Good posture is one of the most essential factors in life. When our bodies are perfectly aligned, we move with ease and are free of pain. As soon as we lose perfect alignment, all of this changes-tension appears, movement becomes awkward, and pain sets in.
Since we are born without posture, we must develop it, then maintain it. The problem is that first because of gravity, it is easier to develop and maintain poor posture than good posture. That is, there is a natural tendency for the body to collapse. Furthermore, unless you enter a profession that requires good posture such as dancing, modeling, or sports, no one ever teaches it to you.
Your posture is the result of what you do. If you do the right exercises, you will have good posture. If you do the wrong exercises—or no exercises—you will have poor posture. Wild animals, on the other hand, because of their need to survive, have been doing the same “exercises,” differing from species to species, for millions of years. This has kept their posture perfect-at least until they become injured, diseased, or old. When we ceased being hunter- gatherers and became farmers, we accumulated enough food so that some individuals could spend time thinking about matters other than survival. This led to specialization of labor, and that in turn led people to develop different kinds of posture. Labor that required prolonged sitting did the worst damage to people’s posture, and the modern assembly line, with its repetitious motions, didn’t help either.
In addition to bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, the body has cartilage at joints, as well as discs between vertebrae, which act as cushions to prevent friction between bones. Without proper exercise, your muscles become weaker, smaller, and misshapen. Then they carry less and less of your body weight, transferring this function to your cartilage and discs, making them compress. That explains why we get shorter as we age: the space between our bones gets smaller. Without muscle support, the cartilage eventually wears out and the discs begin to bulge. Then nerves are pinched or compressed, creating pain, cramps, stiffness, and fatigue.
Because the head rests on the cervical discs, the shoulders and arms rest on the thoracic discs, and the whole upper body rests on the lumbar discs, these areas are affected the most by the body’s weight. This explains why so many people suffer from neck and back pains. The increased pressure between vertebrae causes many undesirable conditions, including lordosis, scoliosis, and inflammation that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other problems. Structural aging, like any other condition, including osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and obesity, is preventable and should not limit your quality of life. All these conditions can be prevented or reversed with proper exercise and nutrition and without medical or surgical intervention.
What is the first sign that one is losing good posture? Loss of height (Figure 2.16). As the spine and the rib cage compress, the body shifts its center of gravity forward and loses its upright posture (Figure 2.16b). This leads to the typical hunched posture of old people, but we also see it more and more today with young people, who spend countless hours sitting in front of computers and TV sets.
As we give in to gravity over the years, we bend more and more forward, putting more and more pressure on our lumbar and cervical spines. It is only a matter of time before we have a permanently hunched-over spine that can no longer bend backwards. In compensation, the head, which is now facing down, lifts up, thereby compressing the back of the neck and stretching the front of it (Figure 2.16c).
All of this moves the body’s center of gravity forward, shifting the weight from the heels to the toes, which causes instability. This degenerative process continues until the person can no longer see ahead. The only solution is to bend at the knees in order to raise the angle of the eyes (Figure 2.16d). Now the whole body is being supported by the knees. Since the knees are weaker than the hips, one eventually needs support from a cane or a walker as the knee joints give out (Figure 2.16e).
When one can no longer stand at all because the knees and arms are too weak, one can only sit in a wheelchair (Figure 2.16f). The final stage of degeneration comes when one can no longer even sit up and must lie down.
When clients first come to us, we take a photograph of them from the side to record their beginning posture. Then, every six weeks, we take a new picture to study their progress. What we have noticed is that, at the beginning, almost everyone is tipping forward on their toes. When we draw a vertical line up from the center of the ankle to the top of the head, the ear is several inches in front of the line (Figure 2.17). In the worst cases, the whole head is in front of that line. Over time, as the individual becomes more upright, the line moves gradually toward the center of the ear.
The Standard of Good Posture
When we moved the center line backward, we noticed that people with good posture touched the line at four points: back of heels, buttocks, shoulder blades, and back of head. People with the worst posture, on the other hand, touch at only one point: the buttocks. From this, we got the idea to establish a Standard of Good Posture based on simply standing against a wall.
Degrees of Good Posture
To measure your posture, stand naturally while backing up against a wall, and raise your arms above your head with your elbows locked (Figure 2.18).
- Poor: Only your heels and buttocks touch the wall.
- Fair: Only your heels, buttocks, and shoulder blades touch the wall.
- Good: Your heels, buttocks, shoulder blades, and back of head touch the wall.
- Very Good: Your heels, buttocks, shoulder blades, and back of head touch the wall, and your raised arms above your head touch the wall with the back of your hands.
- Excellent: Your heels, buttocks, shoulder blades, and back of head touch the wall, and your raised arms above your head touch the wall with the back of your hands and your elbows.
Hygiene for the Spine
For good posture, all weightlifters end their training sessions by decompressing their spines. Normally they do this by hanging upside down, suspended from gravity boots (Figure 2.19). Because this is very difficult and dangerous for the average person, we recommend you use an inversion table (Figure 2.20). To fight the forces of gravity, daily decompression is crucial.