Our body posture reflects our inner attitude. One could also say that our emotional state is mirrored in our body posture. This is something we have all experienced. The division of mind and body has long been outdated. Yoga and other concepts of bodywork as well as modern neuroscience and adjacent fields confirm that our body is not independent from our emotions and our mental processes. So why then, I ask myself and many of my clients in the outpatient clinic, do we hold ourselves so poorly? Are we too weak or too disheartened and exhausted? Evidence-based data suggests that poor posture and movement in everyday life can lead to:

  • degenerative changes of the spine (e.g., disc degeneration, joint stiffness, muscle weakness, acute and recurrent as well as chronic pain syndromes of the spine)
  • pain syndrome in the shoulder, neck, even headache and compromised ability to concentrate
  • reduced movement of the diaphragm with negative consequences on lung capacity as well as cardiovascular and bowel function
  • decrease of blood and lymph circulation
  • limited sharpness of our sensory perceptions
  • negative influence on mood and self-esteem
  • decrease of trust in what one is doing and awareness as well as acuity of our senses
  • reduced impact or power of one’s actions and words on others
  • decreased ability for reasoning and focus
  • reduction not only of our health span but also the overall life span

That said, it’s obvious to question what prevents us from generating healthy posture and movement habits during work and at home. Here are some excerpts from the answers I have received throughout the last years:

  • good posture looks and feels stiff or even arrogant
  • good posture looks stiff or even arrogant
  • I don’t feel that way, so I won’t sit and move with dignity before feeling better
  • if I sit and move with the heart region more open, I feel more vulnerable
  • everyone is sitting and moving in this way, it can’t be wrong
  • my physiotherapist told me tucking my tail is helpful
  • we must die anyway someday, so why bother too much
  • for me the negative effects do not apply
  • I can’t believe that my back pain, neck pain or decreased ability to breath, think, move is due to my posture

What's your excuse, dear reader?

Thinking along those lines, what might be a possible solution to develop better posture and healthier forms of movement? How can we access the power and benefits of posture and leave behind the obviously damaging effects? Which arguments would keep you and me
going towards an appropriate, calm, relaxed, and dignified way of holding ourselves?

Step 1) Knowing, that small changes such as practicing “heart opening”, “neutral spine” or “strengthening the core muscles” or however we might call the necessary adjustments to our posture, will bring about all these positive effects on overall health and might help us to be more motivated.

Step 2) Of course knowing what and why is not enough. We also must be able to effectuate the changes and we must know how. This is crucial for implementing new habits, however small they might be. Therefore, awareness is key when establishing upright posture. Once it becomes clear how it feels internally and how feelings and cognition are different in this new posture it becomes easier to embrace it. The interoception (awareness of our inner state) confronts us with the impact of a slumped body position and the ability to feel the difference on breathing, wakefulness and openness allows the change to become more sustainable.

Step 3) This is what I suggest to most of my clients who are struggling with the negative effects of poor posture on the next level of action. I ask them to identify possible reasons for engaging into poor posture and thereby into a self-harming process. Although the effects are not as obvious as for example with smoking, it still is devastating regarding the outcome described above. The question might be whether the current posture is more due to bodily or emotional exhaustion, developed from too much uninterrupted sitting or an underlying life crisis and/or low self-esteem? Or has it just become a habit going unnoticed? There are many reasons and factors in life leading to how we hold ourselves in all kinds of situations. Becoming aware of the reason often helps to pursue a change as the ensuing reflection often reveals flawed reasoning. In my experience it seems important to customize this step for each client in order facilitate possible changes.

Step 4) Providing trust in one’s ability to start doing and keep going with these small changes by oneself is paramount. The direct experience in a one-on-one or group session is a wonderful starting point. But the suggested change in posture must also be doable on all levels: time, ability and understanding. It is known quite well that starting a new habit, for example good sitting posture, is fairly easy, but implementing it sustainably will need at least six weeks of practice. Awareness is important to establish persistence once the feeling of positive changes in our body and mental state occurs. The client may shift his mindset from “I have to do something” to “I become curious about possible choices” which might spread into other fields of daily life. People persisting with changing their posture will also notice that others will perceive them in a different way and act accordingly. All this should be mentioned to the client in order to positively sustain the loop of change.

Step 5) Another step to explore and facilitate the real power of posture is to give some complementing exercises or āsana. For example, strength and endurance of certain important muscle groups, such as the back extensors, especially in the region of the thoracic spine, can be enhanced. If the shortness of the muscles in the front region of the chest and shoulders is a significant hindrance, active and passive stretching exercises can be beneficial. In my experience, it is always a good idea to integrate a new habit into daily routines that each of us engage in anyway. Most people will brush their teeth or walk a specific route inside or outside the flat or house. It might be helpful to remind oneself to elevate the chest bone slightly when in a particular location at home or while doing everyday actions.

Step 6) To get to a point where less and less effort is needed, we go from conscious doing towards allowing the new posture to occur, until the new posture is established and feels natural. Just the enhanced feeling of connectedness and energy might be enough to let the new habit become the new normal. And finally, let healthy movements and posture not be stiff and static but a smooth, malleable, and dynamic experience of living up to our full potential, trust, and dignity.

This article is just about pointing towards an easy-to-do tool to improve health and life quality. It is a practice of a dynamic and supple returning to an upright body axis. The effects of better posture can certainly be enhanced by the healing powers of other measures like diet, breathing, meditation, socializing and engaging into creativity. Even small changes in one domain of life can bring about positive changes in others as well.

Let the sun shine in! Günter