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Fiona Hardie expands on why good posture makes for an efficiently functioning body and how this helps during illness.
One of my favourite quotes from the modality of osteopathy is “Structure governs function and function governs structure.” This eloquently captures the central premise of the importance of good posture for a properly and efficiently functioning body. What is good posture you may ask? Let’s start with what bad posture is and then the answer will make more sense.
The typical Western standing posture has the following:
- Head tilting forward (think text neck).
- The pelvis tilted under (all the sitting, resulting in a flat lower back).
- The body weight too far forward on the feet, toes scrunched to prevent falling forward.
- Knees locked.
- Asymmetry between the right and left sides; one side tighter than the other.
Good posture is where all the body parts are aligned. The head rests comfortably on the neck, the chin is parallel to the floor, the ears are in line with the shoulders which are in line with the hips, knees and ankles. It should all sit naturally, with ease and no tension anywhere. Essentially, the body must align with the force of gravity and not tilt forward or lean back. There must be a sense of being physically centred. This physical alignment brings you to a centred place in body and mind.
The action of focusing your awareness on the posture draws in scattered thoughts, calming the monkey mind. In opening and lifting the chest, the whole body seems to open up and the lungs are gifted with space to expand on the inhale and deepening the breath becomes easier. More oxygen is able to flow through the veins, bringing a sense of energy, vitality and positivity. Poor posture with a closed chest and rounded shoulders is draining and tiring while good posture is energy-efficient.
Pilates improves posture
Pilates as an exercise modality is founded on the principles of focus, balance and breath. Specific stretches, to mobilise the spine from neck to lower back, increase range of movement in the shoulders, and release tight hips, are central to a session.
Strengthening the back muscles, engaging the core stabilisers of the trunk and hip areas develops a body that can move in alignment and confidence. Studies have shown that poor posture increases levels of the stress chemical cortisol, and lowers levels of testosterone (hormone that stimulates feelings of courage, bravery and confidence).
Added to that are the incredible benefits of working one-on-one or in a small group with a caring, knowledgeable Pilates instructor. Their gentle guidance and prompting as well as the concern and care that is shown will boost feel-good hormones, such as oxytocin, which of course boosts immunity and increases healing. Not to mention the incredible feeling of finishing a session and leaving feeling stronger, more flexible and, most importantly, confident in your body and it’s abilities.
Not only does a misaligned body struggle with pain and discomfort, but the internal organs are also negatively impacted. Our nerves emanate from our vertebrae; they also innervate specific organs related to their connection. For example, the left vagus nerve supplies the gallbladder amongst other viscera.
So, if your vertebra at that particular junction is out of alignment, that particular nerve can become impacted and not communicate with its related organ, resulting in deficiency and lack of activity in that body system.
Therefore, bring awareness to your posture and how it’s impacting the digestive-, urinary-, or respiratory system amongst others, remembering that when there is energy and no stagnation organs function efficiently.
Sleep problems caused by poor posture
Sleep apnoea may be due to spinal misalignment and disrupted nerve function. Be aware of looking at the cell phone too much, clenching the jaw or even hunching the shoulders; all of which create poor posture and in turn impact neural communication.
Restless leg syndrome can be exacerbated not only by kidney issues or chemotherapy but improper posture while seated. Research shows that it’s related to the nerves extending from the lower back into the legs as well.
Effort is needed
Good posture has far-reaching benefits not only physically and aesthetically but most definitely for the proper and correct functioning of your body’s systems. While effort needs to be put into being aware of shoulders, lower back, etc., a well-aligned body will assist in boosting energy levels, reducing pain, and increasing self-esteem. All three of which can undoubtedly contribute to the healing process, better coping strategies and a sense of belonging and confidence in all settings and situations.
MEET THE EXPERT – Fiona Hardie
Fiona Hardie, based in the Western Cape, is a Pilates instructor, reflexologist and has experience in Bowen therapy and ear acupuncture. She is currently doing a breathwork course through Breathwork Africa.
Header image by Adobe Stock