by Heidi Weiss, MPH, FNTP
Do you cringe when you see your child or spouse slouching? Or maybe you’ve caught a glimpse of your own profile in a moment of exhaustion or laziness and heard your mom’s voice in your head. What is it about posture that gets us so worked up?
Posture is perceived as an indicator of how we feel about ourselves, and our outlook on the world. Studies have shown that this is a bi-directional relationship, and that our body language actually shapes who we are by changing (for better or worse) our mood and self-efficacy. In other words, not only does our posture indicate to the world our level of confidence, our confidence and outlook are partially determined by our carriage.
So there is good reason to want to improve our posture. Among the many methods out there, Pilates remains at the top of the list of ways to achieve better alignment and regal bearing. Here’s how.
Pilates improves posture by:
- strengthening thoracic extensors, the upper back muscles, which are arguably the most important muscles to keep strong for good posture. These are the muscles that are working most prominently when we lie on our bellies to lift our heads off the floor, and as a result they are very strong in babies (think “tummy time”). But as we age, and spend more time bending over, reading, and using devices, and very little time looking upward (or lying on our bellies), these thoracic extensors get weaker and stretched out. (Despite feeling tight and constricted during periods of prolonged neck flexion, they are usually overstretched and in need of strengthening.) Pilates helps to reverse this with lots of prone exercises.
- strengthening intrinsic core muscles that are necessary to maintain upright and lengthened posture through emphasis on stabilization and full-body movement, which means no one muscle is pulling all the weight, and the core is initiating.
- aligning the head on the spine and decreasing “forward head” posture or “tech-posture,” (a.k.a. “chicken-head”), by strengthening the deep neck flexors.
- stretching the tiny intervertebral muscles and strengthening the spinal erectors through spinal articulation, which allows for more upright carriage. More lift equates to less curvature of the spine, which in most cases creates better alignment (and sometimes more height!).
- strengthening shoulder retractors for shoulders that tend to roll forward.
- emphasizing eccentric and isometric muscle firing. While Pilates has many exercises that encourage spinal flexion (bending forward), it also emphasizes “oppositional lengthening,” (eccentric and isometric muscle firing), which ensures that no one body part is taken away from the center of the body more than it Is able to stabilize.
Noticing that you want to improve or that you are out of alignment is half of the battle, and the low-hanging fruit in postural improvement: if you can notice it, you can self-correct! If you are interested in giving it a try to see for yourself, you can book your Pilates session with one of our dynamic teachers who have decades of experience to share here. (Or for your teen here. 😉)