"Come on, keep up," my mom would say to my sister and me. Everywhere we went, whether in the grocery store, on the sidewalk, or in the mall, my mom walked tall and fast. Even her stroll required a double or triple step on my part as a little girl.
My grandmother was the same way. She stood a slender 5'9, and the until the day she died, had the most proper posture of anyone I knew. My Gramma could convey a steely confidence simply by how she aligned her head and shoulders.
My sister, who since high school has stood a statuesque 6 feet tall, was regularly reminded to "straighten up," "stand tall," and "stop slouching." I absorbed those cues, too, so even as a stereotypical, angst-ridden, insecure teen, I exuded confidence because of the body language my mother and grandmother modeled for me.
That confidence was misread at times. In college, a fellow coed who would become a roommate and dear friend, revealed to me that she thought I was "a bi#ch" before she met me. Taken aback, I asked why. She replied that it was how I walked--my shoulders back and head held high--rather than the typical soft posture and dropped gaze that communicates submission and insecurity displayed by so many females. "So I appeared confident, then," I said. "Yes," she replied.
A few years later when I worked in a corporate setting, a coworker asked me if I rode horses. My answer was an emphatic no, as I've ridden a horse fewer than a dozen times in my life. As with my college roommate, I inquired why she asked that. She said, "Because of your posture. You stand so straight, like an equestrian riding a horse." I certainly preferred being called an equestrian over a female canine!
It's unfortunate in our society that women who stand tall, stand to be misinterpreted. My mother's underlying premise for teaching my sister and me to stand straight and walk fast was, to a large degree, out of protection. She would say, "Walk with purpose. Act like you know where you're going and as if someone's waiting for you." I've read self-defense studies over the years that say women who move confidently, decidedly and with purpose are less likely to become victims of crime than those who appear weak and insecure.
But now let's move from viewing posture as body language, to viewing it as the base from which a person moves. The National Academy of Sports Medicine says that, "Static posture, or how an individual physically presents him/herself in stance...is reflected in the alignment of the body. It provides the foundation or platform from which the extremities function. As with any structure, a weak foundation leads to secondary problems elsewhere in the system."
How a person's body is aligned is the basis for identifying muscle imbalances. For instance, a forward-protruding head, rounded shoulders, excessively arched back, knees that fall inward and feet that turn out indicate a number of potential issues that may cause faulty movement patterns. As a trainer (and one who has been raised to pay attention to posture!), I have to note such variances when developing exercise strategies for clients.
So, what is proper posture, and what's the healthiest posture for sitting, standing and lying down? Livestrong.com defines them this way:
What happens if we practice poor body alignment? "Proper posture helps the body produce high levels of functional strength. Without it, the body may degenerate or experience poor posture, altered movement patterns, sprains, tendonitis, and low-back pain," according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Additionally, over time, poor posture can lead to problems with bodily functions, including breathing and digestion.
If you feel that your posture isn't up to par, you may be wondering what are some exercises to improve your alignment. Here are a few suggestions:
So, the next time you stand, sit, lie down, or perform any exercise, sing the children's song, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," to remind you seek proper posture and alignment of joints for every movement!
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Molly is a wife, mom,
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I am not a registered dietitian, nor a medical professional. My blog is a representation of my views and experiences, which are not intended as medical advice. While I am a certified personal trainer, descriptions of things I eat and exercises I perform may not be suitable for everyone. Please speak with a medical professional before making any changes to your current routine.