I want you to start making changes to improve your posture. It won’t be easy, but I promise you that it will be worth it.
So what are you waiting for?