Posture Part 2: How to Stand and Walk

sway backIf you missed part 1, it’s right here where we talked about the correct way to sit to avoid back, neck, and shoulder problems.  Now we need to re-learn the right way to stand!  Once you know how to stand, then you can walk.

As you’re re-learning posture, it’s so tempting to say, “Oh, that sounds good.  I will try that.”  …then you go right back to your usual habits.  I know I’ve fallen into that trap before.  Don’t waste any time doing this.  Resolve to change now.  The stages of change are as follows:

  1. Denial:  “My posture is fine.  My lower back hurts because ___(some excuse).”
  2. Mild Interest:  “That sounds interesting.  Maybe I’ll try it someday (when the pain gets bad enough.)”
  3. Attempting it:  “This feels awkward.”
  4. Having to remind yourself continually the correct steps and movements.
  5. Your muscles and bones literally change shape.  This is called “muscle memory.”
  6. You did it!

As you can imagine, this takes time.  The only way to get there is by practice.  Put sticky notes on your work station, in your car, and at your kitchen table.   Put one on your TV!  Whatever it takes, just resolve to get there, and you will.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

Notice how his shoulders are back as he's working. His chest is open, allowing for lots of breath. He works like this all day long.

Notice how his shoulders are back as he’s working. His chest is open, allowing for lots of breath. He works like this all day long.

PROPER STANDING / “TALLSTANDING”

Feet

  1.  Heels in slightly (just 15% or so is enough).  You should feel a nice grip on the ground if you’re barefoot.
  2. Weight on your heels.  Rock your pelvis (yeah, you heard me, rock it) front to back.  Feel how the weight centers change from your ball of the feet to the heels?  Keep it on the heel.  The heel bone is designed to take your body weight.

Lower Body

  1.  Soft knees.  I have to constantly remind myself in my daily life (washing dishes, cooking, etc.) not to lock my knees.  I had no idea I was doing this until I started paying attention!  No wonder I had knee problems!
  2. Soft groin.  Feel the crease where your legs meet your front pelvis.  These tendons (connective tissue) should feel loose, not strained.
  3. Anteverted pelvis.  Like we talked about in the sitting section, you want your behind behind you.  If your weight is on your heels, this happens naturally.
These ancient Greek statues exemplify good standing posture.

These ancient Greek statues exemplify good standing posture.

Upper Body

  1.  Ribs anchored.  “Sway back” means your ribs are not anchored.  The best way to check that your ribs are “in” and not “out” is to feel your lumbar (lower back) area.  Does it feel tense?  Then your ribs are probably out.  Slightly slump your upper body forward to remedy this common postural problem.
  2. Shoulders rolled back and down.  Feel as though you’re holding something between your shoulder blades.
  3. Neck is in a nice long line.  Chin is slightly tucked in.  The very top of your head (make a line connecting the tops of your ears; the very top of your head is where the lines meet) is stretched up to the ceiling.

Now, if you’re doing this right, you will feel very awkward!  You may feel like you’re leaning forward.  Don’t worry, it will start to feel normal soon enough with practice.

GOOD WALKING / “GLIDE-WALKING”

This is a photo of Esther Gokhale (founder of the Gokhale method) re-learning how to walk. Notice how their back legs are straight and heels on the ground. This pushes their bodies forward with ease. You see they are not straining to lift those heavy loads.

This is a photo of Esther Gokhale (founder of the Gokhale method) re-learning how to walk. Notice how their back legs are straight and heels on the ground. This pushes their bodies forward with ease. You see they are not straining to lift those heavy loads.

I love, love, love this one!!!  If you want to round out a flat butt, this is your exercise.  Who needs a gym?

Like most of these “exercises,” this will feel super-weird at first.  Start slow.  Seriously, just take one step, adjust your body as needed, then try another step.  It’s not a race.  However, once you get going with this, you will feel faster than ever!  The idea is that your back leg is pushing you forward.  Most people walk by pulling themselves forward, over-straining their hip flexors.  Who’s guilty of this?  Me!

Runners:  pay attention.  You can use these techniques to improve your running speed and avoid injuries.

First, stand up tall (as instructed above).  Now take a step forward.  STOP!  Just one step.  We need to adjust your body.

  1.  Your back leg should be completely straight.
  2. Your heel on the back leg should touch the ground.  It stays on the ground longer than will feel normal for you.
  3. Your gluteous medious muscle needs to be engaged.  Where is this muscle?  Lift your back leg for a second.  Feel that?  That’s your glute.  Each step you squeeze this on the back leg.
  4. Your front knee should be slightly bent.

As you step, the leg heading forward is relaxed and light.  The back leg is doing all the work to push you.  It’s like your built-in walking stick!  As you walk think “Squeeze – squeeze – squeeze.”  Your glutes squeezing on the back straight leg propels you forward.

BENDING / “HIP-HINGING”

A lady in India hip hinging at market. Notice how straight her back is. Her shoulders are back too.

A lady in India hip hinging at market. Notice how straight her back is. Her shoulders are not slumped.

Invariably, you will have to move your body into strange positions during the day.  Picking toys off the ground and what-not.  So we need to make sure to bend correctly.  We’ve all heard, “bend with your knees, not your back,” which is heading in the right direction, but I have a little more detail here.

Let’s practice bending over:

Tall-stand and spread your legs out a little wider.  Now keep your ribs in and glutes engaged as you bend over.  You can bend your knees if your hamstrings are not very flexible.  Over time, this will strengthen your hammies (the muscles on the backs of your legs).  Make sure your shoulders stay engaged and down and back, not rolling forward.

inner-corset-fig-5-1A little something extra:  You need, for heavy lifting, something called the “inner corset.”  The good news is you don’t have to buy one.  You already have it.  It’s a group of muscles called the obliques the criss-cross your abdomen.  To engage these muscles, lift your arms over your head (just to practice), tuck your ribs in and reach forward.  You feel those muscles?  That’s your inner corset.  Practice holding tension (just a slight contraction) in this muscle group for about 1 minutes 20 times a day.  Let people admire your newly toned abs.

When you lift something heavy, like a fat baby, engage the inner corset muscles.  Use these muscles while you carry the fat baby around all day.

Coming up next:  how to sleep comfortably and wake up taller

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