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  • Writer's pictureDana Watts

Stand Up Straight - The Importance of Posture

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

We think of posture as an attractiveness and appearance issue. And that, in fact, is true! People with good posture are perceived as more successful, confident, assertive, outgoing, and yes, attractive. But good posture is more than about appearance. As with everything that involves the body, the story goes deeper.

What is “posture"?

According to the dictionary definition, “posture is the way in which someone usually holds their shoulders, neck, and back or a particular position in which someone stand or sits." (Cambridge online dictionary) It is neither good nor bad; it is simply a description. Good posture, on the other hand, is the correct alignment of all body parts with respect to each other to achieve balance and optimal function.

A little anatomy lesson

We are bipedal creatures - we stand upright on two legs. We can move from place to place without having to use our hands and arms for support or locomotion. Our skeletal system is designed to help us maintain the upright position with feet, legs, and pelvis providing a supportive base for the upper body. The spine ties everything together. It is made up of 33 vertebrae separated by soft cushiony disks. When seen from the side, a healthy spine has soft curves that allow for shock absorption during movement.

At the top of the spine is the head, connected to the spine by means of the first two vertebrae, C1 and C2, with ears aligned with the shoulders and face and eyes pointing straight ahead. This positioning is important for correct balance because the average head, skull and brain together, weighs about 11 pounds, a considerable weight, if you think about it. When this weight is not balanced properly, the consequences can be severe: chronic headaches, back aches, balance problems, dizziness, and the stress that accompanies physical problems.

Good posture, however, is less about the bones of your body than the muscles. It is the muscular system that provides the support that you need to maintain good posture. The abdominal muscles and those of the low back, chest, upper back, and hamstrings all play a major role in maintaining proper posture Weak muscles do not have the strength to resist the forces of gravity, so we are more likely to be pulled forward and down, hence the hunched-over look.

Does posture actually make that much difference?

Research studies have shown that posture affects our mood, emotional responses, and resilience to stress. 1 In one study, for example, the participants were placed in either an upright sitting position or a slumped position. Their backs were strapped with physiotherapy tape in order to maintain the specific position and then given a variety of reading tasks and mood assessments. The results showed that the subjects in the slumped group had more negative feelings about their experience; they used more negative words in describing themselves, used fewer positive emotion words, felt more stress, and were more negatively self-absorbed. What’s interesting about this study is that the whole set-up was artificial: the posture, whether good or bad, lasted only for the duration of the experiment, probably a couple of hours. Yet, even a short duration had a drastic negative impact. Think, then, what months and years, a life time, of poor posture can do!

There are many other studies like this, but they all show the same thing: good posture leads to improved mood, increased confidence, higher self-esteem, better problem-solving, increased coping, decreased depression. All this and more from good posture!

What things affect posture?

There are many forces that interfere with good posture, unfortunately. Here are just three examples:

1. Muscle weakness

As we learned above, the muscular system is an integral part of your uprightness. Your muscles are connected to your bones by tendons and are necessary for producing movement and stabilizing posture. Gravity has a continuous downward pull on our bodies. Weak muscles have a harder time resisting that pull, and over time it can lead to weak back muscles, shortened muscles in the core, a hunched over posture, and forward jutting chin and head. Lack of exercise, extensive periods of time sitting hunched over electronics, texting, slouching while sitting or driving all contribute to this muscle weakness.

Quick posture correction:

The Marionette:

stand up

place your feet firmly on the ground with your weight distributed evenly from the

toes to the heels

let you arms hang loosely at your sides

pull in your chin

look straight ahead

imagine that you have a string tied to the crown of your head

allow that string to pull your head up

feel the stretch in your back bone

*do this 30 seconds at time, several times a day

2. Stress and emotional problems

Poor posture is associated with loads of negative outcomes. But the reverse is true as well. When we experience chronic stress (here is a link for the difference between good stress and bad stress), we can feel weighed down and overwhelmed, downcast in our mood and discouraged in our attitude, which is then manifested in our body as a downward, slumped posture, as if we can no longer hold the weight of the burdens on our shoulders. Once on this path, bad posture and negative emotions become linked and reinforce each other through repetitive cycles. Mindful awareness and conscious effort are necessary to change the patterns of poor posture. It is not easy to change this, though, because bad posture is wired in our brain circuits as the normal way to stand or sit, so everything else feels awkward and effortful and requires concentration.

There are many distractions that disrupt our ability to focus, so our “natural” posture returns, but I learned from my dance teacher Angel Criado ( that the "natural" posture is deceptive. It feels good because we are used to it, but it is not what our body needs for health and optimal functioning. He taught me that good posture is the foundation on which everything is built, the beginning of everything. Time and time again I found that when I struggled with a dance move, the problem was always my posture. I discovered that dance is a metaphor for life, so when you struggle with a life "move," check your posture.

Quick Posture Correction:

The Statue:

stand up against a wall with your heels about an inch or so away from the wall

glutes, upper back, and back of head are touching the wall

do not arch your back; you should be able to slide your palm between the wall and the lower back

*hold for 30 seconds

step away from the wall and do a 60 second breathing exercise at this link.

repeat several times a day

3. Electronic devices.

Let’s face it -- electronic devices and good posture just do not mix. They all cause us to develop a bad posture. Take your phone, for example. In order to maintain good posture while using your phone, you would have to hold it up to about nose level. Only then would your head be in correct position. But who does that? Nobody! We all hunch over with rounded shoulders and head down, jutting forward as we bend to text and read messages. This is such a problem that it has become a thing with its own name: "tech neck." Back in the day, before electronics, it used to be called the “dowager’s hump” or “widow’s hump” because it tended to occur in older women, often as a byproduct of osteoporosis and bad posture. Now, however, even young people develop this hump. 2 A National Institute of Health study found that nearly 50% of the study participants suffered from neck disorders associated with tech neck.

Quick posture correction:

Reach for the sky:

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart

Tighten your abdominal muscles as if your belly is glued to your back bone

Align your head so your ears are in line with your shoulders

Stretch your arms straight up over your head

If you can, stand on your tiptoes

Reach for the sky and feel all your muscles stretch

*hold a few seconds

Good posture is not just about appearance.

It is about health and strength!

It is about feeling confident and being assertive!

Stand tall and hold your head high!

Go out and make the world a better place!

I want to thank my dance teacher Angel for

Dr. Dana Watts

Clinical Psychologist

Helping Clients in the Greater Cleveland Area





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Thank you for this informative post and for the great exercises. Sometimes I forget and slouch, but after reading your post, I will make more of an effort in correcting my posture and with time, I hope I don't have to think about it.

Dr. Watts
Dr. Watts

Thank you for your comments! We all slouch, unfortunately - it is a very hard habit to break, but it's great that you are working on it!

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