With a good posture the body is well-positioned and comfortable. A bad posture means the body is in a less than ideal position, which causes physical stress and pain.
A go-ogle search for "good posture" returns lots of results (and side-view illustrations) but no clear winner in the definition department:
Standing up tall. No slouching when sitting.
The relative positioning of the head and joints.
The correct curvature of a neutral spine.
Alignment of various parts of the body.
i.e. A lot of talk about the skeletal system and the position of the spine, head and joints. But there is a lack of emphasis on what positions our bones, on what creates our posture - muscles and connective tissues.
Connective tissues run through the whole of the body, from head to fingers to toes.
When physical restrictions are present in our connective tissue system they reduce range of movement and alter our positioning. The whole body must adapt when restrictions are present, negatively affecting posture.
Muscles are the body's 'tissues of action', capable of moving our bones and joints into a better position to create a better posture.
Posture can be:
Posture can be improved by consciously working with the right muscles for a sufficient length of time so that an active posture becomes the passive norm.
Working with the right muscles facilitates the release of physical restrictions in connective tissues. Releasing restrictions regains movement and allows posture to be further improved. An ongoing process.
The muscles we should focus on using to improve posture are the five main muscles of movement:
These 5 (paired, left and right) muscles provide the central framework for a comfortable body and are the muscles we should focus on using for a better posture.
When fully functional, and the body is free of physical restrictions, the 5 main muscles of movement allow the head, spine and limbs to be in the correct relative positions. The body is balanced and aligned. Posture is good.
Sensory feedback from the body supplies more information about your posture than can be provided by other means. Becoming aware of this sensory information is the basis of conscious proprioception (our sense of position motion and balance, the connection between body and mind) so you can feel your posture for yourself.
Self-awareness facilitates self-correction of posture. Micro-adjustments in positioning, too subtle to appreciate on clinical exam, can have wide effects throughout the body (everything's connected) which can be felt when the body-mind connection is strong.
Working with the 5 main muscles of movement starts from Base-Line: pelvic floor Base, rectus abdominis Line.
Think of your Base-Line as your 'core pillar of strength' from where the rest of the body extends.
Working from Base-Line increases awareness of the relative positioning of our midline anatomy, the reference for body alignment and balance.
Connecting with your Base-Line will develop your sense of conscious proprioception, allowing you to adjust your positioning and improve posture.
Become more aware of how you use your main muscles of movement (whatever you are doing and whatever position you are in) to assess and improve your posture. It takes time and focus to learn to use the right muscles and improve your posture, little by little improvements are made.
Posture isn't static - we are constantly on the move, and a good posture means we can move well, free and unrestricted, through a full range of natural movement.
Explore your range of movement, supported by your Base-Line muscles and feel for balance between left and right sides of the other main muscles of movement.
The roll-down action was my go-to move as I focused on activating and extending my Base-Line. Do whatever feels right to you. The more you work with your main muscles the more progress you will make.
Learning to use the right muscles brings an understanding of what a good posture is. The body feels strong and comfortable. Movement flows easily through a full range of natural movement.
The position of the spine is commonly discussed when talking about posture, a "neutral" spine being the ideal to aim for.
A neutral spine is when the spine is in a natural position, under the minimal amount of stress. All vertebrae are positioned with the correct curvature when seen from the side and, when viewed from the front or back, are aligned on the median plane.
From a side view, a neutral spine is curved.
The cervical (neck) spine curves inward.
The thoracic (upper back) spine curves outwards.
The lumbar (lower back) spine curves inward.
The sacrum curves outwards.
The coccyx (tailbone) is almost on the vertical.
When seen from the front or back all vertebrae in a neutral spine appear completely vertical i.e. they are aligned.
The nuchal and supraspinous ligaments that attach to the posterior (back) of the spine are also aligned.
For a neutral spine, the rectus abdominis muscles need to be "long and strong", fully extended and taking the strain between pelvis and chest. If the rectus abdominis muscles are not fully utilised the lateral abdominal, psoas and other muscles of the lower back bear the burden which has negative effects on the positioning of the lumbar spine.
The gluteus maximus positions the sacrum, linking the base of the spine to the pelvis.
The trapezius muscles must be free of physical restrictions to allow the correct positioning of the thoracic and cervical spine.
With an ideal posture stresses are distributed and dissipated in the best/safest/most efficient manner for the activity being undertaken. The body is as strong as it can be.
There are many disciplines that represent ideal postures, demonstrations of the body's capabilities when it is functioning at optimal. For example:
A 'functional posture' is what the brain/body uses day-to-day when an ideal posture cannot be achieved. (When the main muscles of movement are not adequately used and physical restrictions are present on the body).
A functional posture at its most basic:
Subconscious adjustments are made throughout the body - twists, kinks, tilts and compressions - as the brain sees fit, using 'mimic muscles' in an attempt to compensate for misusage in the main muscles, but the body is imbalanced and imbalance leads to further imbalance.
When faced with a task, the brain/body prepares by activating muscles into an anticipatory posture. "Bracing yourself".
An anticipatory posture should be the ideal posture for the activity - using the main muscles of movement to their full potential - but if that is not achievable the body braces into a functional posture with the use of mimic muscles.
Becoming aware of anticipatory postures and the activation of mimic muscles is important to correcting the dysfunction. Breathing with your Base-Line and focusing on the main muscles of movement will facilitate the correction of bad postural habits that have developed.