You’re Two Inches Short

GaryColeman

How tall are you? You know the answer. You were measured at the doctor’s office or maybe against the kitchen doorway by your Mom. But how was your height recorded? Standing against the wall, you moved your head backward until your head hit a solid surface, you raised up as tall as you could and then someone applied the measuring stick, recording your height. And now almost all of us are at least two inches shorter.

You know where I’m going here. In poor posture, our spines are out of alignment. The spine is naturally curved, but over time–thanks to gravity and modern life–most of us have changed its basic shape, taking away some inches in the process. We’re victims of poor posture height. Do you recognize yourself in any of these 4 types?

Tilted Pelvis Problem – Your pelvis is the lever that adjusts your spine. Sometimes overweight people will develop a tilted pelvis, also called Sway Back, or Lordosis. The weakened stomach muscles give way to the stomach fat weight, pulling the pelvis backward, swaying the lower spine and shortening its height.

Knock-Knees and Bow-Legs – Two common conditions, although opposite of each other, they apply the same negative effect on posture and height. Sufferers generally walk with the majority of their weight either on the instep or the out-step, which can induce a poor posture and again steals inches their height.

Rounded Shoulders – This very common condition, Kyphosis, curves the upper spine pushing the shoulders forward, usually tilting the head forward and down. This bend is good for a negative two inches at least.

The Combo Package - A lot of us have varying degrees of all three of the versions above, exaggerating the spinal curve, compressing the discs and shortening ourselves in the process.

As we grow older, we lose height naturally due to gravity compressing our spinal discs, and of course, I’m not talking about serious spinal conditions, such as scoliosis. But what about our full height potential? Correct posture will not only add inches to your height, but will actually make you look thinner as well. The trick is getting the spine back to its original shape, which as we know, involves strengthening the core, stretching the muscles and adding consciousness about your posture and height.

I’ve added exercises in the exercises & resources section, but first, I’d like to talk about your vision of yourself. Change in altitude only comes with a change in attitude. Once you start the mental process of true commitment to improving your posture, you will succeed, because there is no turning back, you’ve set a process in motion. Once you feel the change in your body, you will feel a change in your mind.

Conversing with an old friend, he excoriated me about this blog. “I got everybody bugging me and now, you! You sound like some born-again zealot trying to convert everybody!” Overreacting? Oh, a tad. So I thought it might be a good idea to go over again the reason why I’m doing this.

First off, I’m not the nun with the knuckle-cracking ruler…

Paddy's a Nun???

Sit up straight while you read!!!

…Hey, who put that there?! Anyhoo, as I said before, I’m afflicted with bad posture and wanted to change. By reading a lot about posture, fitness, exercise and health, I am slowly undoing a lifetime of bad habits and I feel it, both physically and mentally. If I visualize my spine in correct alignment, it can slowly straighten itself out by “feel”, My shoulders drop, my spine lengthens, my head is repositioned over my shoulders, my chest opens and I breathe easier. I’m at the point where if I am not standing or sitting straight, I can feel the dis-ease in my body. Once I straighten up, the stress leaves.

Remember, it took a lifetime to get out of whack, it takes time, exercise and mindfulness to get it back on track. Good posture is not a destination, it’s a journey. And totally worth it.

The Hunchback of (Your Name Here)

Since a lot of us are working at a computer for a zillion hours every year, it’s normal to develop a forward leaning, shoulder rolling, head thrusting posture. If you work in an office, check out your fellow drones. If you think they look like Lon Cheney or Charles Laughton, you should see you, Quasimodo. The clinical term for this is Kyphosis. Rarely is this genetic, in the bones, but I’m talking about people like me who, over time, start to develop this posture.

Quasimodo

It’s all in the upper body. As your shoulders roll forward, they cause your chest muscles (pectorals or pecs) to tighten and the upper back muscles (the rhomboids) to stretch. And since the head is thrusting forward, it compresses into the spine below, your thoracic spine, which is located at the level of your upper body. The thoracic spine normally supports the weight of the head, but your head is causing it to curve unnaturally, compressing the vertebrae. And this only  sitting down. When you stand, this puts the rest of your body out of whack, too, as I talked about in “Where’s Your Head At?”

So obviously, the cure for this is to reverse the pec/rhomboid stretch/tighten situation. For starters, if you are sitting down, you need to be in correct posture. Your head should come back with your ears over your shoulders, your chest should rise and open (keep the shoulders out of it! Let them hang naturally) and your shoulders should be over your hips. Hips should be parallel or slightly higher than your knees and your ankles under your knees.

Here’s me at my posture-perfect workstation:

Workstation

 

Got it? Okay here’s a better example of a guy at his computer:

PostureGuy

 

So first, get naked, especially if you work in an office with others. Swallow some radium so your spine glows, then spray paint your spine with a nice aqua color, so you resemble the guy at the right.

Okay, if you actually put your body in the correct position, you will feel differently, which is the whole point. It’s a good idea to have a timer to beep every 15-30 minutes (easy if you have a iPhone, smart phone) and check to see if you are sitting correctly. Repeated alerts actually work. Here’s a pretty quick video on sitting correctly:

If the video is blocked, click here.

The Cross, Stick ‘em Up and the Diver

We need to do two things to combat this problem. First, stretch out the pecs and strengthen the rhomboids. These are three simple exercises you should do at least three times a day. You can do them either sitting down or standing up, although it’s a good idea to make those computer breaks by standing so you can stretch out your legs as well, so I’ll describe them standing.

Stand against a wall and make sure that your hips, shoulders and the back of your head are touching the wall. If it’s too difficult to have your head touch the wall, you might have an advanced case of kyphosis, so try to get your head as close as possible without straining too much. Remember to keep your head parallel, looking forward with your chin level. Step away from the wall, but hold your correct posture. Stretch out your arms as if you are being nailed to a cross (hold the religious jokes). Keeping your arms straight, move them backward, opening your chest and try to touch your shoulder blades together until you feel a good stretch, but not pain. Hold for 10 seconds. Release. Repeat 3 times.

Now, someone is holding you up, but in a bad way. They are trying to rob you, so assume the “stick ‘em up” arm position. Arms straight out and away from your body, with the elbows bent and your forearms making a 90˚ angle. Do the same thing you did with the cross, move your arms backward until you feel that good stretch, opening up your chest. Hold for 10 seconds. Release. Repeat 3 times.

The third position has your arms straight over your head as if you are diving into a pool. You can think of this one as “Superman”, but I already used that reference in the last post. Again, keeping your arms locked in that position, move them back and bend slightly at the waist, so you are arching your back. Stretch, hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat thrice.

You should do these at least three times a day, more if you can. And, here’s your bonus for your bad posture! Tell your mate that you are trying to correct your bad posture problem and ask for neck and shoulder massages. You need to break down the tightness and who doesn’t need a massage?

You can also incorporate the tennis ball technique. Stand close to the wall and take a tennis ball and put it between your shoulder blades and lean against it, moving up and down, back and forth, so you are rolling it around your rhomboid muscles and up along your neck muscles. Do slow rolling motions so that you can feel the ball massage, but without too much pain. This can also be done lying down, preferably on a mat or soft carpet using the same technique. AND! If you put two tennis balls in a sock, you can tie the end so that they are against each other, place them along your spine (one ball on each side) and roll up and down, really great!

String Theory and Superman

It would be a lot easier if I was a marionette. Okay, hold off on the Pinocchio jokes, my nose isn’t that big, well, medium big maybe. The center string on the puppeteer’s crossbar is attached to the top of the puppet’s head. I constantly try to remind myself of that string. If I just had that string holding me up, the rest of my spine would easily adjust.

I talked about this at the end of my first post, but let’s take another look at it with more imagery. A string is attached to the top of your head, directly over your spine, pulling you upwards. Your head rises, and your neck and spine elongate. Now, you also have a string attached to the bottom front of your sternum. Let that string pull you up a bit, lifting your ribcage in a rotating movement upwards. Mostly, that’s all there is to it. How does it feel? As you’re reading this, do it a couple of times. Let Gepetto lift you upwards. If you’re sitting, this will pull head and spine both upwards and then slightly backwards to align your ears, shoulders and hips. Remember that there are no strings attached to your shoulders and this is really key. You’ve got to keep your shoulders out of correcting your posture. As the head rises and the chest opens, let the shoulders succumb to gravity. The imaginary string lifts and adjusts the shoulders back naturally.

Pinocchio So I try to think of two things: That string is pulling my head upwards without thinking of the muscular movement that is making it happen. And the second tip is where Superman comes in. Imagine that you have that big “S” on your chest. People will not know you’re Superman if your chest is rounded down, flash them the “S”.

AlfredENeuman

Another way to think of this is a camera. You’ve got a camera in your sternum and stop taking pictures of the ground. You want to aim that camera where you are going. Snap! Remember to keep your eyes forward, so you see what you’re shooting.

Okay super puppets, remember the string and let somebody else do the work for a change.

Movie Recommendation: My daughter Caitlin suggested “Kumare”, and I’m glad she did. It’s a documentary by American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi who transforms himself into Sri Kumaré, an enlightened guru from a fictional village in India by adopting a fake accent and growing out his hair and beard. It’s funny and a little bit disturbing, taking you through some different emotions and it’s definitely worth a look.

By the way, feel free to click the “leave a reply” link below and add any comments, suggestions or anything you feel. I want this to be an open forum where we discuss posture, alignment and random perceptions.

Where’s Your Head At?

Your head weighs between 10 to 15 pounds, and for every two inches that your head juts forward from correct alignment, you are adding an additional 10 pounds of pressure on your spine. Check out the animated picture below.

heavyHead

As we said before, when the body is in correct posture, the ears are over the shoulders. But most of our ears are either slightly or plenty ahead of our shoulders. Working at computers doesn’t help any, we are craning our heads towards the screen and compressing our neck vertebrae.

The strain of this causes our back muscles to stretch out and our chest muscles to constrict. And gravity is only going to make things worse as we get older. But first, feel the muscles behind your neck, this is where most of us hold our tension. Tight ain’t they? Why? What’s the first reaction when you feel or hear danger? You crouch and go into a semi-fetal protective pose. Your shoulders rise up, roll forward and you stick your head outward and tuck it in. With all the stress we feel these days, it’s like a steady flow of danger descending on our shoulders.

So how do you correct this? Remember that it took a lifetime (your lifetime so far) to get your body into this position, so it will take some time for you to remedy your head thrust. Give yourself time even though it’s such a simple thing to do. Two inches or more.
Oh my God, look out!!  See, you did it again. Try this out. Looking straight ahead, move your head backward a few inches. That’s probably where your head belongs. Now, hold this new position, but be sure to relax your shoulders. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. This is where you’re headed.

I added my first item on how to simply exercise your neck. It’s on the exercise and tips page.

 

What is Eshka, and how is that supposed to help me?

Remember the first time you saw a baby walk? If you were really paying attention, once that baby got its balance and was standing, you were witnessing correct posture. No head jutting, shoulder slumping or knees locking–the first encounter with a vertical position was exemplary. Simply put, when five parts of our body are lined up, we are in posture-perfect alignment. Our ears are over our shoulders, our shoulders are above our hips, our hips are directly north of our knees and our ankles are lined up with our knees. E-S-H-K-A.

How you standing Sparky? Go to a full-length mirror and check it out. When you turn sideways, where are your ears? Probably ahead of your shoulders, I know mine always were. I grew pretty quickly, and at 12, was almost 6 feet tall. To compensate, I rolled my shoulders forward and dipped my head to somewhat match the altitude of my friends. This is a classic problem with taller people. To find out where you should be, stand against a wall, with your head shoulders, hips and heels touching the wall. How does that feel? No doubt, it’s an unusual feeling as you have not assumed this posture for a while. Step away from the wall. Imagine a string coming straight out of your skull and looking forward, imagine that string is lifting you upward. Let your body rise naturally without the muscles coming into play. Now, open up your chest, as if it has a string lifting it too, but be conscience of your shoulders relaxing, not rising with your chest. Once you feel you have this position, relax your body naturally and see how far you’ve fallen. Pull the strings again. Relax again. That’s all there is to it, you want to go from slumpy to erect.

You are on a journey to discover what it takes to get you to your higher self. Yes, it takes work, but the results are amazing. You will feel better, less tired and more aware than you’ve been in a long time. It’s free. It’s fun and incredibly rewarding.