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Young woman doing an upward dog yoga pose.

August 19, 2021 • read

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Six exercises to achieve better posture

You’re at your desk ready to log into another Zoom call when you feel a familiar twinge in your shoulder. You try to ignore it, send an email, and wince at the tightness in your hips. By the time the work day’s over, you’re managing a full blown tension headache.

If your work day has become increasingly miserable due to chronic muscle soreness, a simple but important issue may be to blame — poor posture. 

What exactly is good posture, and why is it important for your health?

Posture is how you hold yourself in daily life. This includes when you’re standing up, sitting at your computer, or unloading the dishwasher. 

It’s worth paying attention to your posture. Poor posture can cause muscle soreness, wear and tear in your joints, decreased range of motion, and wobbly balance. 

So what’s good posture? Good posture means properly aligned vertebrae or as Harvard Health describes, “keeping the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar curves in balance and aligned, with weight distributed evenly over the feet.”

In plain English, this means keeping your head aligned with your neck and your shoulder in line with your hips. 

Take a quick posture test

Before diving into exercises, it helps to know what good posture feels like. Take this quick posture test to start off: 

  1. Stand with your back to the wall. 
  2. Let your shoulder blades and buttocks touch the wall. Place your feet about two inches away from the wall. 
  3. Slip your hand into the space between the wall and the small of your back.

If your hand barely fits, you’ve got good posture. 

If your hand has ample room, bring your belly button in towards your spine to straighten out your back.

Walk away from the wall while maintaining this position. This is your goal for good posture. You can check your posture throughout the day by using the wall as a test.

If you’re into yoga, think of mountain pose or tadasana. This is a simple but foundational pose that focuses on “standing with integrity” and strengthening your mind-body awareness. 

But what if you can’t maintain perfect posture without discomfort? What if every time you straighten up, your body shifts back into a slumping position without you even realizing it? 

No need to panic. Our body has a way of getting used to poor posture. So when you suddenly start standing correctly, it’s unfamiliar. Your body whines and begs you to fall back into old habits. 

The good news is you can absolutely train your body to stand up straight without pain. It just takes a little practice. Fortunately, you can strengthen your muscles with a few daily exercises. 

Move number one — chin tucks

Let’s start with an easy one. Take a seat with your head upright and flatten your feet on the floor. Now gently move your chin down towards your neck and keep that position for five seconds. Come back to your original position and do it again ten times.

Chin tucks are helpful for addressing what’s known as forward head posture. The head juts out and the neck elongates, leading to symptoms like headaches and neck and shoulder pain. Taking a few minutes each day to perform chin tucks will remind you to realign your head to the rest of your body. 

If you spend all day staring at a screen, you may develop forward head posture due to constantly leaning in to squint at a document or spreadsheet.

Move number two — shoulder blade squeezes

Start with the same position as the chin tuck, but this time put your hands on your lap. Move your shoulders back until your shoulder blades are pushed together. Hold that for five seconds and repeat three times.

A good trick is to imagine you’re holding a pencil between your shoulder blades each time you squeeze. 

The shoulder blade squeeze helps reduce rounded shoulders. Rounded shoulders happen when the shoulders aren’t aligned with the spine, leading to back ache. It’s a common problem, particularly if you’re an office worker who sits at a computer all day. 

Move number three — cow-face squeezes

Lift your right arm straight up and then bend at the elbow, placing your fingers on your back. Grab the fingers of your right hand with your left hand. 

If this step is tricky, use a yoga scarf or strap in between both hands. Next, move your elbows back and breathe in. Keep this position for about five seconds before switching sides.

Don’t worry if you can’t grab your other hand. As you perform this exercise daily, you’ll reduce the gap between your left and right hand. A stretch should never hurt, so be gentle and mindful while moving.

This arm and shoulder movement is similar to cow-face pose, or gomukhasana, in yoga. The only difference is that in yoga you’d perform this pose while kneeling. A cow-face squeeze can be done while standing or while sitting at your desk. 

Move number four — hero pose

Kneel with your thighs pressed together and your feet behind you. The tops of your feet should be on the floor with the soles facing up. Straighten your back and hold this position for about a minute. Try this every morning and see how much longer you can hold the pose each day. 

Hero pose, also known as virasana, helps you practice how to properly align your spine. 

Good posture comes down to both physical and mental training. It’s important to physically realign, but it’s also important to mentally be aware of how you’re holding your body and self-correct throughout the day. 

Move number five — arm-across-chest stretch

Stand up straight and bring your right arm to the same height as your shoulder. Arch your arm at the elbow and use your other hand to pull your elbow across your chest. 

Do this three times on each side for about 20 seconds. This stretch helps relieve tension in your shoulders and prevent rounding. 

It’s also a great one to do at your desk while on a long call or staring at an endless spreadsheet.

Move number six — cat-cow stretch

Find something soft, get down on all fours, and straighten your back. To move into cow pose, curl your toes under so that the soles of your feet are perpendicular to the ground. Push your pelvis upwards so that your tailbone is pointing out, your belly moves down, and your neck moves up. You should wind up looking at the ceiling. 

To transition into cat pose, rest the tops of your feet on the ground, tuck your tailbone back in by moving your pelvis forward. Your spine will become round and your head will face downwards. Then, switch back and forth from cat pose to cow pose using deep breathing to support your movements. 

This movement helps stretch your back and neck and develop awareness of how your body feels.

Try out some yoga

Yoga is a great way to gently mobilize your body. It’s great for developing the muscles you need to maintain good posture. Try some yoga tutorials from Yyoga for a fun introduction to yoga.

Taking a few minutes every day to stretch, before starting your day or while sitting at your desk, can make a significant difference to your health and well-being. Position yourself for a happy, pain-free lifestyle by making great posture a priority.

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