How to Get Your Posture Back

You're no slouch. Why stand like one? These posture-improving moves will change the way you look and feel.

Tara Moore/Cultura/Corbis
In yoga class not long ago, I was positioning myself for Sunrise Salutation—feet together, hands in prayer, gaze forward—when I caught my reflection in the mirror. How could I look so deeply uncomfortable in this simple pose? Granted, this was my first yoga class in two years, but I looked like it was my first class ever. My shoulders were in my ears and my back felt crazy tight. Nothing, it seemed, was lining up correctly.

A few days later, I downloaded an app that analyzes posture (PostureScreen Mobile, $10; iTunes) just to reassure myself that the yoga gods weren't exacting revenge on my spine for that two-year hiatus. After uploading a couple of photos, I waited for the results, purposely standing tall as if that would help skew them in my favor. The verdict: My right shoulder is higher than my left, my head juts forward, and I hunch a bit.

I have to be honest: This freaks me out. As a teenager I busted a vertebra and spent nearly a year in a body cast (not hot at the prom). Genetics aren't exactly in my corner, either. My grandmother has arthritis and bone loss in her back that's severe enough to limit mobility and require steroid and experimental bone-growing injections. This sure isn't where I want to be in 40 years.

An easy fix
Turns out, I don't have to be. "Most of us have posture that's compromised in some way, but it doesn't take a lot of work to correct it," says Ezriel Kornel, MD, a spinal surgeon and professor at the Cornell University School of Medicine. "Your body simply needs to be taught to experience proper posture so that that becomes the place it naturally wants to be."

There are plenty of reasons to take posture seriously. First, there's the obvious body bonus: When you stand tall, you look long and lean. Dr. Kornel estimates that you can add 1/16th- to 1/8th-inch of space between each disk in your lower back when you're perfectly upright—that's a full extra inch of height.

Then there are the health consequences of succumbing to slumping. When your body is out of alignment for long periods of time, your spine is subjected to uneven—and excess—pressure on joints and disks. This causes an overgrowth of cartilage lining the joints (the very thing that plagues my grandmother) and can lead to compressed nerves, resulting in pain and numbness in your arms and legs—and, of course, herniated disks and other serious problems.

Beyond that, hunched posture can cause headaches due to upper-body muscle tension and constipation because the intestinal tract is physically constricted. It can also decrease respiratory capacity by up to 30 percent, making you more susceptible to infections because the lungs can't clear bacteria properly.

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Jenny Everett
Last Updated: December 01, 2012

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