Wouldn’t it be nice if our posture was always perfect, vertical and symmetrically balanced? Yet, as in life, it’s never that way.
When it comes to our posture, many of us tilt, shift, slump and bend, and it can feel like an uphill battle against the gravitational field of the earth. Yet, if your goal is to improve your posture and have a healthy spine, we want to continually practice healthy movement habits. We all have some imbalances, and old habits. Tensing your shoulders, holding your breath, or a forward head are counterproductive, not only in weight training, but in any sport. Tomas Myer, in his book “Anatomy Trains,” writes that everyone has a story, and good stories always involve some imbalance.
Good posture is an easy upright alignment, where the body weights of your head, chest and pelvis are poised one atop the other, like a stack of colorful wooden building blocks. The spine’s “home-base” is its natural neutral position, where it is in the least-stressed position.
The ease of good posture allows for its three natural curves: the neck, or cervical spine, the mid-back, or thoracic spine, and the low back, or lumbar spine. Standing or sitting up straight allows for the presence of each of these three natural curves. Beyond looking symmetrical, though, there are copious muscles and connective tissue webbing working to support the spine. It isn’t a freestanding pillar, writes Dr. Stuart McGill, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo and author of “Back Mechanic.” Instead, he says, think of it more like a radio tower, a tall metallic structure stabilized by guy-wires that are connected to the ground. The wires act in the same way that the network of muscles and ligaments that surround our spinal columns do, providing strength and support.
Reminding yourself to pull your shoulders back is only part of the posture picture. Alignment is dynamic, neurologically adaptive, and certainly has an emotional component. Finding out where your muscle tension lives—your neck, for example—is helpful to find that particular pattern that causes the trouble in the first place. It’s known by the “everything-connects-to-everything-else principle.” It helps to understand which muscles are shortened or tight, or which emotions might be contributing to that feeling, and how that affects the whole body.
Using imagery to improve spinal alignment
Using imagery can help you experience an incredible release of muscle tension. The Franklin Method uses imagery metaphorically, and is helpful if you are unfamiliar with anatomy. Here are some images from Eric Franklin’s book “Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery,” to try to help improve your spinal alignment. You just might discover a very fixable imbalance.
- Lighting designer aligns the spine (lying, sitting or standing): Visualize the spine as a chain of spotlights. Turn on all the lights and observe their focal directions. If they shine in many confused directions, adjust them so that they all focus in the sagittal plane. Now adjust them so that they shine with equal brightness.
- Head- on geyser: Imagine your central axis to be a waterspout or geyser. Your head floats effortlessly on top of this column. Visualize your shoulders and your body as the water falls back down to the ground. Allow your head to bob on the top of the column of water. As the geyser becomes stronger, your head is buoyed upward. Let the power of the water increase the height of your head.
Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.