Correct Posture and Breathing

Posture and breathing are two related aspects of health and fitness that many people tend to neglect unless they are trained in Yoga or the martial arts. Good posture ensures relaxed muscles, adequately supported internal organs and less likelihood of aches, pains and injuries; good breathing enhances the supply of oxygen to all body tissues, releases tension in the muscles and promotes inner calm.

Good posture is an important element in all types of activity and there are many benefits to be gained by improving it. The same applies to breathing habits. In fact, the two are closely related – good posture facilitates good breathing. Both habits can be improved using some simple techniques.

POSTURE

Good posture depends to some extent on what an individual is doing: standing, lifting an object, sitting, exercising or working. However, there are two fundamental aspects of good posture that relate to all activities. These are body alignment and muscle relaxation. When the body is correctly aligned, weight is evenly distributed in a way that gives maximum stability without twisting or straining the joints and muscles. Muscle relaxation is often perceived as meaning sitting still or doing very little. In fact, a person who is sitting still may be unnecessarily tensing muscles in his neck and shoulders. The golden rule of good posture, whatever the activity, is only to contract those muscles that are needed. Ideally a muscle or muscle group should only be contracted when it is working.

The benefits of good posture

People with good posture appear taller and more relaxed; they move easily and have ample reserves of energy. People with poor posture appear tense and often hunched; they cannot breathe to full capacity; they are more prone to aches and pains as their muscles, ligaments and joints are put under stress; and organs in their abdominal and chest areas are pressed together, leaving less room for efficient functioning. They are also more likely to be clumsy, making them prone to accidents and injuries.

Good posture at work can relieve stress and prevent muscle pain and repetitive strain injury (RSI); good posture during exercise helps to reduce the risk of back pain and other training injuries, and it also enables people to derive the maximum benefit from exercise.

Standing posture

Many people adopt an incorrect standing posture, standing with their weight over one hip and their back and neck misaligned. Good standing posture balances the weight evenly between both legs; the whole body should be aligned and the feet should face forwards. Gently pulling the abdominal muscles in and up provides support for the lower back. It is important that an individual applies the recommendations for good standing posture (sec p. 96) without becoming stiff or tense. If stiffness or tension does occur, a few stretching exercises can bring relief.

Lifting posture

Muscular weakness – particularly in the abdominal muscles – and poor flexibility in the back and legs can make the back weak and susceptible to injury when lifting heavy weights. Incorrect lifting techniques put stress on the lower back and can lead to slipped discs and muscle strain. A combination of regular exercise to increase strength and flexibility and correct lifting posture minimizes the risk of back injuries.

The strain of lifting and carrying a heavy object can cause an individual to hold his breath. When lifting or carrying a heavy weight, it is important that the individual breathes out as the weight is lifted and then breathes evenly and regularly.

Sitting posture

A sedentary lifestyle in which a person spends most of his time sitting can cause or exacerbate posture problems. Slumping in an unsuitable seat at work or at home – in front of the television, for example – can strain the lower back muscles; crossing the knees or ankles, or twisting the legs around each other, or around the legs of a chair, can strain muscles and bones, twist the spine and decentralize body weight.

Good sitting posture involves maintaining an upright, but tension-free, posture and aligning the head, spine, shoulders and hips.