Mindful Posture: Supporting Our Spines
If you are in pain, it’s often all you can focus on, but today I want to talk about a part of our bodies which supports us every day and, (unless it’s part of symptoms or pain), can be easily forgotten in our frenetic lives: our spine.
Standing up straight is often something people take for granted. Being able to move, walk, run and dance are all things many non-disabled humans expect they will always be able to do. But when back or neck pain occurs, when we experience an accident, experience an illness, a change in symptoms or an acquired disability, it can be very scary.
Pain can be acute or chronic, temporary or long term. Whichever it is, the healing is often supported by taking care of the parts of our body we can, and that can include good posture. Good posture is key to maintaining the health and flexibility of our spine.
Let’s look at some ways we can integrate posture practice into daily life:
Good posture will look different for different people, what matters is if it’s comfortable for your body.
There’s no need to pull up into a straight-laced, constricted, “ballerina-esque” posture. Good posture doesn’t mean a rigid spine and shoulders thrown back.
Who has been told, “stand up straight, shoulders back, tummy in, chin up”? Me too.
But my Qi Gong teacher, Sue Weston teaches that despite the common belief, the position many of us think of as ‘good posture’ is actually very vulnerable.
If you imagine someone standing tall and rigid, reaching their spine up to the ceiling, they may actually be very ungrounded, likely to topple and fall if pushed physically, emotionally or metaphorically.
A person with their shoulders thrown back is really in a very risky place, they are also thrusting their heart forwards. Making their soft heart the first point of contact between themselves and the world.
Perhaps gentle, relaxed shoulders and an open, held heart would be more comfortable?
The challenge of “tummy in” is huge, it prevents full deep breathing, disconnects us from our core, our solar plexus, our gut instinct, our intuition, even our digestion and excretion. A rounded belly that moves with our breath may not look the part, but might be a lot stronger than a flat tense tummy.
And someone with their chin up may be being brave, but they also look like they are about to take a firm uppercut – no thank you.
What can we think of instead?
I believe that your body knows what feels right for you, or at least what feels least uncomfortable for you. I believe in being mindful and checking in with my body and shifting my posture to meet that need. My body lets me know when it’s had too long at the computer when I need to lie down or stretch or move. If I listen to the subtle signals, they don’t become shouts.
If you are looking for an antidote to the “stand up straight, shoulders back, tummy in, chin up”? then how about these images:
Imagine your spine as a column of light, from your sacrum to the crown of your head.
Imagine it as a piece of driftwood moving and floating on the waves of your breath, (thank you Vidyamala for this lovely image).
Imagine yourself as a warrior, sit, stand or lie proudly. How can you hold yourself in a way that helps you feel relaxed and strong, flexible and aligned?
Or create your own image – let me know in the comments.
When we are exhausted it’s easy to collapse.
To collapse on the sofa, to collapse into bed and to collapse into our own bodies.
You know that feeling when you can’t sit upright because you’re so tired you can barely sit up?
Or when your muscles aren’t strong enough to hold you up fully? I L.O.V.E V-shaped pillows for these for those times.
The problem with collapsing is, it adds secondary pain to our primary pain.
Collapsing leads to more discomfort, and the more pain you will have and the more non-optimum habits you will find yourself falling into. Sigh.
Movement can be a great way to realign your posture. The more you open up your anatomical structure, more your back and neck with thank you (with your doctor’s support of any exercise program first, of course).
Yoga, Pilates and Ballet classes can all improve your posture, and there are now some accessible options available.
If you are feeling strong, doing the plank will strengthen less developed abs and struggling back muscles and will improve your posture. In Yoga, the Mountain Pose and The Cobra will strengthen your back and open your chest. As you do more poses that lengthen and strengthen your spine, you will reap the rewards.
Pilates classes can also help you on your way to enjoyable alignment.
Improving your posture through movement can help you breathe better, take the strain off certain muscles and strengthen less developed ones.
Playing, Positions and Posture
Do you ever watch TV, read online or chill out on the sofa to relax?
Do you spend lots of time sitting or lying down? I do.
For many of us, even when we are travelling we are immobile and if you work from home you may get into the habit of using the sofa as your ‘office’. It’s too tempting and your back will not thank you.
What’s the alternative? If you are able to stand, even for short periods of time, then looking for the best standing desk that will work in your environment is a great option.
I am hoping to be able to begin working with a standing desk as part of my physiotherapy, it’s easier to stand for longer if I have something (like work) to focus on, while my muscles and bones are building.
A standing desk means no more slumping over your laptop/tablet and gives you the chance to put those posture poses into practice. This type of desk will improve your core strength and build muscles mass = yay.
Your Healing Team
If your pain needs outside support, then after checking it out with your doctor, it may be time to seek out an osteopath or chiropractor.
But I know bringing a new person onto your Healing Team can be scary and confusing. There are so many options out there!
Many people get confused between osteopathy and chiropractic. There are lots of crossovers, but in my experience, a chiropractor deals with bones, joints, muscles and nerve problems predominantly of the spine. An osteopath focuses on aches, sprains, muscles and ligaments, in the back or the whole body. A chiropractor works on quick clicking adjustments to rectify problems. An osteopath uses massage, cranial therapy and stretches to get to the route of the problem.
If you are searching for an osteopath or chiropractor, it is best to get a recommendation from a doctor or friend and be sure to check out all their qualifications.
What are your top tips for being kind to your back? Let me know in the comments.
P.S You may also like chronic illness q & a and newly diagnosed? we have (nearly) all you need to know.