Slouching, stomping and leaning: this is just a description of how we sit, walk and stand for most of the day, either at work or at home. Hunched backs and shoulders, flat bottoms and flat feet: this is not a good picture!
What can we do to improve our long term health and prevent back pain from bad posture? We can walk and stand better, with good posture.
Have you ever noticed how people walk in their fashionable sheepskin boots, for example? Their walk tends to have a trademark hissing sound from sliding their feet: they barely lift their feet off the ground, and they “skate” along the pavement.
That’s the equivalent of dragging yourself around at home. Sliding your feet instead of rolling them onto the ground can make the muscles in the lower legs weaker and the ankles stiffer.
Walking this way can potentially create some discomfort in the joints over a long period of time.
Did You Know…?
Did you know, for example, that if you walk for one hour at a normal pace you can burn between 250 and 350 calories?
And did you know that if you increase your speed slightly (for example, 6km per hour or 4 miles per hour), you could burn 400 calories an hour?
Did you know that studies have found that regular walking can help prevent dementia in old age, lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol? In fact, two American studies confirm that regular walking in elderly people can protect against dementia and other cognitive degenerative diseases as well as cardiovascular diseases.
And did you know that, after a period of being physically active, if you slacked off for just one month it will take you years to shed the weight you put on in one month without exercise (while increasing your food intake)? In a study, participants took more than two years to get rid of the pounds they gained in only one month of not exercising.
Walking is Good… If Done Correctly
OK, let’s all take up walking! No joining fees, no fancy outfits to wear, no strict schedules, yay!
Is it really that simple? Well, you still need to do a little bit of homework first. Of course, you also need to check with your doctor that you don’t have any medical conditions that would prevent you from taking up exercise.
If you walk every day as your main form of fitness as I do, but you are slouching and dragging your feet as if you were wearing your slippers instead of wearing proper trainers, you could cause some damage to ligaments and joints or simply not gain any physical benefits from walking. In fact, many people will lament the fact that walking “doesn’t work” as exercise because they don’t see any weight loss or improvement in their fitness. This is very likely to be down to using the wrong technique and not engaging muscles correctly.
Keeping your back straight, your shoulders relaxed and making contact with the ground with the whole of your feet can improve your posture while strengthening your whole body.
Check Your Posture
A well-aligned spine is the foundation of good posture and a healthy back. The experts say that you should imagine that your head is attached to a string: to get a nice posture, you visualize that your head is gently pulled upwards with the string. For example, you could imagine that you are a puppet and a puppeteer is gently pulling you off the ground with his strings until you stand upright. You visualize that the whole of the body grows in an upward motion. Your shoulders and hips become aligned, and so do your knees and feet.
You shouldn’t be tensing up anywhere in the body but simply getting used to the feeling of having the whole body aligned. You may want to take up some Alexander Technique or Pilates classes to learn the correct spine and body alignment.
You will probably also need to unlearn the bad habits (slouching, etc) you picked up over the years. Smartphones can be to blame for that, as we unconsciously drop our heads forward and bend our necks while checking our phones. If you take a train to work you can notice how fellow commuters bend their necks forward as they check their phones or work on their tablets and laptops. This can create impingement in the nerves stemming from the spinal cord therefore causing pain. Bending the upper body forwards can also shorten the muscles in the front (the pecs or pectoral muscles).
What the Experts Say
Let’s find out from the experts what we can all do to improve our posture: whether it’s standing, walking or sitting, we should all be aware of our spine and protect it.
Franklin Method Teacher Rie Franklin says: “In the Franklin Method it is understood that an individuals posture is as unique as a finger print. But unlike a finger print and most peoples perception of ‘posture’ as a preferred stature; posture is a dynamic thing that is always moving through the world and changing with life’s experiences.” Using the Franklin Method allows you to form a brain map of your individual posture. Developed only 20 years ago, the Franklin Method is a dynamic form of body alignment that relies on the plasticity of the brain to change bad postural habits.
Alexander Technique Teacher Mark Claireaux warns against tensing up when we focus on our posture: “When we think of “Good Posture” we tend to “DO IT” by adding excessive tension, puffing out our chests, pulling our shoulders back, pulling our backs in and even throwing our heads back.. Alexander Technique helps us to unlearn even these bad habits. We had good posture as toddlers and so we can achieve good posture again but without any effort and be pain free. I like to think of Alexander Technique as subtracting tension patterns, not imposing anything on ourselves as we may already be doing that”. The Alexander Technique was developed at the end of the 1800s to correct the tension in the neck, shoulders and back and therefore find ways of opening up the body for better breathing and posture.
Hypnotherapist Claire Benson suggests that there’s a close correlation between physiology and thought processes; in other words, what you think you become and viceversa. She says: “Your posture reflects your mental state; if you are feeling down you tend to close your body inwards, hunching your shoulders and arms forward almost as though they are protecting your heart. The great thing is that you can change your mood by changing your posture; if you want to feel confident and strong pull your shoulders away from your ears and down your back, lengthen your spine by tucking your tailbone and your chin, then with your arms by your sides open your palms forward. Take a deep breath and smile then feel those endorphins wash through your body.”
Walk with Intention
Finally, a reminder that every time we set off to go for a walk, whether it’s just to go to the shops or to go on a long trek, we should focus on how we are walking and what we want to achieve from the walk. First of all, let’s remind ourselves to check our posture: is our back straight? Are our shoulders relaxed and pulled back? Are our feet “active” ie are we using all the muscles in our feet to move forward?
What would you like to achieve from your walking session? A bit of distraction from work (for example, a walk during your lunch break)? Get fitter and healthier? Take time out to think about a problem you need to solve?
Walking can also give you the time to meditate: as you walk, you can focus on your breathing and clear the mind from “clutter.” In traditional Buddhist teachings there’s four different ways of meditating: sitting, walking, standing and lying down. As we are all pushed for time, having the opportunity to get outside, do a bit of exercise and meditate at the same time is very effective.
Among the benefits from walking meditation we can mention increased concentration and physical stamina.
What Are You Waiting for?
What are you waiting for? It’s time to lace up your shoes, grab a bottle of water and get out there in the big outdoors to get your walking fix! I’ll be there (virtually) cheering you all the way!
Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield / FreeDigitalPhotos.net