Recently, I was visiting my long-distance partner when I pointed out to him that he has an unhealthy posture. He’d never had anyone point this out to him before, but several personal trainers had told him to stretch his shoulders out. After I finished correcting his posture, he looked at himself in the mirror and said, “I can’t believe you told me this just now.” He looked two inches taller, much fitter, and more poised. It was the same aha moment that I myself experienced earlier this year, after possibly decades of walking around with an incorrect posture.
My terrible posture started in earnest when I began working in New York as a recent grad. I remember feeling intense pain in my shoulders and upper back for the first time in my life from sitting 8+ hours a day at the office, hunched over the computer. Over the years, I grew used to the pain—and massages a few times a month helped tide me over. I also got a mattress topper and a very expensive eco latex-filled pillow; while those things definitely helped, I was resigned to back and shoulder pain as necessary dues one pays to be a functioning adult.It was only when I started taking YouTube ballet classes during the pandemic that I came to question my posture. Ballet not only requires you to have good posture in order to look good—without good posture, some movements simply are not possible to execute. When I tucked in my chin and rolled my shoulders back in order to improve my turns, a light bulb went on inside my head. My spine had been misaligned for at least fifteen years, with my head forward and my shoulders rolling in and forward. Another light bulb went on and I realized this was why I looked like I had a progressively shortening neck in photos over the years. Think. Of. The. Horror.
I immediately set about consciously fixing my posture throughout the day, especially while walking or sitting down for long stretches of time. Not only did I look instantly taller and slimmer, I also looked like I gained a boatload of confidence and poise. But I didn’t expect the change in posture to affect my mental health so significantly: it reduced anxiety and inspired calmness and positivity even in a year that everyone agrees was a giant disco-less inferno.
How posture affects your mental health
It turns out that my experience isn’t just anecdotal—it’s scientifically supported. A study led by Erik Peper, a professor at San Francisco State University, compared how subjects can recall hopeless memories and then empowering memories in a slouched position versus an upright position. The study found that 86% of subjects found it much easier to access hopeless thoughts in a slouching position. Almost the same number (87%) reported that it was easier to think positive thoughts in the upright position. The results of the study were so decisive that the researchers “recommend that therapists teach clients posture awareness and to sit more upright in the office and at home as a strategy to increase positive affect and decrease depression.” (!) If this absolutely free habit makes you feel naturally happier with zero side effects other than making you look more elegant, why would you not?!
Sidebar: the physical (and beauty benefits)
The lengthening effects of having good posture is pretty self-explanatory. I also want to remind you of the other benefit we discussed previously here at PD: good posture gives you great skin, by allowing your liver to effectively detoxify. Also, an average adult head weighs a staggering 17 lbs: by correctly placing it directly over your spine, you’re minimizing the stress that it places on the rest of your body.
Checklist to improve your posture
- Place the crown of your head directly over your spine. Stand in front of the mirror so that you can see your profile. For most people, the crown of the head is far forward so that their neck is slanted. Push your head back over the spine so that your neck is perpendicular to the floor. For almost all adults, this will feel like you’re tilting backward at first. After getting used to it, you won’t ever be able to unsee all the people walking around you with their head tilted forward!
- Tuck your chin in. Because of the forward head posture resulting from our tech use, most people’s chins are jutting forward. This can be easily corrected by pulling your chin in and slightly down. (Keep checking yourself in the mirror to see that this creates a straight neck.)
- Roll your shoulders down and back. Our shoulders creep up when we work at our desk—but that’s not what they were meant to do! Press down on your shoulders while feeling the crown of your head lifting toward the ceiling. You’ll feel a release as though your neck is lengthening, a vertebra at a time. Now roll your shoulders back so that they are directly aligned with your spine from the profile view—neither in front nor behind.
- Feel your abdominal muscles kick in. Engaging your upper back in this correct alignment should naturally kick in some upper abdominal muscles.
- If you’re sitting, Erik Peper recommends that you “loosen your belt. Let your waist get bigger; give it space. Designer-jeans syndrome forces us to breathe higher. Breathe slower and lower in the abdomen.” It also prevents you from slouching or squirming in order to somehow feel comfortable after lunch—because honestly, eating lunch at my desk always made me feel very bloated. Who is the cray person who decided that women are supposed to wear blazers and skinny jeans while working and eating at their desk all day? It’s no better than a corset.
Do you mindfully try to correct your posture?
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Photo: Jeffrey Erhunse via Unsplash