Last week, the infographic above from The Huffington Post was floating around, showing how much extra weight we load onto our necks when we look down at our phones. Hopefully it served as a wakeup call to some of you.
But our necks (and cervical spine) are not the only parts of our bodies being messed up these days by our use of technology.
When we stare down at our phones and tablets (and certainly when we type on them) it draws our whole torso forward. Our shoulders round, our necks slope downward and our chests collapse, all of which can mess up our thoracic spine, too.
And, as you likely already know, sitting all day staring at screens is also doing a number on our lumbar spines (and our health in general.)
As most people know, I inherited a messed up spine and have had two spinal fusions. So, changing my posture has been an ongoing (and critical) project of mine for the past few years.
While I don't consider my posture "perfect," it has gotten better and I have learned some helpful tips to get it that way. Hopefully by sharing them I can save you some pain and suffering in the future.
We usually think our posture is much nicer than it really is and are totally unaware of our unhealthy body habits. That is why it can be difficult to correct our body position by ourselves.
So, secure some help in "operation better posture."
Ask your roommate, spouse, children or co-workers to randomly take a picture of you when you are in your "natural habitat" and showcasing some bad habits, (e.g. when you are reading on your phone, when you are sitting at your desk, when you are watching TV, etc.)
Then, analyze those pics and ask yourself, “How often do I sit/hold my body that way? If I sit that way for hours at a time, what is that likely doing to my body? Is that behavior responsible for some of those aches and pains I have been feeling?"
This is a tip for the ladies out there, (although the gentlemen can feel free to adopt it, too.)
Most women have some sort of… um… rack. But we tend to slump and hide it instead of pushing our breasts up and out like nature intended. This is bad for our spines.
If you want to maintain good posture, envision rolling your shoulders back (which points “the girls” upwards) and lifting your spine up (which points them out.)
Don't worry about looking like a floozy while you're doing this. Technically this posture is the epitome of ladylike. (Young girls used to walk around with encyclopedias on their heads for hours trying to achieve this look.)
You're not standing this way to look sexy, you're standing this way to be healthier and to look less ape-like. If the men around you can't deal with you having nice posture AND boobs, send them my way so I can slap them and tell them to grown the hell up already.
The challenge with braces or other "posture correcting" devices is relying on external support for your spine doesn’t give you a chance to strengthen the muscles that should be doing that job for you.
However, if you are finding it difficult to maintain good posture for even a few moments, consider wearing some sort of foundational support to do the job for you. This will also help you to get used to what a healthy, aligned body should feel like.
There are a number of devices out there for both men and women. Most look like a little vest you wear under your clothes. But some (like the one pictured) just consists of straps and feel a bit less geriatric.
Watch the torque on your neck when you are wearing a posture corrector. (Some people successfully keep their shoulders back but then overcompensate by jutting out their necks to see stuff.) To keep your head in line, too pretend there is a string attached to the top of it (like you are a puppet.) Then pretend the puppet master is pulling the string up, which lifts the top of your head, (lengthening the back of the neck) slightly tipping your chin down.
With mobile technology, we tend to move screens to our eyeballs, instead of moving our eyeballs to a screen. That, combined with staring at a fixed point in front of us all day, means our eyes don’t get much exercise.
We can also create weakness (and neck pain) when we crank our entire head to look at something, instead of just moving our eyes. (This is particularly a problem for people who can’t type and may be repeatedly dipping their heads to look at their keyboards. Not that I know anything about that *cough.*)
So, to strengthen your eyes, hold your head in a fixed position and then move your eyes back and forth between two set points on the wall in front of you.
To start, move your eyes...
There are dozens of other exercises, but these are the basics. For now, just try a few (for a few reps) and see how they make your eyes feel.
I wish there was one magical tool you could use to change posture for good. But the cold, hard truth is I did it by simply telling myself to change it… every hour… every day… for days on end… for years on end. (Glamorous, huh?)
Self correction is basically a process of conditioning your brain. You give yourself an adjustment message. You adjust your body. You give yourself the message again. You adjust again. And you repeat that process until one day you give yourself the message and realize you may not have to adjust as much as you did the day before.
It's a process that requires mindfulness, perhaps leaving yourself some post-it notes or digital reminders and lots and lots of perseverance.
But the payoff is huge, my friends. Because, in the end, correct posture just feels better. Sure it gives you have a healthier body. But it also makes you more confident, more happy and more aware of the world.
And that's worth a little practice.
I’m a consultant, strategist, author, educator, and speaker with more than 30 years of professional experience. I’m passionately curious, fairly sassy, kinda dorky and seriously good at what I do.