How many times have you been scolded for not sitting straight? All those stories of “you will forever remain in that position", “you will grow a bone in your back" or “you will never grow taller" notwithstanding, what really is the best way to sit?
Posture expert and Gokhale method-founder Esther Gokhale has been trying to teach people to sit in a way that maintains the natural spine position.
“I came upon it the hard way. When I was pregnant with my first child, I had severe pain in my back—so much so that I could not sleep for 2 hours at a stretch. I had tried both the conventional and the alternative methods, even tried surgery, but the pain came back. I was forced to look for a solution—in various methods and cultures," explains Gokhale.
Posture, in Gokhale’s words, is not given due importance in a world where most people try to eat healthier and lead more active lives. The Gokhale method teaches you how conduct your daily activities to support a better posture—by changing the way you sit, walk or lie down, you can slowly correct postural defects. For example, if every step you take correctly is a workout for your glutes, then walking to the water cooler or to the canteen can become a workout in itself.
One of the first signs of a bad posture is back pain. But it’s not the only one. Neck pain, fatigue, stress, indigestion, even breathing problems, can be related to posture.
When you are stressed, especially in the modern work culture, everything tends to suffer, including posture. There is, however, no exact definition for the right posture. The spine shouldn’t bend too much, shoulders should not be hunched, or back overarched. The neutral position, as seen in infants and in tribal communities, is the correct posture. But, says Gokhale, “you can play it the other way. In spite of being stressed, one has control over the posture by being relaxed and upright. This can actually have a positive influence on your stress level because it is much harder to be depressed and tensed when your upper body is open and upright."
And it’s not too late even for those above the age of 50 to start correcting their posture. “My teachings are not something which are unapproachable or undoable. It is what everyone used to do when they were maybe two years old. It might take longer for an aged person to get back to the correct posture since age makes the muscles stiffer," says Gokhale.
Gokhale, who is based in the US, says that while most posture issues in that country come from a slouched, or C-shaped, spine, people in India try to sit straight—but very often end up overarching. “I see a lot of low back sway (spines tend to be S-shaped, because people overarch in order to sit straight and pull in the pelvis) in India. People are attempting to be upright, but in a way that compresses the lower back," she explains.
Even at work, given the way chairs are designed, a lot of people sit on their (imaginary) tail, tucking in the pelvis. “This makes it impossible for the upper body to align well and encourages the back to be rounded. Then, to be upright takes effort from the back muscle—which cannot be continued for long," adds Gokhale.
The trick is to make daily habits, such as sitting, lying down, standing straight, etc., part of your exercise routine, especially when you are sitting at your desk, or lying down on the sofa to watch television. Being mindful of your posture is half the battle won.
Long hours in front of the computer may lead to hunched shoulders. Correct this by performing this exercise while sitting.
Work on one shoulder at a time.
■Start by moving your left shoulder a little forward, then up and roll it back. Try not to move your body too much.
■ Do the same on the other side.
■Once done, keep your hands closer to your body so that your shoulders don’t move forward again. Remember not to arch your back.
Some other posture-correction exercises
Tall neck workout