What Is Poor Posture?
You may think this is a silly question. The answer could be as easy as pointing to the hunched shoulders of everyone and anyone around you, whether you are sitting on the subway, trapped in traffic, or even jogging at the gym. Poor posture is the norm, not the exception. Gone are the days of high school posture contests and finishing school drills, where young women were exhorted to exercise good posture to attract husbands of stature. These mating practices may seem outrageous to us today, but they fit right into the grand scheme of human history. Posture has been held in high esteem since time immemorial. Designed to portray ideal proportions, Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Michelangelo’s David are but two examples of epitomes of good posture, synonymous with aesthetic perfection.
How far we have strayed from this ideal! With the advent of computers and their adoption into our offices and homes, the preoccupation with good posture has been rendered obsolete. The amount of time we must interact with screens daily, whether desktops or smartphones, has completely transformed our attitude toward bad posture. We’ve become more lenient, the consequences of which we face today. Though we have all but abandoned the aesthetic concern for poor posture, the importance of proper alignment has reared its head with endemic neck and back pain. The traditional and seemingly shallow preoccupation with posture is revealing itself to be bone-deep, pun intended.
What is Proper Alignment?
The human skeleton is designed to effectively and efficiently carry the skull and its prized contents, the brain. Between 10 and 12 pounds, the human head weighs heavily on the neck and this pressure can easily cause neck pain if proper posture isn’t being enforced. When the delicate balance that upholds the head is compromised, the entire system suffers, causing pain and degeneration at every level of the spine. Neck Hammocks relieve this discomfort by taking a load off, both literally and metaphorically, the overstressed muscles of the upper back, neck and shoulders. By suspending the head via traction, Neck Hammocks allow the spine to adjust to its proper position while alleviating surrounding tensions. The relief from muscle spasms translates to a sense of euphoria that floods the system from head to toe.
For some people, the relaxation that comes from Neck Hammocks is the most intense they will feel at any given time. When a person’s sleeping position is straining the neck, the only time their spine is properly aligned is when they are using their Neck Hammock. This is also the case for people who were born with a spinal formation that manifests outwardly as poor posture.
How to Reverse Poor Posture
Poor posture is not always caused by habitual misalignment. While the spine possesses a natural curve, poor posture either exacerbates the existing curves or flattens them out. The most common models of poor posture are declinations of:
- Lordosis: common in women, the lower back (lumbar spine) is arched to an extreme, pushing the buttocks out
- Kyphosis: shoulders are hunched forward, the thoracic spine (mid-upper back) adopts a convex curve, the chin is shoved forward
- Head Forward: the back is mostly straight, save for the neck (cervical spine) that is shoved forward, out of alignment
- Swayback: more common in men, the body’s weight sits in the lower back as the head hangs back, hips are pushed forward.
Balancing Muscle Groupings
Whether structural or habitual, the muscles of your spine and neck overcompensate to counterbalance the head’s misplacement. As a result, muscles get either:
- too strong, which crams joints causing inflamed and eventually pinched nerves (stenosis), cartilage wear, and with time, arthritis
- too weak, which precipitates the aging process that is atrophy, the death of muscle cells from disuse
Both scenarios lead to the same outcome: pain. The extremes of strength and weakness go hand in hand, since muscles operate as a chain of pairs. To every agonist muscle exists an antagonist muscle; overwork one and you will overstretch the other, and vice versa. This is why stretching is as important as strengthening. Better yet, understand that effective stretching is technically a form of strengthening.
It is misguided to think of strengthening as building muscle, and stretching as simply relaxing muscle fibers. Both build strength, the difference is that one shortens muscle fibers in a concentric contraction, while the other lengthens them. The latter is called eccentric contraction, which tones a muscle as you stretch it.
Muscles spasm when they are asked to do more than they are meant for. Traction devices like Neck Hammock help achieve proper alignment and posture correction by gently pulling apart your neck from your back. This action decompresses muscles that are exerting pressure on soft tissues such as nerves.
To complement your Neck Hammock usage, here is a list of 10 exercises to reverse bad posture.
Poor Posture Exercises
The most important part about exercising is learning to listen to your body. When you push too hard in a workout, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. In fact, you could be harming yourself. As we said before, overusing a muscle has the same effect as underusing it; rather than excess, seek balance.
Literally translated to “balance” in Sanskrit, yoga offers a range of accessible exercises to improve posture. It also requires little space and virtually no equipment, especially if you have a carpeted floor. If you don’t, it’s a good idea to purchase a mat so you don’t bruise or slip.
As a system of functional fitness, yoga focuses on alignment before all else. With acute attention on the spine, yoga perfectly complements Neck Hammocks. Yoga builds the muscles to sustain the correct positioning that Neck Hammocks introduce to your body in the form of relief from pain. In this sense, yogic exercises are the ideal partner for anyone using Neck Hammocks. They make up an age-old method that has proven its worth with the passing centuries.
Cat Cow Pose
Also known as pelvic tilts, Cat Cow Pose is both easy to learn and easy on the body. Cat Cow relieves lower back pain and tightness in your neck and shoulders. It increases flexibility throughout the spine, but also the hips and chest. Note that you can also do this one standing, if the ground is too uncomfortable for you.
- Get on your hands and knees, palms pushing into the floor with straight arms in alignment with your shoulders, and knees with your hips. Your back should be straight, like a table, from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
- Inhale through your nose as you arch your spine, head up, look up. This is the cow segment.
- Exhale through your nose as you tuck your chin into your chest, rounding the back like a cat, rounding out your shoulders and rib cage and tightening your core muscles.
- Repeat and find your rhythm until you reach a flow that feels comfortable.
At risk of pointing out the obvious, this exercise asks that you rear your head up like a cobra.
- Lay on your stomach, legs extended and relaxed.
- Place your hands directly underneath your armpits.
- Push into your hands as you extend your arms fully.
- Bring your head and chest up, shoulders back. Your body should look like the letter J on its side.
- Stay in the Cobra position for as long as it feels comfortable, breathing deeply.
- Return to the ground on the exhale, like you would on the way down from a pushup.
If Cobra Pose is too intense for you at this time, rise up halfway. This is known as Sphinx Pose, and may be better suited to anyone with severe lower back pain. The exercise begets the same benefits as Cobra.
- Lay in the same starting position as Cobra, palms by your ears.
- Come up onto your forearms, elbows directly under your armpits.
- Tuck your chin in and breathe deeply.
When you’re ready to come back down, slowly slide your palms away from your head as your forehead meets the mat.
When it comes to good posture, strengthening your back is but one side of the coin. The front-side of your body, namely your pectoral muscles and abdominals, must be functionally efficient. This means they should be as strong as they are flexible, so they are not tugging on the chain that relates to the muscles of your back.
To best understand the principles of these mechanics, think of a T-shirt stretched onto a human torso. If you bunch up the fabric around the bellybutton, the material around the shoulders will be taut. In muscle terms, that makes for discomfort and over time, pain. When you tighten a specific muscle without regard to stretching it, the whole chain of soft tissue is pulled to that place. Muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments, and what they connect to, namely, bones, are all tugged toward the point of tightness.
All this to say that when you want to strengthen your back, you need to stretch your chest and abdominals too. Bow Pose handles both by bringing you into a curved position that challenges your back muscles.
- Lay flat on your stomach.
- Bend your legs so you can reach back to grab your ankles or feet.
- Raise your chest up as you push your foot into your hands.
- Look up to the ceiling and breathe.
- When you are ready to return to a flat back, gently release your feet and lower both legs and chest down to the floor. Straighten your legs behind you and relax, arms by your sides.
As the ultimate backbend, Wheel Pose is a great chest opener. Wheel Pose flips Bow Pose over onto your feet.
- Lay on your back as you would when using your Neck Hammock.
- Bend your knees, feet flat on the ground with your heels as close to your buttocks as possible.
- Bend your arms and reach them to your ears, wrists away from your head and fingers pointing toward your shoulders.
- Push into your flat palms and feet as you come up, hips up to the ceiling.
- Let your head relax, hanging between your arms.
- To come out of the pose, slowly bend your knees and elbows. Lower your buttocks first, head last, carefully to the floor.
Standing Forward Fold
A holistic practice, yoga addresses the body as a comprehensive organism. As we said before, every muscle is paired with another, and this occurs throughout the body. When one is out of whack, the other will compensate, leading to a chain of compromises that worsens the initial misalignment.
Standing Forward Fold is the yogic name for touching your toes. It balances out your body, using the weight of the head to gently pull on and stretch the upper back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
- Stand tall, arms over your head.
- Slowly reach forward, bringing your chest over your straight knees.
- Try to touch the floor with your hands.
- Gently bend and straighten your knees to loosen up the posture.
- When you are ready, slowly roll back up, one vertebra at a time.
You may not associate this one with yoga at all, but it is part of the canon.
- Lay on your stomach, place your palms beneath your armpits.
- Curl your toes, heels off the ground.
- Push into your palms and lift your entire body off the floor.
- Extend your arms and lock them in a straightened position.
- Keep your core muscles engaged and active, don’t let a dip form between your shoulder blades.
- Stay here for as long as you can and test your core strength.
- Come out of the position safely, by either gently lowering your knees first or bending your arms like you would in a pushup and come back to the starting position laying on your stomach with your palms beneath your armpits.
Downward Facing Dog
This classic yoga pose combines the Forward Bend and Plank to take your stretch one step further.
- Start in the Plank position, make sure your toes are curled with heels up.
- Lift your buttocks up, push into your toes.
- Sit back into your heels, pressing them into the floor.
- Keep your arms and legs straight as you perfect a triangular shape.
- Push away from your hands to straighten your lower back, keep your shoulders locked down.
- Remember to breathe as you stretch.
- If you want to add another level of balance and core strength, you can raise one leg in the air straight out behind you.
Stretching increases your mobility, which is to say the degree to which you can move without tugging on muscles and tissues. Also known as range of movement, your mobility determines how prone you may be to injury, like snapping a ligament or pulling a muscle. Increasing your mobility means giving each muscle the space to function properly. When you think of reversing poor posture, you may not think past your shoulders. But twisting your spine, even at the lower (lumbar) level, increases your mobility.
Let’s return to the T-shirt analogy. While the shirt may be able to handle the first time you tug on the fabric, it could easily rip if you pull too hard. However, if you pull on it a little every day, the material will loosen and provide more give. While the analogy is not perfect, unless cotton fibers can shorten and lengthen depending on use, the message should be logically sound. The more you stretch, the less pressure you create on surrounding areas. Your baseline of flexibility improves with practice, increasing your range of motion. Spinal twists of the lower back thus have a direct effect on your upper back and shoulders.
- Lay on your back, knees bent pointing to the ceiling.
- Extend your arms in one line, palms turned up.
- Let your knees fall to one side as you exhale.
- Place the hand of the side your knees have fallen to onto your bent legs. Press gently.
- Turn your head in the opposite direction.
- Return your knees to the initial position and repeat to the other side.
Note that you can modify any of these exercises. You never want to feel extreme pain or discomfort, so be aware of what your body is telling you.
Poor posture is a lot more than hunched shoulders. Rectifying postural alignment requires exercises that involve your entire body. Traction mechanisms like Neck Hammock place your spine in the correct position, while exercises help confirm the placement.
- Aging backwards by Miranda Esmonde-White
- Forever Painless by Miranda Esmonde White
- The Yoga Bible by Christina Brown