Ask a Yoga Teacher

Answers to all your questions on health, fitness and yoga

More Than Alignment: Is Posture Really the Problem You Think It Is?

Mar 06, 2024

It time we talk about posture

Working as a yoga teacher, massage therapist and personal trainer, posture touches on everything that I do. If you’re struggling with mobility or managing some kind of musculoskeletal pain it probably plays a big part in what you think about day to day. But what do we actually mean when we talk about posture? It's not as simple as ‘stand up straight’. So let’s get clear on what good posture actually is, why it’s important and dispel the posture myths floating around the wellness world.


What is posture anyway?

When you think of ‘posture’ you probably think, ‘the way you sit, stand or walk’ and that ‘good’ posture means being straight up down in line with gravity. But posture is more than this. Posture is the way we hold and move ourselves in space. Everything we do has a ‘posture’ and equating ‘good posture’ with ‘upright’ is an oversimplification. 

Good posture isn’t one that is straight, but one that is capable of adapting to and recovering from stress. Our lives are dynamic and require our bodies to perform innumerable tasks. We must crane our necks while screwing in lightbulbs, bend over to paint the bottom trim of a new room and catch our balance when we trip. We must look past alignment and ask ‘how stable is this body?’ ‘How well’ can this body bend, twist and absorb impacts?’ ‘How well will this body hold up under pressure?’ Good posture isn’t upright. Good posture is strong, flexible and adaptable.

There is no universally good posture because we are all living lives with different demands. In a dynamic world, a good posture prepares you for your next posture.


Posture and pain

One of the misconceptions many massage therapists, yoga teachers and other wellness professionals perpetuate is that poor posture (ie not straight posture) causes pain. This is not true! On the surface it seems like poor posture MUST cause pain. But humans in general are very adaptable and can live quite comfortably in a variety of shapes. If poor posture caused pain, then almost everyone with hunched shoulders would suffer some kind of upper back or shoulder pain. Instead the opposite is true, we have studies that show a very poor relationship between kyphosis and shoulder pain.

It’s true that musculoskeletal pain is often accompanied by postural deviations and treatments to address posture frequently do help. But in my time working as a massage therapist and yoga teacher I find that lack of strength and flexibility are much better predictors of pain than whether someone stands up straight.


So what should you do?

Should you worry about your posture? It’s worth thinking about, but standing upright is not the holy grail of better health. Instead of worrying if your back is straight, here are three better questions to ask yourself.


‘Am I making this more difficult than it needs to be?’

If posture is the way we hold ourselves in space, ‘postural stress’ is the shape imposed onto us by our environment. Sleeping on a cramped bed that is too soft, working at a desk that is too low, spending hours standing on your feet; postural stress DEFINITELY contributes to muscle pain. If you are suffering from some form of postural stress ask yourself if there is an easier way to get the job done.


Am I moving with my whole body?

The body is an organic structure, not a stiff robot. We talk about this muscle flexing that joint. The biceps flex the elbow, the deltoids flex the shoulder. While this is true as far as it goes, organic movement means that multiple muscles work together in concert. Try to raise your arm up as high as you can. It’s not just the deltoid flexing the shoulder, the muscle under the armpit lifts the shoulder blade up, the muscles of the back extend the spine, the core relaxes to let the ribs lift higher, etc. The whole body participates.


Is my body ready to roll with the punches?

Sometimes it’s hard to know just how ready our bodies are for unexpected twists and turns until we find ourselves in the middle of them. Until then the best we can do is develop as much strength and mobility as possible. Start with the spine. Having a strong, flexible spine will go a long way to making your body ready for anything.


Ready to Strengthen Your Posture? Five Simple Movements You Can Do

Ask a Yoga Teacher Newsletter

Want Helpful Yoga Tips Every Week?

You're safe with me. I'll never spam you or sell your contact info.