Five Things You Should Know About Your Posture That Can Improve Body Image and Build Self Confidence

In the following blog I am going to outline five important things you should know about your posture that can positively affect your body image and build self confidence. Then I will show you three unique exercises that I use in the clinic every day that makes my clients not only look better, but more importantly makes them feel better about the way they look.

Spoiler alert...

This is not going to involve "the wall."

I’m not going to be giving you the old-fashioned posture exercise that everyone on the internet tells you to do, where you have to stand with your back pressed against the wall. I used to do that one in the clinic too, but I’ve found that it almost never works on the majority of people. I’ll tell you why at the end of the blog.

So, let’s get started by breaking a couple rules.

1. There’s no such thing as a specific posture corrector exercise.

I have been a physical therapist for over fifteen years, and have seen the entire gamut of “posture exercises” used by other therapists, personal trainers, and self taught gurus. I’m sure you’re probably familiar with some of these traditional exercises, such as chin tucks, wall slides, shoulder squeezes, doorway stretches… and on, and on, and on. They are all fine in and of themselves, but just as an exercise they don’t really work to correct your posture.

Later in my career, when I became an acupuncturist I finally understood why this was.

The reason is because these exercises are not holistic, which means they do not address the ‘mindset’ that actually creates the posture from inside of us. You could stand against the wall and do chin tucks thirty times a day, every day, and you’ll get nothing more than an occipital headache if you don’t correct the mentality behind why you slouch in the first place.

This brings us to the next important principle about posture.

2. The posture that you exercise in eventually becomes your posture.

This seems very obvious and self evident, but you really have to let it sink in for a minute before it becomes even more simplistic. Better yet, next time you go to the gym (after the COVID crisis), take a look at the bulging, hypertonic upper traps and kyphotic posture of the meatheads doing 100 pound bicep curls in front of the mirror. The typical forward hunched, grunting posture is no doubt considered by most to be undesirable - which, in turn, has led to the widely propagated misconception that bicep curl exercises are bad for you.

That’s the equivalent logic of me saying that a hammer is bad, because it can smash a vase. But the hammer is just a tool, right? It’s neutral. It can also be used to build a house. It’s nature becomes negative depending upon its purpose or intent. (Remember when we talked about mindset?)

Back to the ever-beloved biceps…

Resisted flexion of the elbow joint is a good movement. Lifting is part of the everyday functional routine of normal life. If you train your lifting technique in the gym with good spinal alignment, an engaged core, and proper breathing technique to reduce stress, then your bicep curl exercise will actually be one of the best exercises you can do to improve your posture.

So what is actually “bad” with the way the muscle-bound freaks exercise in the gym? You know something can’t be right, when their face is so clenched with rage that the muscle between their eyebrows could crack a walnut. Simply put, they’ve got a lot of stress!

3. Stress creates bad posture.

This is a particularly difficult concept to digest because it turns the notion of “anatomic normal” upside down on its head. In essence, it’s saying that mood can create a bad posture. It can be said that stress, whether internally or externally generated, is the pathologic byproduct of a “troubled” mood.

But, you might be thinking, “My posture is bad because my office chair isn’t ergonomic, and doesn’t have a lumbar roll. What does bad mood have to do with bad posture?”

Lumbar rolls are important, yes. That’s a big part of the way you sit at work, but how you feel about your job while you’re sitting is the other, even bigger, part of it. Is your moderate to severe forward head posture partly due to the stress of your boss breathing down your neck every fifteen minutes, checking on your overdue project assignment? You bet it is.

If you want to try an experiment to feel how stress affects your posture (assuming you’re medically capable), then try holding your breath for a couple of minutes until you can't hold it any longer. Aside from professional swimmers and magicians, most people will soon realize after they crest thirty seconds that an uncomfortable panic takes over and begins to clench the postural muscles in their body. Maybe you felt it in your neck, your low back, or maybe the pit of your stomach…?

Everyone feels stress differently.

“Hey,” you might say, “Actually I feel more relaxed after that silly experiment.” Excellent! You’ve just experienced one of the major positive side-effects of breath exercise for stress reduction. The importance of breathing -- that’s a huge life-changing topic for another day.

We were talking about your boss and your feelings. Ugh! Alright, on to the next principle...

4. Your posture is a snapshot of your mental state.

Notice how people who are sad and morose stand with slumped, rounded shoulders and a downward tilted head, gazing into the floor. Their backs are usually soft and weak-looking, as if ‘broken’ from the weight of depression. Even more obvious, their speed is typically slow and phlegmatic -- trudging through sludge.

In contrast, when you look at someone who is over-excited and ecstatic, you’ll see that their speed is fast and their muscle tone tense, as if walking over fire. Like a hot air balloon rises, so does their posture.