The leading cause of sickness that leads to days off work in the UK is stress. The second biggest cause of sick days is back pain. Since back pain is the biggest cause of stress, that means the single biggest cause of lost time and productivity in the entire country is postural problems – broadly speaking.
When your posture is good, it helps to regulate your breathing. Your lungs have all the space they need to fully inflate themselves, and the diaphragm has room to move to make this happen. Not only that, when your posture is good, all your internal organs have sufficient room to do all the things they need to do. Your breathing, regular and complete helps to massage all your internal organs and encourage the free flow of blood and lymph around the whole system.
Not only are there many good sides to having good posture, the downsides of bad posture are many and varied. If you work at a computer or staying in one place for a long time, bad posture can lead to tension in the muscle groups that have to over-compensate to make up for the fact that you are out of balance. When I say ‘out of balance’ I am not talking about some wooly new-age concept, but rather about the fact that the human body is designed to be upright, with the head balanced happily atop an erect spine, with the shoulders hanging loose and comfortable either side.
If your head is continually leaning forward, with your shoulders hunched, you will find that this leads gradually to tension, and thence to actual pain, as the muscles strain and remain tense trying to hold you in an unnatural position. In turn, this can put pressure on nerves in and around the spinal column leading to tension headaches or neuralgia (nerve pain) that can be so debilitating as to leave you unable to work or indeed to very much at all.
Good posture allows your muscles to work in the way they are supposed to, without undue strain being concentrated anywhere. Spending lengthy periods in unnatural positions can lead some muscle groups to become over-developed, while others don’t work as well as they might.
The good news is that all of these things can be corrected with a little patience and a little time and effort on your part. There are many systems out there, like the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais method and various types of Yoga that will help you develop the muscles required to hold yourself in good posture without any strain. As I said, good posture affects the breathing, and the breathing is intimately connected with how stressed or relaxed you feel.
When people are feeling ‘stressed out’ often their breathing is a little shallower than normal, their head has dropped, and their shoulders droop. It is something of a chicken and egg situation – which came first, the stress or the bad posture? The truth is that these things are intimately linked, and although you are not always able to just click your fingers and make life’s stresses disappear, you can take steps to improve your posture and your breathing, and these things, in turn, can help to regulate your heartbeat and your mood.