How to break the slouch habit
A great way to break the slouching habit is to move onto the floor and explore new ways of sitting – and if the dog has bagged the settee, you may have little choice!
Slouching, slumping, lounging, loafing… It’s all the same and does us no good at all whether or not we currently suffer with neck or back pain. An astonishing 80% of us will suffer with back pain at some point in our adult life and of course prevention is better than cure!
One of the main problems of poor posture is the adverse effect on breathing because slouching interferes with the normal movement of the diaphragm.
In the ideal scenario of a nice upright posture, as we inhale, the diaphragm contracts and moves down into the belly. This action flattens the dome-shaped muscle setting up a negative pressure in the chest so that air is drawn into the lungs. As the diaphragm relaxes back up into the chest, the dome shape reforms and the local pressure now increases effectively pushing the air out – exhalation. In quiet breathing exhalation is a passive process actioned by this relaxation of the diaphragm.
If the normal freedom of the diaphragm is compromised by poor posture the body has to find a different way to breathe and the easiest solution is for the neck muscles to contract, opening up the upper chest area and so re-creating the required negative pressure for the air to be drawn into the lungs.
We breathe on average upwards of 21,000 times in a 24-hour period – if the bulk of our waking hours is spent hunched over a desk or slumped on the settee this is a lot of work put upon the neck muscles. Not only that but if the neck muscles are busy “breathing” for us then they cannot be efficient in their primary job – that of producing movement of our head.
Add to all this that a slouched posture invariably results in a forward head posture – now we get the picture that the neck and its muscles are being dealt a double whammy… Ouch!
No wonder then that one of the all-time favourite cues for good postural alignment yoga is to “lengthen through the back of your neck”.
Here is a simple breathing exercise with imagery to help reawaken the ideal breathing pattern:
- In upright sitting with a relaxed but upright posture – ideally on the edge of a chair – using your Buttafly if you have one. Place one hand over the lower abdomen and the other on the upper chest area over the breast bone. Let your shoulders away from your ears, the elbows away from the shoulders.
- Imagine you are in a museum with a huge long room in front of you and small exhibits off to the left and right, each one guarded by a big bad dog – luckily now sleeping. At the far end of the corridor there is a beautiful wooden table, elaborately carved and adorned with a golden egg. This treasure is yours but only if you can reach it without wandering off to the side and waking up the dogs.
- Now imagine the path of your breath in the same way. You want to draw your breath in all the way down to the belly without any of it drifting off to the sides or upper chest so that your top hand doesn’t move.
- Keep the belly relaxed as you inhale slowly – there is no need to push it out – and let the exhale happen without actively contracting your abdominal muscles.
- Breathe like this 13 times.
You may notice that you feel freer in your spine afterwards, you may have set your digestive system a-gurgling and for sure, you will feel more relaxed.
Good – welcome to your Friday evening!
(Of course, as with any visualisation feel free to change the details to make it more real for you!)