Improve Your Posture

Improve your posture and reduce muscle strain in the back, neck and shoulders by changing the way you sit andwalk.

Improving your posture can solve all kinds of problems you might think have a more serious source. If you have an aching back, a strained neck, rigid shoulders or recurrent headaches, poor posture could be to blame. Try some of these strategies to see if your aches and pains are due to the way you sit, stand and walk.

Walk tall

When was the last time you thought about how you walk? If you're unusually tall, and especially if you're a woman, it's possible you've unconsciously adopted a kind of stoop, in order to compensate for your height. Chances are you don't even realize you're doing it. Regardless of your height, though, think for a moment about the way you stand and walk. Are you aware of having a straight back and a relaxed gait, or do you never think about it?

Take a walk around your home or office, and be aware of how your body is moving. If you're wearing high heels, slip them off, and walk in your stockinged feet. High heels are, of course, one of the worst offenders when it comes to throwing your posture out of whack. High shoes tend to pitch the top half of your body forward, as it naturally realigns itself to keep its balance.

As you walk around, try lifting your head until you're looking straight ahead of you, with a relaxed neck and shoulders. Press your shoulders backwards so that your chest is pushed out, and straighten your spine so that you are standing straight, but not too stiffly. You'll notice as you try out this new walk in the privacy of your home or office that you suddenly feel more energetic and confident.

Once you see the difference between slouching along, and striding out, looking directly and confidently at the world, you will want to make a permanent change in the posture you adopt when standing and walking.

Sit straight

What can yo do about posture problems if you sit in front of a computer screen all day? This situation tends to produce one of two extreme conditions. Firstly, it's all too easy to slump like a couch potato when you've been in the same position for hours on end. If you find that you frequently slide down in your chair until your head is almost ready to rest on the edge of your desk, it's time to take action.

As your body has been slouched in your chair, it's likely that your back and neck have been taking the strain of your rounded shoulders and unnatural seating position. Stand up and have a brisk walk around the office. Stop for a drink of water or coffee, have a chat with a colleague and generally rev up your energy a few points, until you feel refreshed enough to sit down again.

You may fall into the second category of poor seating posture. If you've been typing frantically, or focusing intently on paperwork for a considerable length of time, just check how high your shoulders are sitting and how stiff how your neck feels. Many people don't notice that, as they sit still for long periods and their bodies become increasingly rigid and tense, their shoulders become surprisingly raised.

This seated posture represents the opposite problem to the slouching position just described. Both positions, however, place enormous stress on the back and neck. If you find your body adopting the rigid, tense posture while you're seated, take a couple of deep breaths, and relax your muscles as you exhale. Gently rotate your neck, looking from side to side, and roll your shoulders a couple of times to relax your muscles.

Stretch out

Whether you experience such posture problems at home or at work, some simple stretching exercises can really make a difference to the way your body feels, and remind you to take the time to relax. Try some of these.

Take off your shoes if you are wearing high heels, and stand with your feet flat on the floor, about shoulder width apart. Extend both arms to your left and stretch your body gently but fully in that direction. Relax. Repeat the exercise, this time reaching to the right. Now reach with both hands up towards the ceiling, continuing to look straight ahead. Really reach as hard and as high as you can, extending the stretch until you are standing up on your toes.

This one is very good for relaxing sore neck and shoulder muscles that have been strained by poor posture. First move your head slowly to the left, and hold it for a couple of seconds. Roll your head forward, looking down at your chest, until you are looking towards the right. Be careful not to make any sudden, jerky moves, which will strain your neck muscles further. Repeat this gentle rolling and stretching motion a few more times, until your neck muscles feel more relaxed.

Shoulder rolls are also effective remedies for muscles strained by incorrect posture. Make gentle "windmills" with your arms, in a backwards direction, five or six times. Repeat the rolls, this time rotating your arms forward. Finish off by inhaling deeply, and shrugging your shoulders as high as you can, slowly and thoroughly. Relax, dropping your shoulders back to their natural level, and exhale fully.

You may find that correcting your posture has other benefits, too. As you begin to stand tall with your shoulders back, a natural side-effect is to hold in your stomach-muscles, which will give you a slimmer silhouette. You may also start to have more energy, as you lose the fatigue brought on by slumping, and the feelings of anxiety connected with all-over tension.

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