How to improve your posture – a personal journey

by Sylvia

How to improve posture
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I have a confession to make. I have bad posture. On my blog I have been advocating on how important it is to look confident, walk straight and face the world with confidence. Truth is though, that although I have the confidence,  my slouching habit doesn’t actually show that to the world.

How I developed my bad posture

I’ve known this for quite a while. In fact I can still remember my mother telling me as a nine year old to walk straight, stomach in, head forward. Problem was, I didn’t have the confidence to face the world head on then. I was born severely crossed eyed, which has never been perfectly fixed. At that time I was mercilessly teased, so I guess my natural instinct was to just lower my face and hide my eyes.

Even though I have risen above all that and now feel confident about my appearance and myself, the slouching habit has stayed. And although I have tried over the years to improve it, I have never succeeded. The problem is that when you have been slouching for as long as I have, your whole body adapts to it. Your neck changes, shoulders are turned inward, stomach is at a different place from where it is supposed to be. So when I sit  as I’m supposed to, everything hurts. It’s a position that is just so uncomfortable for my body that I can’t maintain it for much longer than 20 minutes.

Time for a change

But it’s now getting to a point where I can no longer ignore it. I have constant lower back ache, my frequent headaches may be caused by my poor posture as well, and my appearance suffers greatly. Not to mention that all of this will get even worse when I’m older. Something needs to change and I need to start taking action right now.

I have started to take action and this what I’m doing.

  1. I’m very aware of my posture now and walk straight whenever I can. Sitting (and I do a lot of that…) is far more of a challenge though.
  2. I am seeing an osteopathist. Before that I went to a chiropractor and another posture improvement specialist, but I did not feel that their therapies were working or connected with me. Sofar I’m happy with the osteopathist I’m seeing, who is now mainly working on balancing the body and stretching out certain muscles.
  3. I am getting a new back support for my chair (which is already in broken state for quite some time).
  4. I will start sitting properly in my chair. If I start finding my straight sitting position unbearable, I will have to start doing yoga or other exercizes or do chores around the house.
  5. I have started to take pilates classes to get more strength in my core, which will  help to get the strength to keep my back in a straight position.
  6. I have started to do regular yoga classes to improve strength and flexibilibily in my entire body which will also help to open up the shoulders and maintain proper posture. A lot of the strength from staying upright actually comes from the legs and yoga really helps to strengthen those.
  7. I’m going to kickstart the process with one special week, next week in fact, of which I will be telling you more about soon.

How about your posture?

Initially, I thought that I would do all this and then, when I would succeed, I could write this fantastic post on how to improve posture and how I did it. But I thought it may be interesting to get feedback from some of you on this issue as well. Perhaps you had similar issues and overcame them? Or perhaps you want to start improving your posture with me so that we can do it together and hold each other accountable.

Here is what Tim Gunn says

Truth is, posture is an important aspect of style. I recently read Tim Gunn’s book who spends almost a whole chapter on the issue. He writes: “No matter how spectacular a look, if the person inside it is bent, lopsided, crumpled or otherwise hunched, there is simply no saving it. Far too many people, men and women alike, are walking around completely unaware that with a few simple adjustments they could look and feel immeasurably better. It’s time to streaighten up and fly right”.

I totally agree! I know it’s going to be tough, but I will need to beat this thing. If I want to grow old healthy and walk with confidence and style the slouching will have to go!

So who’s with me? And tell me what are you doing or have done to prevent slouching or improve your posture? 

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Jocelyn

I agree with you about posture. I’ve heard about an exercise called “the tray” where you hold your fore-arms out in front of you, palms up as if holding a tray, with elbows at your sides. Try to move your hands away from each other without moving your elbows. It’s not easy. Another easier exercise was to imagine a feeling of space around your upper chest and collar bones, holding your chin up and your back straight. This second exercise works well for me as I can do it anywhere, I feel for you with the eye problem in childhood, my brother had the same but his eyes were found never to focus simultaneously. He got good at disguising it as he got older, but got a lot of teasing when he was very young. I never noticed anything wrong!

Sylvia

Interesting exercizes Jocelyn. I just tried the tray and as you say not that easy, but I’m not sure if I’m doing it correctly. The second exercize is interesting too, although I did notice on photos that when I want to walk straight I tend to lift my head too high. That’s also not good and it looks stand offish and unnatural. So my head will need to tilt a little bit. (not sure exactly how to describe it).
I think people around me still notice it. Not only are my eyes not straight, they also shiver (condition called nystagmus). Unfortunately there is a bad eye gene in my family as my son has a problem with his eyes too :(

mytjriftycloset

That’s so true. i don’t have perfect posture as well but i try to watch my posture especially when i am standing. It does help to make our outfits look a lot better with a good posture!

mongs
mythriftycloset.blogspot.com

Sylvia

I know it does. I’m so determined to improve it this time!

Ana

My posture’s not bad at all, in general; I never suffered from teenage Tall Girl Slouching Syndrome, but I do have a tendency to look down at my feet while I’m striding along. That’s a habit I’m actively trying to break.

Sylvia

Good luck with that Ana!

Tangobabe

I have bad posture too and have been mercilessly bullied as a child too. My mother also tried to make me walk straight up. I have lots of headaches as well. So lots of recognition! In theory I know what to correct and how to do that, due to several times in my life when complaints were so severe that I visited professionals who educated and trained me. But….it is hard, as you say, cause yes, it has become a habit, our bodies and muscles have grown/weakened accordingly and it takes discipline, self correction and training to change it. The thing that made the most difference for me over the years is dancing Argentine Tango. When I dance, my posture is at my best. I succeeded to integrate self correction while dancing. But I could and should work on my posture a lot more! I wish you good luck with ur plans and hard work ahead!

Sylvia

How I wish I could take up tango again! But it is just no fun with the lack of capable men dancers here. Dancing for me is the perfect exercize. Maybe I should just take some private lessons.

Nanne

I know I tend to slouch over my desk at work, but for some reason I have quite good posture when I stand or walk, despite being extremely shy as a child. I think perhaps I owe it to years of gymnastics as a child and then later on jazzercise as a teenager. But a strong and flexible core is definitely important when it comes to posture. I haven’t been able to exercise properly for some weeks now, and I can definitely feel it in my lower back. I’m looking forward to read your upcoming posts on this topic!

Sylvia

I took many years of ballet lessons as well. And I can still hear the teacher saying “back straight”. It clearly did not help me! Yes, will need to build up my core. But am really not so fond of those pilates exercizes…..

Cynthia

I get a lot of belly dance students who are in probably similar shape to you, posture-wise, and we spend quite a bit of time at the beginning just getting everyone to open up their shoulders.

I don’t remember what I was like before I started dancing 13 years ago — but since then I have developed pretty good posture and core awareness. A few years ago, I had to have physical therapy for a dislocated pelvis (did you know the two halves can get rotated out of true with each other? Yikes) and I learned one very important exercise from the PT, that I have done ever since, which not only sorted out my pelvis but improved my dance technique and posture.

Lately I have been working fairly seriously on strength training with classic bodyweight exercises — pushups, planks, bench dips, and the like. I can really feel it changing my body even after only a month. And I got standing desks at work. Correcting sitting posture is almost impossible in a standard desk chair. It’s a constant self-improvement project…

Sylvia

Belly dance! That sounds like fun too. What is that important exercize you are referring to. Have you described it anywhere?
Yes strength training is one thing I really need and keep putting off.. I am considering getting a standing desk though. Did you get one that you can easily change to sitting position?

Cynthia

It’s a little hard to describe without visuals, but, here we go. You can do this either standing or lying on your back with your knees up, spine neutral. Find your hipbones with your fingers, then move your fingers about 1/2″ toward the middle of your body, just inside the hipbones, and poke in. Now find whatever muscle you can engage there to contract under your fingers. I was told that if you practice this it should teach you to voluntarily engage the transverse abdominus which contributes greatly to core strength.

Sylvia

Very easy and interesting exercize Cynthia. How often and for how long do you need to do this?

Cynthia

That’s the great thing about it. Once you learn to feel it engage, you can do it anywhere. I am doing it while I’m standing here at my desk. I can feel that it creates space in my lower back, and my tailbone drops down.

To practice at the beginning, they suggested practicing lying down, feet on one of those big exercise balls, and to do a few sets of 20.

Wendy

Sylvia, there is a saying ‘old habits die hard’ which is so very true. I’m sorry you were teased and I make it a point with children to remind them to be mindful of others and their feelings and that some of the our physical traits are no fault of our own. I can imagine it had a devastating effect on you.

I’m looking forward to reading your further posts and to see your progress. Wishing you strength on this journey.

Sylvia

Thanks Wendy. I will keep you updated! And I agree, it’s such an important lesson to teach children.

Catherine @ Not Dressed As Lamb

I think it’s brilliant that you’re so determined to improve your posture, Sylvia! Although I am very aware of my posture when out in public, I do tend to slouch at home, usually sitting or standing, and then have to remind myself to put my shoulders back, tummy in, etc. My husband is a bit of a “sloucher” too, so we made a pact that we will remind each other (nicely) not to slouch if we’re doing so, but we can’t class it as nagging! It’s much better for your digestion too when eating.

Good luck – I hope it pays off (oh and I totally agree – posture can make or break an outfit :))

Catherine x

Sylvia

Thanks Catherine. We do the same, but he is not yet as determined as me to change it….

chicatanyage

You seem to be doing all the right things, especially Pilates. Shame you do not live in the UK as my Pilates teacher does wonderful “posture workshops”. The only other therapy you might like to investigate is The Alexander Technique, it got me started on my postural journey. I am currently doing some research on chairs etc. that helps posture. Will let you know if I find anything interesting.

Sylvia

That sounds wonderful! The Pilates here is not so focussed on posture but will keep my eyes open for special groups. I don’t think the Alexander Technique is so popular herre as I couldn’t find any information on that. Will discuss with Osteo though to see if he knows someone, but he seems to think that a combination of Pilates & yoga is already very good. I’m sitting in the aeron chair from Herman Miller by the way. A very good chair but only effective is you use it right…..

GreetjeKamminga

Your journey is my journey. I was bullied as a child but mainly because of my caracter. No specific features other than being very skinny. I am just very teasing material. So by the time I was 16 I had a huge inferiority complex. But it all changed when I changed classes. The new crowd treated me normal. My confidence grew by the hour. I think there is still some of that insecurity in me, but that is probably not the reason for my slouching. It is in the family: my brother is ten times worse. And I suffer from mild migraine for 23 years now. What did I do about it? The list for trying to get rid of my migraine is too long. And unsuccessful. An osthepatist couldn’t help me either, although he had good results with others. Lately I discovered that I have flat feet. Would that be the problem for muscle aches, feet problems and headaches? I now have correcting soles. I don’t have to wear them all the time, but the biggest problem is to get them exactly right. One of them still isn’t. One mm too much or too little and your whole body suffers. To be continued.
For my posture I went to Mensendieck therapy. Didn’t help… Too much “self service”. I am going to the fitness center twice a week for 7 years now. Plus tummy excersizes for 6 years for 20 minutes every day (now every other day). The fitness and tummy excersizes helped. I have stronger muscles where I need them ( shoulders and back), I have very strong tummy muscles which also strenghtened by back. And I will continue doing this till I die. I really hate it, but it gives me so much more “movement”, that it is worth it. But has it improved my posture?
Hardly.
I need an electronic device strapped to my back which gives my a signal everytime I am slouching. If I do not have a constant reminder, I simply forget. All the time.
So if you discover something that does help, I am more than interested. Because you are so right. It makes a world of difference if I stand up straight. And yes, as you grow older, it gets worse and worse.
Sorry I cannot give you “the one and only trick”. What you are doing now is probably a condition to start with. If your muscles really ache after sitting straight, you have to strenghten and “open” them first. Otherwise you won’t physically be able to sit and stand straight. I have reached that stage now, just need that little bird on my shoulder. It is a long way to walk. Good luck and keep us posted.

Sylvia

Wow Greetje, you have through a lot. I’m impressed that you are so diligent with your exercizes. Pity that it didn’t solve all your issues. Sounds like I have a long way to go indeed. I’m starting from scratch.

GreetjeKamminga

Funnily enough it does not effect my live much. I have a very cheerful caracter. And yes I have lots of dicipline. Just not when it comes to buying clothes. (Addicted.)

Darlene

Osteoporosis runs in my family, so when I started noticing a slight rounding in my upper back, I took immediate measures. I am very careful about my posture – sitting, standing, and walking. The best thing I ever did, though, was take up ballroom dancing. Nothing has helped my posture like this form of excercise.

Sylvia

Dancing seems to be a recurring theme here. Since I love dancing I should really find a way of bringing it back into my life!

Jean at Dross into Gold

Wow. This post is close to therapy and hard to handle! As a large breasted woman (yes, I said it, embarrassing as it is!) and the daughter of a large and embarrassed mother (“You can’t wear that, it’s not flattering!!”), I am a professional sloucher. My back hurts and I’m experiencing headaches. Didn’t put two and two together. I know yoga is a lifesaver when I manage to get to class, since I stand straighter once I’ve been, and I feel better.
This post is an excellent reminder. Thank you.

Sylvia

Good luck on journey to better posture Jean. To be honest I’m not sure if the 2 issues are related, but they could be. So I’m just starting what I know is wrong already and hope that it helps both issues…

Roberta

I’ve had identity issues for many years! I youse to slouch all the time! I found yoga quite helpful. I’m now able to walk forward with more confidence and slouch very little. Very imformative post. Thanks!

Lisa

So many great tips on improving your posture. I struggle with it too, particularly when I am tired. I have been taking more and more yoga classes and I started going to a chiropractor she prescribed neck traction, which is a wedge I use at home to help bring the curvature back to my neck after so many years of bending forward over a computer. Chiropractic is not for everyone, but I find the traction very helpful. I also sit on one of those balance ball chairs which helps with lower body posture. Unfortunately, you can still slump your shoulders when sitting on it, so you have to be aware. I try to re-set, my posture throughout the day by thinking of pulling my shoulders back and down and keeping my head up and tightening my core I think all of my activities and those that are mentioned above like dancing, yoga and pilates help to keep you aligned and healthy, but I do think it takes conscious effort!

Sylvia

Thanks Lisa. Neck traction sounds interesting. Should ask about that some day.

AbbyJ

I am 62 and have had life time of slouching, just now catching up with me with aching back, etc. Physical therapy based on Pilates has been a godsend. My core is stronger and I have more definition also. I’ll never look 40 again but I want to be the best I can be! And I don’t want to be one of those old ladies with the big hump – do you know that can actually be fractured vertebrae?

Sylvia

Well done for taking action. And great to read that pilates has been successful for you!

GreetjeKamminga

Thought about sitting straight with my shoulders pulled back and down ten times today. Which is ten times more than normally.
The great thing about it is that you get an instant reward: great posture immediately. To be continued. And I will look into yoga. Seems to be one of the better things. I am trying to find a yuppy yoga.

Sylvia

Yes, my dream is that it will just become a habit. Long way to go…

Jo

Hi Slyvia, I’m going through exactly what you are. I’ve begun morning exercises such as a run or a jog and I find that my back can stay straight when I’m sitting for a little longer than usual, but perhaps only 40 minutes before I begin slouching again… and as I’m a freelance journalist, a lot of writing/typing at a desk is required, I can’t keep going off to exercise. I’m going to try the tips you try but I totally agree that your body becomes accustomed to the slouch. On some days, when I sit up straight, I actually find breathing a little uncomfortable! I’ve talked to my doctor and he said, despite feeling pain when trying to correct posture, it has to be done for long term benefits. “No pain No gain” is what he said and although I felt it wasn’t comforting, I realised he was right. Just like the way we got accustomed to slocuhing, we will, with constant practice and discipline, get accustomed to good posture. I’ve heard not only is it physically neccessary but many psychologists have linked it to heightened confidence, clearer tone of voice and feeling better.

Sylvia

Thanks for your comment. Yes, I believe that it is very important and I agree that it also has positive psychological effects. Try to be fully confident and happy when you exaggerate your slouch. It’s virtually impossible. It is just so hard to change! Still a long way to go for me as my back pain is persisting as well.. Good luck on your journey to perfect posture. If you have any breakthroughs or aha moments. Let me know. I will post an article on my experience with Feldenkrais next week.

Linda

Thank you for sharing your story. As a tall, lifelong sloucher I fully understand where you are coming from. If I hear one more time from a well-meaning friend or family member to stop slouching I will go crazy. They don’t realise how hard and painful it is to change such a habit and all the physcological factors that have been involved. Whenever I do walk tall and straight, I now feel so strange and think I am sticking my chest out and must look ridiculous when in fact I probably look much better. I really don’t want to enter my older-age with what my mother always termed a ‘dowager’s hump’. Horrible term I know.
I want to persevere and believe it all has to do with our core strength.
Good luck with your quest.

Sylvia

Hi Linda, It’s a tough journey indeed. What I find is that when I walk straight, I tend to lift my face as well, which looks really awful. So I constantly have to remind myself to lower my face and not to make my neck long.
Wishing you good luck in your journey to better posture!

Duke

This post has been helpful in telling me I’m not alone.. I’m 21 and I have a slightly bent upper back and a forward neck. I have read a lot of how-to pages in an effort to correct it. I don’t have access to a pilates or yoga instructor so I would appreciate it if any of you who do could share some of your knowledge.. When I stand straight I actually look and feel better but it causes pain in my lower back. Should I continue, is this natural ?

Sylvia

Hi Duke, I know that it’s possible that you have discomfort because you are doing something different with your back. But I’m no expert, so it may be best to ask the opinion of a professional. But standing straight is what we are supposed to do, so I would definitely try to find a way to continue. You are still very young, so it should be possible to correct. Good luck!

Andreas C.

Hello, I feel really bad about my posture, I’m only 15 but I feel I can’t get my back, straight it hurts, and I’m getting desperate, I don’t know what to do…. I don’t know if my body just already changed and I can’t do anything to correct this.

Sylvia

hi Andreas. You are still very young. I’m sure there is a lot you can do. I would recommend you to see a doctor about this. He/She should be able to refer to the right practitioner. Good luck!

Ernestine

Hello, I would like to know how you are doing on improving your posture. I am 50 years old and 6 feet tall with awful posture. I know without a doubt that my height is the cause of my slouching. You do not come across very many 6 ft tall women. I hoping to improve my posture and looking for all the help I can get.

Sylvia

Hi Ernestine. Sorry to hear that you have this issue as well. Unfortunately, I have not yet beaten it. Lower back pain continues to be a problem and I feel I need to strengthen that area to be able to sit straighter for longer periods at a time. My plan is to do more Pilates this year.

AbbyJ

Hi, just checking in with everyone. This is a long-term effort. I had thought that if I worked on good posture consistently that it would become automatic – not immediately but over months. One year later and I’m still working on it! Pilates has definitely helped with core strength. I’m doing shoulder strengthening exercises with a thera-band and that’s helping to keep my shoulders back with less effort.
I have to remind myself: “Stretch top of head to the ceiling, chin tucked and back!”. It feels unnatural, but when I look in the mirror I see that I look like others who have “normal” posture.
Good luck everyone!

Sylvia

Lovely to hear from you Abby. Like you I’m making progress, but very slowly. The problem for me is that my lower back ache has become more persistant, so I have also taken up Pilates more seriously now. It’s a challenge as I want to do the exercizes while not making my back ache worse. I’m actually enjoying the Pilates more than the yoga now and feel that it will help in the long run. Great to read that you are having success with it. I struggle with the same things as you, my head especially!

AbbyJ

Hi Sylvia, yes I have had lower back ache, sometimes feeling that I could hardly stand at the end of the day. Thankfully the Pilates has really helped strengthen my core and I rarely get back-aches anymore. Now I have actually gotten back into aerobics after 2o years – step and low impact (not high anymore!) – and I hope the overall toning will help me stand taller.

Christina

Hi Sylvia,
I appreciate this article very much. I have also had posture issues since adolescence. I had perfect posture up until that time, but had such a rough teen-age years that my posture was terrible by the time I was 18. I had a strong, forward head position, and rounded shoulders. Also, my pelvis was not positioned correctly. Fortunately, no pain. At first, when I made attempts to straighten up in my 20’s, I noticed an uncomfortable feeling in my lungs, as though it were taking more effort to fill them with air when I sat tall. This would lead me to abandon my efforts. It wasn’t until my 40’s, I read a newspaper article about a famous figure skater Michelle Kwan, who had Rolfing therapy done to improver her posture. I went to the same Rolfing therapist she worked with, here in Montreal. Rolfing was developed by Ida Rolf in the 1930’s. When we get into bad postural habits, the strong fascia soft tissues, mold around our muscles, and make it very, very difficult to change our posture through will or exercise. Rolfing is a form of deep tissue work, that releases these soft tissues, so the body can straighten itself. I embarked on the series; a weekly session of about an hour, which could be quite intense. In the 7th session, my forward head position was completely corrected! I said nothing to my family about my sessions, but when I saw my brother a couple days later, the first thing he exclaimed was ‘HOW did you fix your posture???’. He was amazed, because he also had similar posture problems ( his from being 6 feet tall at age 11), and had believed this kind of postural correction at mid life was not possible. I’ve been doing Bikram yoga for 4 years to help maintain my posture. Ida Rolf recommended yoga for maintenance, once the 10 sessions were completed. I give a lot of credit to Rolfing for my own success. One thing I really appreciate about Rolfing – it is limited to 10 sessions only. With a few of these sessions, I emerged feeling a permanent shift had taken place.
I also read Tim Gunn’s book, and his observations about the importance of good posture. I think he is absolutely right! It really is worth our effort to improve our posture as much as we can. From my own experience, I am absolutely convinced it is doable, to make significant, lasting improvement, with some determination, and searching around for what works for you. Not all posture imbalances are the same.
There is no question, that at 51, my posture, and even the way I move, is SO much better than when I was in my 20’s and 30’s.

Sylvia

What an interesting story Christine and how great and encouraging to read that you overcame this issue. I’m still struggling. I should find out if anyone offers rolfing here…

Greetje

Oh… how great it would be if this really works!!! As I am still getting nowhere in improving my posture.
Fortunately there are Rolfing therapists near my town. So I have my first appointment May 24, 2013. I will let you know how I get on, hoping the result will be as good as with you Christina. If it does, I will be forever grateful.

Sylvia

My appointment is on the 28th. We can compare notes!

Christina

Greetje, please do let us know how your first appointment goes! I am really glad you are giving it a try!
Be prepared that the sessions can be rather intense. I was super lucky to have a very experienced Rolfing therapist with 3 decades of experience. I felt very confident that he knew what he was doing. My brother, on the west coast of Canada, encouraged by seeing the dramatic improvement in my posture, went to a Rolfing therapist who did not have much experience, and abandoned it after a couple of sessions. That was a real shame, because there were other much more experienced people in his vicinity.

Greetje Kamminga

Mine got his “degree” in the nineties, so I should be good. I will most certainly let you know how I get on.

Greetje

I have had 8 sessions so far. I cannot say I am experiencing much progress yet as in posture correction. Perhaps it takes a bit longer because I am about 20 years older than you were when you did it. The longer you were in the wrong position, the longer it will take to get out of it again.
But I do have they idea it is working. My body is getting looser, I am much more focussed on my posture, also because I am doing a one-minute excercise every day. I have also decided to buy a new computer, an all-in-one so I can look straight when typing instead of looking down at my laptop.
And you were right Christina when you said the sessions could be rather intense haha. But no sweat, I can handle it.
To be continued.

Sylvia

I have been disappointed with my Rolfing sessions. In essence he was doing a lot of the same things my remedial message therapist does, but not as good (and at double the price). Basically I’ve been losening up all the stiff areas for quite a while but that will not solve the problem (unless perhaps you’re doing it every day). I think it’s important to keep working on it actively yourself. I’m a lot more aware of my posture now (am straightening my back while typing this) but too much computer work is still an issue. I also find sitting straight a continuous effort. I have started another exercise at my Pilates studio called Gyrokinesis which is almost entirely about opening up the shoulders and straightening the back. My posture is so good after a session of that.
Buying a home computer is a good idea Greetje with a nice big screen. There is no way you can work with good posture with a laptop. I have an imac (the biggest I can find) and am very happy with it!

Greetje

Yes, it is going to be an Apple all-in-one. But probably only 21″ as it will be on the dining room table (small house…).
I thought you would be stopping your Rolfing. You did not sound very enthousiastic when you were over.
I still think he is doing fine, but if my posture has not significally improved after another 10 sessions, I will pack it in. (Also sitting straight while I am typing this. Perhaps we should send eachother text messages all day haha.)

Sylvia

haha, I’m adjusting my posture as I type this!

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