This is a topic that many would reasonably consider as either unneeded or really rather not deal with. However, just as a person really cannot separate body/mind/spirit, all within the body has a oneness quality. One tangible reason is that just under the skin, that is a seamless oneness, is a layer of fascia (good research term) that tightly holds all within in seamless oneness. Not only do we have these seamless layers which holds the body in a oneness, but all joints are connected. A consequence is that one joint, even somewhat out of alignment requires other joints to compensate somewhat. The more out of alignment, the more the compensation.
Chronic and/or severe out of alignment can cause health issues, ranging from tendonitis and bursitis (good research terms) to back pain and the lungs not being able to maximize oxygen exchange (research term).
The number of elderly people I see stumped and limping often traces back to decades of not being taught good postural alignment. With the vision of these people I constantly see, I push on to write this section. For each and every person, I wish that at whatever age, they can “stand tall” and walk smoothly.
How many elderly people do you see shuffling along and somewhat stooped? To be able to age with good posture not only means striding through the years, but also better wellness. Psychological research indicates our “body image” (like how we see ourselves in the mirror) affects our self image, and to some degree our self esteem. People with genetic deformities, who have suffered paralysis, etc., adapt their self-image, and often have vibrant spirit, as they live adapting what their physical limitations. They often impress others with they can do. For those of us without those conditions we need to improve and maintain our postural alignment to improve and maintain our personal wellness. Where to start?
Be courageous enough to have a someone take photos of you from the front, back, left side, and right side. Have close ups taken of you feet while standing. And, even if possible, have a short video from behind of your walking. Your personal wellness will be worth what it takes to have the photos taken. If this is not possible, and you have a full length mirror, you can use that for some indicators. Do you have photos that include you standing? These can be valuable. Also, someone can observe you from all sides, as you tell them what to look for. We adapt to unhealthy posture so easily that we not often not even aware of poor postural alignment. I am looking forward to the time when education provides this education, not for appearance vanity, but as part of educating wellness.
There was a time that colleges required postural alignment checks, with photos, and “how to improve.” That is long gone. This is why you must take this on. People in general have lives that are so full that working on posture may seem frivolous. So, this may not seem an important part of your wellness. But, good postural alignment avoids what could seem a surprising number of health problems that eventually not only reduce personal wellness, but also quality of life. Please, learn what is given here.
What is good postural alignment? Good postural alignment is: having correct alignment of joints throughout the body. Lessening stress on joints and reducing chronic, unnecessary, muscular tension, is a huge benefit of good “postural alignment.” Let’s work with the feet up to the head.
When you stand is your weight equally distributed between both feet? Check yourself when standing in line for something, or taking time in front of a mirror to look at your lower torso. Most people have weight mostly on either the left or right foot.
There can even be a somewhat “leaning” to one side or the other as weight distribution is mostly one sided.
Sometimes there is even a foot wrapped around the foot taking all the weight.
The hip/pelvis joint with the femur is out of alignment, and the front ankle to foot joint is out of alignment.
Besides the weight left and right foot weight distribution, is the aspect of if you are standing directly over the whole foot, distributing weight evenly. (I know, this may seem picky, but these are the vital aspects that over a life-time affect your wellness.) Some individuals have their weight more on the front of the foot, tilting slightly forward. This results in the knees on up having to compensate. If the weight is mostly on the heels, compensation still has to occur, but a different compensation. Some people when standing actually rock slightly back and forth, completely throwing off getting to a stable and equal weight distribution over the foot. So, the goal is that right and left foot equally bear the weight, and the front and back of the foot equally bear your weight.
Walking uses the joints from our toes to our lower back. In my early twenties I had to learn how to walk correctly, and I was an athlete at the time. This was humbling to say the least. But, using SMART goals, I set aside the times I would focus on looking down at my feet and change the alignment so that I was slightly toeing in; rolling off my big toe, and rolling onto my foot as it landed.
notice the sides of the feet are now pointed fairly straight ahead in the direction of walking forward. If you always slightly toe in, you feet will always be in the direction you wish to walk, jog, run, or sprint.
This method is the easiest, but the most disastrous for your body. (Check the heels on your shoes. Is the outside of the heel more worn — that indicates “toe out” alignment. Healthy alignment will show wear of the heel to be fairly equal across.) Over the decades, all sorts of problems can develop. The older you are, the more time it takes to learn to walk correctly. Too much change too soon can cause pain. So, just become aware of how you walk, and use your SMART goals to gradually improve.
In the 1980s jogging became very popular in the United States. I agonized when I saw people jogging with toes out and hitting the ground with their heels. I knew in years to come a knee replacement would likely be in their future. And, by the 21st century, there was a substantial increase in knee replacements. So, let’s avoid that. If you are standing and walking correctly, your knees will also be in the right alignment. There are people who have the habit of locking (pushing the knee backwards) the knee which can then throw off the joints above and below. Many times there is caused by a psychological “bracing” to stressful situations. When standing your knees should be slightly relaxed — nice to hear that relaxation comes in somewhere isn’t it. 🙂
So, as the feet and knees are aligned, so are the hips/pelvis. Probably because of gravity, and the major muscle groups attaching to the “frontish” of the hips/pelvis, the hips/pelvis will gradually tilt forward. This compromises the whole spine. This is worsened when there is extra abdominal weight. I show this both for motivation to lose fat in that area; as well as in sympathy for what pregnancy causes. Women who are pregnant need to be vigilant of how long they are on their feet. Also, getting assistance from a professional in the early pregnancy stages of what they can do to release this lower back pressure is well deserved.
The most common postural alignment correction for the hips/pelvis is to feel as if you are slightly pushing your hips/pelvis back toward the spine. This actually simply helps to get the hips/pelvis more directly in line with the spine.
This alignment is critical then for the spinal alignment. Your spine extends from the pelvis to your head. So, a pelvis tilted forward shortens the lower back muscles which can eventually cause both lower back pain and spasms — ouch. Moving slightly up the spine, the forward tilts counters the benefit of your core muscles (nice research term) which in turn affects the position of your internal organs. Moving further up the spine, is that your shoulders compensate by slightly slumping which compresses the upper lobes of your lungs, and thus the quality of oxygen exchange (hmm, a couple of research terms here). And notice that when there is a more straightened spinal alignment, there is a slight increase in height. Getting toes pointed in is the first crucial correction. Getting the pelvis tilting back into a more level position is the second crucial correction. However, we are not quite up to the head….
Shoulders, like the other joints can be out of alignment simply because you were never taught the correct alignment. Slumping the shoulders forward, can occur for many reasons. Even a slight slump inhibits the upper portions of your lungs functioning in oxygen exchange, as well as pulling upper vertebra of your spine out of correct alignment. This photo shows a rather severe slumping forward of the shoulders as this is often what happens when texting. Or, as age weakens the muscles that would keep the shoulders in alignment.
Pulling and locking the shoulders back can cause muscular stress on the muscles “doing the pulling.” This is often referred to as the “military stance.” Ideally, your shoulders are relaxed, and over the torso. Research “shoulder rolls.” (tip: Lift your shoulders up as high as you can, pull them back, and DROP them down. Do not just pull your shoulders back as this will cause muscle strain.) This lifts the rib cage up, relieves slouching shoulders, and places the torso over the pelvis. This simple exercise get your shoulders back into position. I use them constantly throughout the day when sitting, standing, and check when walking. They always help! So add shoulder rolls to the other two crucial postural areas: toes in, and hips level.
Your hands are your indicators if your arms are in correct alignment. Your hands should have thumbs pointing forward, as in your palms parallel to your body. Some individuals have their hands pointing back — not good for the arm/shoulder alignment.
All the joints below affect this alignment. Also, the head, having weight in itself, can affect the spine and even your total body alignment — yes, the body is one seamless totality. Some people, especially those who do a lot of desk work, simply drop their head to some degree. This is one good reason to take breaks and do shoulder rolls, and neck rolls (the exercise not the pillow. 🙂 (research term). Other people somewhat crane their neck forward and lean with their head. Some even with the jar “jutting” forward. It is as if they are leading with their head, and the body follows.
This is surprisingly common. The weight of the head forward compresses the cervical vertebra (research term…again, but think about all you are learning :). As you can see with the head forward, the shoulders compensate by somewhat slumping, and the pelvis will slightly tip forward to compensate for this, and the knees have to slightly be pushed back to compensate for the forward tipped pelvis. And, the feet, well they do the best they can, to compensate for all of the above. So when you do your shoulder rolls, check and make sure your head (back?) is over your shoulders, and your chin is slightly down, which will help those cervical vertebra. When walking, and not looking down as you train your feet, check that your head is back over your shoulders. You may be surprised how many times you find your neck and head “ahead” of your shoulders.
This concludes postural alignment. Use your SMART goals for each area, go from feet to head, or head to feet, and then continually check, re-align, and check and re-align. You will know when your alignment is there; and the exercises will become habits — good habits! You will feel better for this.