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Stress and Your Body: Is Your Posture Hurting or Helping You?

What allows your body the ability to move through life fluidly adapting to your changing environment versus moving from a place of strain and resistance? This is the ongoing dance of our bodies as we move through our busy lives, responding consciously and unconsciously to our unique inner and outer environments that are often filled […]

What allows your body the ability to move through life fluidly adapting to your changing environment versus moving from a place of strain and resistance? This is the ongoing dance of our bodies as we move through our busy lives, responding consciously and unconsciously to our unique inner and outer environments that are often filled with stress and many unknowns.

What is your posture communicating to you, and what can you learn by listening? Our bodies respond to our world with instinctual movements every moment of our life. For example, we move inward to protect ourselves for self-soothing or move outward with an externalized action to meet our environment. These instinctual reflexes shape our posture and movement. This patterning begins as early as in utero. Curling inward, like when you are feeling cold or worried, is a place of comfort and safety.  Extending and reaching outward into space helps you reach for what you need and interact in your day-to-day world.

To understand how your posture impacts your body, it is helpful to visualize three dominant postures that we embody in life. Thomas Hanna, the founder of the field of Somatics and Clinical Somatic Education, articulated these postural patterns as reflexes: Red Light reflex, Green Light reflex, and Trauma reflex (https://hannasomatics.com/index.php/the_somatics_difference/basis_on_neuroscience/).

In the Red Light reflex, your body is bent forward like a ‘C’ curve. Your shoulders are collapsed forward; your chest is sunken; and your pelvis is tucked under. Your front torso muscles contract inward and shorten. In the Green Light reflex, your body is arched backward.  Your chest is pushed forward, and your back is extended. Your back muscles are contracted and shortened. In the Trauma reflex, your body is rotated and side bent to one side, shortening one side of the body and over lengthening the other side.

We often go back and forth between these postures or become a combination of all three. Do you identify with one or all of these body positions? Begin to pay attention and notice what body shapes you make throughout your day. Overly living in one or all of these postural patterns all the time can negatively impact your muscle tone, nerve health, movement mechanics, posture, thinking, emotional and mental states, and well-being, leading to bigger health issues down the road.

What can you do to restore your posture so you not only look good and feel good but your overall health and thinking improves?

Discover your Natural Neutral Spine. This begins with awareness and mindfulness. Physically feel how your head, ribcage, and pelvis stack on top of one another. This will help increase your physical movement intelligence so you learn to recognize your body's biofeedback signals. Your cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) spine should have a natural convex (arch) curve. One of the major causes of lower back pain is from habitually flattening your lower spine curve, which over stretches and weakens your back muscles.

To retrain your posture, try these mind-body exercises. Pay particular attention to how you move through every moment of the movement instead of ‘hitting’ the end shape. Perform each exercise 3 to 6 times.

Pilates Pelvic Clock: Begin on your back. Knees bent. Feet parallel. Imagine a circular clock on your abdomen. Identify 12 and 6. Tip your pelvis up and down towards your 12 and 6. Then tip sideways to your 3 and 9. Now put it all together to circle your pelvis from 12, 3, 6, and 9. Reverse.

Here I am guiding a client into the beginning position for Pilates Pelvic Clock. Photo Credit:  Babita Patel

X Reaches: Begin on your belly, head facing down. Make a comfortable ‘X’ shape by extending your arms overhead and opening your legs slightly wider than hip width. Reach, lengthen, and lift your right arm and left leg off of the floor. Feel the diagonal reach from your right fingertips all the way through to your left toe tips while stabilizing the opposite diagonal. Lower down. Repeat the action on the other side.

Spinal Twist: Begin on your back. Knees bent and feet parallel. Arms out to your sides, palms facing down. With control, rotate your knees and hips to the left while you counter rotate your head and ribcage to the right. Feel a twist or spiral through your trunk. Return to center. Rotate to the other side with the same control and awareness.

News Flash:  You will get far better results by moving slowly and feeling how your body is moving in these exercises so take your time to embody your body. This is when movement becomes true medicine. Remember, when your posture is aligned, not only to you look good and move better, you feel good because blood and oxygen can flow to all parts of your body. This is your secret sauce for optimal brain-body connection and well-being.

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