Stand Up Straight

Just watch a cable television station long enough to catch a few commercial breaks and you’ll be wondering how we ever got along without medications, surgeries, fitness equipment, or weight loss pills. In response, I’m recycling the following post from 2013. I want to remind you of one, simple, basic practice that can help prevent the need for any of that: learn to stand tall.

You too can have strength, confidence, poise, and vitality. But wait, there’s more. Proper posture makes you more attractive. And this can be yours today for the bargain investment of just two minutes of your time. Beautiful models, successful salespeople, effective leaders, and focused athletes all know about this secret. Read on to learn how you can have all this and more today.

Hiking the mountains

Okay, enough sales talk. Our moms and dads told us to stand up straight when we were kids. But there is more to it than just straightening up and pulling your shoulders back. Feeling tall. Holding your head high. Centering your balance. Commanding a presence. These are auxiliary goals, which require a mindful timeout from hunching over our 40-hour-work-week positions.

You probably spend most of your day in a physical position that is redundant. Our accommodating bodies remember this. Then, for another 56 hours per week we sleep, curled into a reflexive comma. This leaves very little time for our skeletons to be in the state of equilibrium required for our whole bodies’ optimal function.

We need to remind ourselves what perfect posture feels like. We have to practice. Like the computer you are now sitting at (and have been sitting at for too long), your posture needs to be rebooted regularly. The muscular system needs to be reset in order to let the frame return to true alignment. The kinks must be gently stretched to spread out the workload evenly across the entire body. Even our inner ears need to be reminded of what balance means.

When you stand tall, oxygen and blood circulates more effectively. Overworked muscles get some much-needed assistance from one of the other 600(+) muscles in the body. Thought, strength, and agility sharpen. And you just feel better.

And good posture takes visual pounds off in an instant, particularly in the abdominal area. Have you ever seen those before-and-after photographs for diet-pill commercials? We joke about how obviously the subject is sucking in his or her stomach for the after shot, but the truth is, holding in the stomach to some degree is what we should be doing anyway. Engaging those muscles as we stand, sit, and move removes some of the burden from the lower back, reducing its sag and its pain.

A popular yoga position called Mountain Pose starts at the ground and consciously moves up each section of the body until the crown of the head is reaching for the ceiling. But you don’t have to practice yoga to learn how to feel like a mountain. Of course, you should never feel sharp pain when doing this. If you do, stop immediately and address the problem with a doctor. Otherwise, getting into perfect posture goes a little like this:

Take all the time you need to achieve each step; don’t hurry.

1.) Stand on a level surface with your feet parallel to each other, about hip-width apart.

2.) Spread apart every toe, so your balance is even on each, then center your balance between the ball and heel. Be sure you are not leaning forward, back, left, or right; your weight must be centered.

3.) Focus on your knees. Aim them straight ahead and engage your thigh muscles to make it feel as if you are pulling your kneecaps up. Make sure your knees are directly above your feet. Do not lock your knees.

4.) Focus on your pelvis. Engage your stomach muscles to tilt the top of your pelvis back (to adjust for the involuntary sag) and align your hips above your knees, which are above your feet.

5.) Lift your waist to hold your rib cage, feeling your back straighten as each vertebra spreads apart toward the ceiling. Fill the rib cage with oxygen.

6.) Pull your shoulders back (to adjust for involuntary hunch), adding more air to your lungs and more space between each vertebra. Let your arms hang comfortably, but extend each finger toward the floor. Do not lock your elbows. Shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and feet should all be on the same vertical plane.

7.) Relax your face, but lift your chin enough to get your head above your shoulders while pulling the crown of your head toward the ceiling.

8.) Stand and concentrate on this posture. Program it into your mind. Breathe deeply and slowly. Tell yourself good things. Come out of the stance gently; sway around if necessary to shake any out any stress that gathered anywhere.

Also, when sitting, center your upper body parts on your hips, while keeping your feet flat on the floor.

The stronger you are, the more difficult some portions of this may be for you. If any part presents problems or produces discomfort, then take measures to stretch out the overdeveloped muscles, or better yet, make full body stretching a part of your daily route. And breathe. Muscles need oxygen. In fact, forcing a cold, suffocating muscle to stretch can cause more harm than good, so it’s good to get the blood pumping a little first.

Don’t be frustrated if this doesn’t come naturally or feels uncomfortable at first. Keep practicing every day. When you are able to get to perfect posture without effort, you can practice it in the grocery line, while cooking dinner, while watching a soccer game, etc.

Don’t waste time while waiting for the ship to come in.

Our mental and physical wellbeing relies heavily on our body’s alignment. You can improve this, no gym membership, pills, or surgery required. Subtle results will yield great benefits, one muscle, one action, one breath, and one thought at a time.

by Ruth Heil

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