Alignment

Good Alignment is Perfect Posture

Why is Good Alignment So Important?

Good alignment of your body is the foundation that allows your muscles to work most effectively, while putting the least amount of stress on your joints. In most cases, when your body is aligned correctly, movement will automatically be performed by the correct muscles and the postural muscles (the muscles that maintain your posture) are best positioned to do their job effectively. In contrast, when body alignment is poor, it is common to find some muscles overworking while others under work or don’t work at all.

What is Good Alignment of the Spine?Spine

A healthy spine has four natural curves. In a well-aligned spine, these four curves are neither flattened nor exaggerated.

The natural curves of the spine, formed by the shapes of the vertebrae, are critical in enabling the spine to effectively absorb shock and move well. While the diagram at right shows a typical spine, it is important to remember that our bodies come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and each individual has a slightly different normal spinal alignment.

While ideal posture will vary somewhat from person to person, the basic principles of ideal posture remain the same: Ideal posture is the most biomechanically sound alignment of the skeleton. In ideal posture, the skeleton is aligned so that gravity works evenly through the major weight bearing joints. Muscles surrounding the joints work evenly – no muscle underperforms, and no muscle overworks.

Alignment is Dynamic

While the diagram at right shows a typical spine in good alignment while standing, it is important to remember that alignment changes as we go about our daily lives. We don’t spend much of our day standing perfectly still with our weight evenly balanced over both feet on level ground. We are walking, running, climbing stairs, sitting, bending over to tie shoelaces. . . our alignment continually shifts, moment to moment.

Finding “perfect posture,” therefore, is not a matter of trying to force our bodies into a position approximating the good alignment diagram. Rather, we want to train our bodies to find good alignment with dynamic movement, gradually freeing ourselves from poor postural habits. As we strengthen our postural muscles, we train our bodies to move efficiently and effectively throughout the range of our daily activities.

What Influences Posture?

As we have just noted, our alignment changes throughout the day as our bodies move through our daily activities. Our base alignment, or posture, can also change. Posture can change over a day – think about what your posture might look like at the beginning of a bright day, as compare to at the end of a difficult, stressful day. Posture can also change gradually over the course of years. Posture is complicated, and is influenced by a wide variety of factors, including:

  1. Individual anatomy. Individual differences in the shapes and sizes of bones and ligaments affect posture.
  2. The environment. We unconsciously mimic the posture of people around us, and we may pick up the postural habits of family and friends. Fashion also plays a role in environmental influences on posture – think about how wearing high heels or tight clothing affects your posture.
  3. Work and leisure activities.
  4. Injuries or certain diseases.
  5. Mood. Posture is affected by emotional habits as well as physical habits.

Not All Postures Are Equal

While there are many different postures, they are not all equally good. Some postures are not mechanically sound for our bodies. Over time, poor posture can lead to restricted movement, inefficient and ineffective movement, poor breathing, and can be implicated in certain kinds of chronic pain.

Pilates Trains the Body to Proper Alignment

One of the primary aims of Pilates is to create good alignment. Good alignment is the foundation for working well inside the Pilates studio, and ultimately to high quality movement outside the studio doors.

Changing Posture Takes Time

As we have seen, many of the factors that influence posture operate over a long time. We have been unconsciously observing friends and family since infancy, and many other characteristics of our work and play have been affecting us for years. It took time to develop postural habits, and it will take time to change these habits.

How Can I Start to Change My Posture Now?

Your work in the Pilates studio will help you develop the body awareness to better notice your posture, and will train your postural muscles to better support your spine. In addition to your Pilates work, here are three suggested areas you can focus on to improve your posture as you go about your daily activities:

  1. Stand tall when you walk
  2. Sit correctly
  3. Relax your shoulders when you work at your computer

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