Many years ago our ancestors relied on our stress response primarily to keep us alert and alive to ward off animal predators. These days it’s a different story.
Whilst there’s no real danger of being eaten by a bear anytime soon, our stress responses have none-the-less gone into overdrive. Anyone who’s ever had a meltdown about not being able to find a favourite missing sock can probably relate!
One of the main things that contributes to stress in our modern society is poor posture. Conversely, stress also contributes to poor posture. It’s a cycle that’s unhealthy to say the least.
Why improving your posture will help reduce stress
Australia’s leading posture expert Dell-Maree Day says improving your posture immediately takes pressure off your organs being compressed and your bones being bent out of alignment, thus making your body and mind feel more relaxed.
“When your posture’s poor, you have organic stress in your joints which creates muscular-skeletal stress,” she says. “We wouldn’t have so many aches, pains and injuries if every bone just sat exactly where it’s meant to.”
The science around posture and stress
A recent study by researchers from Harvard and Columbia Universities published in journal Psychological Science also showed that postures that were expansive, rather than hunched, actually altered the participants’ hormone levels in decreasing cortisol and increasing testosterone.
“Mentally and emotionally as your body improves its posture you’ll literally have more of the happy hormones floating around in your body compared to the bad ones, which will help you to feel calm and centred,” Dell-Maree says.
Master postures to realign your body and reduce stress levels
The former Pilates instructor was so appalled by the number of people coming to her private practice with posture-related health problems that she was inspired to create a unique new online program called The Invisible Exercise (TIE). Over a course of 10 weeks the program shows you how to correctly use all 639 muscles in your body by mastering 10 key postures that will realign your body. You will also burn calories as your body stretches and retrains itself.
The program specifically teaches people how to activate all of the body’s 639 muscles by triggering “muscle memory”. “When we position our bones correctly, our muscles are lifted onto the bones the way that they are supposed to. This triggers muscle memory ensuring that every muscle is the perfect length and reminds the muscle of its individual purpose. The muscles will resume working for you exactly as they are designed to do. This improves your posture and body shape.”
Here Dell-Maree shares her tips for instantly decreasing your stress levels with these key posture tips.
1. Learn to breathe and sit up properly
Image source: @theinvisibleexercise
Aim to stop work every hour and do five or six breathing exercises and strengthen your deepest breathing muscles whilst sitting at your desk. Too often people sit completely hunched over a computer at their desk. Then they wonder why they’re stressing out over the simplest of tasks. It’s often not the task that’s a stress – it’s your body!
First move your spine away from the back of your chair to sit on the front half of the chair. Place your feet flat on the floor directly under your knees. You should have a fist sized space between your feet and knees.
Look straight ahead and sit as tall and relaxed as possible. Already your vertebrae will be stacking up so the natural curves of your spine will already have improved. Staying tall and relaxed, let your body breathe in through the nose. As you breathe out through your lips think this thought: sternum through towards your spine.
As your body strengthens and becomes more used to not slumping forward, or leaning back, aim to breathe this way more often. This will give you a sense of instant calm.
2. Get the most out of lying down
Image source: @theinvisibleexercise
Lying on your back, bend your knees so that the soles of your feet are comfortably on the ground and not too close or too far from your bottom. Place your arms to each side in an anatomical position. This means your arms angle out from your body and your hands will be roughly 30 cm from your sides.
Sink the top parts of both your upper arm bones into the floor. This naturally rolls your collarbone wide and repositions your thoracic spine. This relaxes the large upper back and neck muscles and fires up the hundreds of smaller muscles around your spine and ribcage. As the pressure will be taken off major joints, you will feel more relaxed.
3. Combine the lying posture with the breathing technique
Now keep your arm bones still and breathe in. Blow gently through your lips and think this thought: sternum down towards the floor. As you think that thought, all of your abdominal and breathing muscles immediately activate to flatten your abs and strengthen your body front and back. The act of concentrating on your breathing and adding this thought will centre your mind.
4. Keep calm whilst upright
We spend a lot of time standing around – unfortunately nowadays that means we’re often looking down at our phones. This pulls the neck forward resulting in a hunchback. Always look ahead if you can.
When standing still, look straight ahead with your feet 10cm apart. Stand as tall and relaxed as possible. You will instantly look and feel slimmer as your lower and upper back will lift and your shoulders will relax. This will reduce strain throughout your spine, especially your upper torso and neck. As a result, you’ll feel a lot calmer. What’s more, if you’re not reading a whole lot of unnecessary stuff on your phone, that’ll only make you even more calm!
Editors note: This year I’ve been enjoying my stand up desk and have even bought a bigger iMac (rather than just using my laptop all the time as pictured above) so that my screen is at eye level and I have the 90 degree angle in my arms when typing. This has made such a difference to my stress levels and the amount of tension in my shoulders! Highly recommend!
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