Let’s Talk About Posture! (part 1)

What can we do for the shoulders?

 

I’d like to take you back to a memory…

I remember very clearly a moment when I was sitting at a wedding, years ago. I saw these cute young flower girls walking down the aisle in front of the bride with their naturally super-upright posture.

Out of nowhere my mind started thinking about how my posture had deteriorated over the last few years.

When I was a young girl and teenager I had always done ballet and figure skating, and liked to believe these things kept my posture pretty upright.

However, sitting there, I suddenly became aware that for years I hadn’t done much else besides sit and work in front of a computer screen… And it hadn’t done my neck and shoulders any favours!

I’m recounting this story because I think it’s relevant to almost all adults.

We all have jobs and, for a lot of us, this requires A LOT of screen time!

So, do you ever lament the loss of the naturally tall posture you had as a child?

 

What I’ll be writing about…

I thought it was about time to explore the topic of posture and how it relates to the practice of yoga!

Finding yoga while I was neck-deep in PhD work at the University of Bath REALLY helped me bring some focus back to maintaining a healthy body.

So, in this three-part blog series I will cover some of the things I have learned about movement and posture:

Part 1. What we can do for the shoulders?

Part 2. What we can do for the back?

Part. 3. What we can do for the hips?

Sit back, and enjoy!

 

Why do our shoulders round forwards?

Everyone does have a slightly unique bone structure and tendency for how they hold their body.

So some people just naturally have a more rounded upper back and shoulders than others.

However… Our lifestyle and what we choose to do with our bodies does play a huge role in shoulder posture.

So what are the lifestyle reasons that shoulders might roll forwards?

From my understanding of anatomy and experiences in practicing and teaching exercise and yoga, these are some influences on rounded shoulders:

 

Desk work

You guessed it. I think this might be the number one culprit, in terms of number of people affected by it! When we type on a key board, we sit for long lengths of time with our Pectoralis muscles (especially the Pec Minor) in a shortened position. This will start to pull the shoulder forwards.

Staring at your laptop screen for hours also lets the muscles in the upper back get a little lazy, as they don’t get any exercise. These are meant to help keep the upper back upright and shoulders back as we walk around (which we used to do much more as hunter-gatherers).

 

Caring work

Anyone in a caring, person-centred job will also experience the same shoulder rounding effect, that others get from desk work. For example a GP, nurse or therapist will often hold a forward-rounded posture towards the patient to show that they are listening to their medical issues.

 

Sports

Tennis, cycling and swimming are sports that will strengthen (but shorten) the Pectoralis muscles. I’m not saying that these sports are bad! They are great for your health.

However, if a sport focuses a lot on one particular muscle group, then it is important to do the necessary complementary stretching and strengthening to keep the body in balance.

Can you think of some other sport examples?

 

Holding babies & children

This is a new area that I’ve learned A LOT about in the last year and a half. Before becoming a mum I didn’t fully grasp the physical effect that caring for a child around the clock can have on your body.

Now I know that breastfeeding, bottle feeding, rocking to sleep and pram pushing (as well as MANY other tasks) are ALL rounded shoulder activities. If mums and dads don’t consciously stretch the other way, then they will see some rounded shoulder effects appear over time.

 

What can we do about it?

That’s enough doom and gloom!

The good news is that we CAN do something about it! And this involves strengthening the postural muscles along the back and stretching the shoulder muscles, especially the Pecs!

I found an interesting research study that asked 40 women to do just that for 6 weeks (Hajihosseini et al., 2014).

These women, aged 20-25 years, all had rounded shoulders of more that 52 degrees. They were randomly divided into 4 groups:

  1. Control group (given no exercises)
  2. Strength exercises
  3. Stretching
  4. Strength exercises + stretching

After a 6 week programme of doing the assigned exercises 3 times a week, the researchers saw some interesting results.

Each group with some form of exercise improved shoulder rounding positions significantly compared with the control group. What’s more, the strength+stretching exercise group seemed the improve more than strength and stretching alone.

This difference wasn’t statistically significant, however it was a study with small numbers, which reduced the ability to detect statistically significant differences.

So, it was clear that either or both stretching and strengthening of the back and shoulders was beneficial for improving posture of the shoulders in these participants.

 

What can yoga do?

It’s not a far stretch of the imagination that yoga can tick the boxes of stretching and strengthening of the shoulders!

The stretching side of yoga has got a little more attention in the media generally, but I personally LOVE the ability of some yoga poses to increase core, back and shoulder strength.

Poses such as Sphinx pose and Locust pose are great in increasing upper back strength. These are poses I try to do daily to counter-act my desk work and child-carrying hours.

Reclining with your upper back on one or two yoga blocks, with the arms out to the side, is a wonderful stretch for the pecs. This is something I reeeeaally needed during my academic days at university.

Holding a half-Lotus twist (with one arm behind the back, grabbing the opposite thigh or foot) is also a brilliant shoulder opening stretch.

While these specific poses are great for opening the shoulders, attending ANY yoga will also help. Regardless of what the yoga class contains, reducing the level of stress and tension in the body will help to soften and open your shoulders as well.

So, don’t sweat about the small print! Just do some yoga. 😉

 

Heart opening

According to yogic philosophy, any chest stretching poses also have the benefit of opening the ‘heart chakra’.

I am not well versed in this area of philosophy, however I find it interesting.

If you find it difficult to ‘go for it’, to give fully to others, to express emotions or if you feel withdrawn emotionally, then you MAY benefit from some ‘heart-opening’ stretches.

I am one of these people!!

Before finding yoga, my shoulders and chest were always really in-flexible. This is where I have done the most work in my yoga practice. It may perhaps have helped me become more open emotionally to others as well…?

I invite you to keep an open mind!

 

Want some help?

In September I will be launching a specific 28-day yoga challenge to help improve posture!

This will involve a daily 15-minute class.

Watch this space for the up-coming challenge!

Up for the Challenge?

Would you like to be updated when this challenge is available?

Then please put enter your email address below.

* indicates required

Want to read more about posture?

This mini blog is the third in a 3-part blog series. Why not take a moment to read the other two?

In Part 2 go into detail about back strength for posture and in Part 3 I talk about how we can avoid or correct the ‘Neck-Hump’!

Enjoy your reading!

Love,

Jolanthe x


Reference

Hajihosseini, E., Norasteh, A., Shamsi, A., & Daneshmandi, H. (2014). The effects of strengthening, stretching and comprehensive exercises on forward shoulder posture correction. Physical Treatments-Specific Physical Therapy Journal4(3), 123-132.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x