Founder and Director of Port de Barre, Tamsyn Butt tells us how improving our posture and alignment can make us feel happy, healthier and for some of us, even pain-free.
What is posture and what is alignment?
Firstly, it is important to note that posture is learnt, cultural and subjective. Starting from when we were children, watching our parents move and mirroring their gait, and then in school when we sat hunched over a desk. From here we continued to reflect our environment in our posture.
Alignment, on the other hand, is more scientific and relates to how bones and joints are stacked to stand you upright. Poor posture, in turn, is disastrous for our alignment.
Whatever age or occupation, you may have noticed that the more inactivity you experience the more uncomfortable you feel – all this leads back to your posture and alignment.
So how can we improve our posture and alignment? Check out Tamsyn’s 10 steps to improving posture and alignment:
You may be thinking what does breathing have to do with my posture and alignment? The main reason is that your breath totally connects to, and therefore brings awareness to your body. If you take a deep breath into the diaphragm (rib cage) the air fills you in such a way that you resist slouching. Try doing 1 minute of breathing just 4 times a day (standing or sitting) and see what happens to your upper chest. You are already on your way to better posture!
2) Body awareness
This is a great place to start. Many clients who come to Tamsyn have had stiffness, pain or injury which ‘comes and goes’ because it comes in and out of their awareness. For example, how often have you sat at a desk and felt achy shoulders or a cold stiffness in the lower back or legs but carried on typing? However small you feel these postural niggles are, they point to the fact that your body is not happy in its current alignment. Just take a quick scan every 30 minutes. Look away from your computer and note any tension, then stand, roll your shoulders back and sit down again. If you have been sitting for a long time, walk out to make a cup of tea, again rolling your shoulders back and down.
3) Be in balance
As you stand, pull lower abdominal muscles in tightly and rise up on the toes. Make sure your knees are hip-width apart and feet parallel pointing forward. Feel light in the body like you floating upwards. Just 8 seconds of balance not only improves strength and stability but refocuses your mind too.
4) Be as tall as you can
When you lower from your toes imagine getting taller. It sounds strange but by dynamically lengthening your muscles around the torso you will feel like you have already achieved better posture.
5) Be careful when you sit
Whenever you go to sit down, whether it is in front of the TV, in the car or at your desk you should try to lower by bending the knees and taking the weight of the pelvis back into the chair with an erect spine. This is the most efficient way to sit, yet most of us twist to sit or balance unevenly on chairs – forward, back or side to side. This in turn twists the pelvis, which is why lots of lower back pain or stiffness occurs when we stand after sitting for a while.
6) Strengthen core muscles – no sit-ups required!
Try using a swiss ball to sit on whilst at a desk to enable engagement and improve the strength of the deep core muscles. Just make sure your feet can both reach the floor with the heels down. Your hips should ideally be higher than your knees and your computer screen at eye level.
7) Avoid text neck
The position that many of us hold our phone in is below neck height, which means that we are craning our neck down to look at the screen. Is it any wonder we feel tightness in the neck and shoulders? Try holding your phone out in front of you at eye level. This will not only improve neck alignment but also arm strength and when your arms get too tired… its time to stop texting!
8) Take an indoor walk
You may think that your daily walk can only take place outside around the park, but what if you could improve your posture and alignment just by walking around your house or flat. The great thing is that walking is also meditative, so without realising it a brisk indoor walk will have you thinking clearer and sitting taller. If you have an Apple Watch or similar there is now even an indoor walk tracker for those who like to set goals. Just leave your phone at your desk!
9) Think little and often
Rather than taking on all of the above, just bring 1 or 2 things into your awareness. For example, if you catch yourself slouching take a balance, or if you are spending a lot of time on your phone then lift the phone to eye level. Eventually, you may be in the habit of doing many of these things but equally don’t be hard on yourself if you go a day without doing any.
10) Try to build regularity
Practice = Transformation. Regularly taking a couple of minutes out of your day to address any, or all of the above means you are in the practice of being better aligned and Practice = Routine = Change.
Tamsyn Butt is the Founder and Director of Port de Barre, a dance fitness business based in Bath and online.
Tamsyn addresses alignment and posture consistently in her teaching from both professional dancers’ and Alexandra Technique perspective. She runs workshops and classes for all ages and fitness levels, and believes it is never too late to bring awareness to the body.