Believe it or not, one of the most significant contributors to productivity has nothing to do with your ability to perform your job. Instead, it has to do with being comfortable and positioning your body correctly. Consistently lousy posture can lead to lifelong neck, spine, back, and joint pain, warns Brock Davies, a NASM-certified trainer and CEO of HOMEBODY fitness app. Also, long-term bad habits can lead to poor sleep and even arthritis. “Making sure your posture is good can lead to more productive and mindful workdays,” he adds.
Here’s a guide to improving your posture at home — covering everything from your routine to seating arrangement and more.
Begin and end your days with a stretch
Great news! Your lifestyle changes don’t have to be dramatic to be effective. Davies says a meaningful way to improve your posture is to simply shift what you do in the first and last five minutes of your day. By taking this dedicated time to stretch, you can train your muscles to be flexible and to develop strength.
Depending on what part of your body feels the tightest or most uncomfortable, there are many options for improvement. Beth O’Reilly, Director of Innovation and Yoga Special Projects for Core Power Yoga, recommends these three poses for maximum benefit:
Plank pose: Come to your hands and knees and step one foot back at a time. Then, stack your shoulders over your wrists and bring your feet hips distance apart. Next, press your palms down into the floor and back towards your feet to engage your core and spinal muscles. Gaze six inches in front of your fingers. Breathe slowly and hold the pose for 15 seconds, then rest. Repeat 3 more times. She recommends working up to holding the pose for a full minute to strengthen your core, chest and posture muscles.
Cobra pose: From plank pose, lower to your abdomen. Then, untuck your toes and place your palms flat on the floor near your ribs. Next, inhale and lift your chest off of the floor and press the tops of your feet into the floor to strengthen your spinal muscles, hamstrings and glutes. Hold for three breaths and repeat 3 more times. Rest your forehead on the floor on top of your palms to neutralize your spine. Press back into child’s pose to stretch the backline of your body.
Chest expansion: Stand tall with your feet hips distance apart. Lace your hands behind your back, or grab a towel on both ends behind your low back. Then, roll your shoulders down your back and draw your front ribs in to engage your abdominals. Make sure to keep your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders stacked and lengthen the crown of your head up. Take five slow breaths and then release the bind. She says this stretch opens your shoulders and strengthens your postural muscles. It also reverses the forward flex we use most of the day.
Re-think your footwear
While many people think they can just wear slippers all day because they’re home, this could be causing more damage than you realize, warns chiropractor Dr. Veera Gupta DC, CCSP. As she explains, if someone is flat-footed, walking all day barefoot will create lower back pain. “So even if you’re home, you want to be wearing a shoe or a slipper that has an arch support,” she says. Her top recommendations for inserts and supportive shoes are Dr. Scholl’s, Super Feet or Fit Flops.
Give your seating position a second thought
After you’ve improved your footwear, Dr. Gupta says to look at the way you sit. Everyone has gluteal muscles that can alter how the pelvic bones allow you to sit up straight. Simply moving your left and right butt cheeks and pulling them to the side will enable you to find the base of the two pelvic bones known as the ischial tuberosities, she explains. “Those two bones have a flat base; they can support proper sitting posture quite well,” she says. “All you have to do is move your butt cheeks out of the way.”
Focus on better posture
What does better posture look like, exactly? You need to think about lifting your rib cage, and overall picking it up to be in line with your neck. Dr. Gupta explains that many people have shoulder and neck problems because they crunch down into a C-shape while sitting. “Focusing on belly breathing and lifting the rib cage up will immediately give you better posture,” she says. “Once you are sitting, you can massively improve the quality of your time by doing deep breathing, which ignites the diaphragm, the pancake-shaped muscle that not only opens up the lung fields but is responsible for core stability.”
Once you’ve given your ribcage attention, go a bit further down to your belly button. Dr. Gupta says it’s important to bring your chest bone — known as the sternum — up, so you loosen your chest muscles. “The door stretch for the pec muscles can be done two to three times a day for as little as 30 seconds and have great results in terms of both posture and decreasing shoulder pain,” she adds.
Set up reminders to check in with your body
While you may remember to go through this practice once, it can be difficult to remember it daily. After all, as Davies says, everyone has grown accustomed to bad posture and does not even realize when they are slouched over until the pain in their necks and shoulders start. To solve this, he recommends setting calendar reminders during your day that just say ‘posture’. “By being reminded of it often, you will adjust your posture and soon will not even need the reminder,” he continues. “Checking in with yourself and readjusting is key to breaking a bad habit. This will also allow you to be more in-tune and connected to your body.”
Get up off the couch
One more thing: if you haven’t already, it’s time to get up off your couch or out of your bed and start working from a proper desk and seat. “Create a workspace that helps you be mindful of these components, even if it’s just a little desk,” Davies says. “Make sure that the chair you are sitting on supports your back and is at the proper height. When looking at your laptop from your chair, you want to be looking forward rather than slouched downward.”
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