When we were kids, our moms often scolded us to sit up straight, and understandably so: Our balance and posture is incredibly important to our health and how we control and manage our body in its space. When we improve our posture, our muscles become stronger and have more endurance and flexibility. As an added benefit, we look leaner, fitter and healthier when we stand and sit up straight.
“Most new clients who come to me think they have great balance until they have trouble doing a few simple balancing exercises,” says celebrity fitness trainer Joel Harper, who created Better Balance, a workout DVD specifically geared toward balance and posture. “They quickly realize it is something they need to work on. I incorporate balance into every one of my workouts, and I get them to act like there is an imaginary string pulling from the top of their heads to their tailbones. This and always looking above eye level helps create proper posture.” Harper’s simple tip is a great place to start, and we’ve got even more where that came from.
Make it a habit.
“Good posture should be automatic,” says fitness expert Mike Clancy. “Instead of constantly adjusting your body to enhance your postural alignment, focus on strengthening your upper back and rotator cuff muscles through resistance training. As the muscles around the shoulder and shoulder blade get stronger, your body will naturally hold in a vertical position and balanced alignment. As a bonus, try bringing your hips under your shoulders to walk with a better gait.”
Sandy Pradas, a yoga therapist and owner of Joyful Heart Yoga, says practicing yoga is one way to have better posture and balance. A great practice for working on posture, Pradas says, is to begin by standing with your feet a few inches apart. Press feet firmly into the ground and lift the arches—you’ll notice how this activates the muscles in both legs. Lightly lift from the pelvic floor up past your belly button. This is the most important part because it will engage your core. Continue by rolling your shoulders up, back and down. Your neck should feel long, with the crown of your head pointing toward the ceiling.
When you’re sitting, you should maintain the same posture by pressing your bones down into your chair and lengthening your back from the pelvic floor. For an easy balance exercise, stand in the above posture and lift one foot off the floor. Play around and alternate both sides until your balance improves. Add on by lifting your knee or extending the leg.
Try Pilates exercises.
Pilates is an excellent exercise regimen for those looking to improve both their posture and their balance, because it focuses on the alignment of the spine and the strength of the powerhouse, which consists of the stomach, back, hips and buttocks. Nicole LaBonde, a certified Pilates instructor through Romana’s Pilates, teaches an exercise called Standing Footwork that really works to strengthen feet, ankles, legs, and abdominals, as well as encourages good posture and balance. Start by standing with your heels together and toes apart, with your stomach pulling into your spine and up under the belly button. Your arms should be extended out to the sides, but you can hold onto a barre or counter when you’re first starting. Bend your knees as low as you can while keeping your heels on the floor. Be sure to keep your torso straight and tall and your bottom under you.
Keeping your knees bent, pull your heels up off the floor toward your bottom. Keep the heels off the floor and extend legs all the way so you’re standing on your tiptoes. Draw your inner thighs together to do this rather than pushing with your knees. Keep your legs straight and lower your heels to the floor. Repeat this exercise three to five times, then try reversing it.
Work on your feng shui.
Dana Claudat, a modern feng shui master and founder of The Tao of Dana, says that while we think of posture and balance as strictly physical traits, feng shui teaches that your space is a mirror of your life at the moment, reinforcing your habits and reflecting your inner world. People who lack focus and posture typically have spaces at home and at work that reflect this imbalance. “Most frequently, a lack of balance is demonstrated by a home that has rooms that are much heavier on one side than the other with furniture or clutter, and slouchy people have a lack of vertical lines and bright light in their space that reinforce confidence,” says Claudat.
Eliminating clutter creates an overall sense of well-being and confident posture—in feng shui, clutter is in itself an accumulation of “stuck” energy that makes our spaces, and our minds and bodies, much weaker. A tall lamp positioned in a dark corner helps to send light upward and create a more confident-feeling environment in a room where you spend a lot of your time. Pairs of objects, like two lamps or two candleholders, also help to reinforce both mental and physical stability. Another tip: Hanging art high on a wall or even over a frequently passed-through doorway lifts your attention and makes you straighter in posture.
Consider your feet.
Our feet are the most abused parts of our body, because they absorb forces generated just by our body weight and gravity, not to mention more intense actions like sports and exercise. To help improve balance and posture, New York-based podiatrist Dr. Daniel Drapacz says to pay close attention to your footwear. Your posture is compromised when you wear the wrong shoes, whether they fit poorly or provide inadequate support. “When women wear high-heeled shoes too often, it affects the body’s center of gravity and induces compensatory alignment of the entire body, negatively affecting back support and posture,” says Dr. Drapacz.
Bottom line? Choose your footwear appropriately. “I know how important style is, and I would never recommend sacrificing it entirely, but small changes can go a long way to improving your posture. You wouldn’t wear a swimsuit to a board meeting and wearing heels to run after your children or walk to work is equally inappropriate. It’s not good for your posture and it’s not good for the shoes, either,” says Dr. Drapacz, who says those suffering from slouching or poor posture should schedule a visit with their podiatrist, who may recommend inserts, healthier styles for their lifestyle, or an orthopedic shoe. Another quick fix is placing a rubber mat on the floor beneath you to improve comfort.
Read more: This Foot Peel Will Change Your Life