How Good Posture is Connected to the Way You Breathe, Walk, and Feel

Written by our friends at Etalon

Your physical posture is an outward reflection of your state of mind. No matter how focused you are on keeping your body upright, the way you feel inside will ultimately impact the way you hold yourself. Improving your posture requires a holistic, mind-body approach.

Good posture runs through the top of the head, through the spine, and to the bottoms of your feet. In addition to performing specific exercises, working on being more mindful — of your physical alignment, your emotions, your breath, and how you move through the day — can help you reduce unnecessary muscle tension, and improve your energy and focus.

Holding Unnecessary Tension

Traditionally, the cornerstone of good posture is maintaining a fixed straight position. In our modern lives, we have the habit of carrying stress in various places throughout our bodies — which wastes far more energy than you may realize. Most of us have habitual muscle tension patterns that we aren’t consciously aware of. To start to understand where you hold unnecessary tension, perform a self-assessment: 

  • Take a picture of yourself from the front and side views so that you can evaluate your posture. 
  • Check the alignment of your head, shoulders, hips, and ankles from one side to the other. Ask yourself a few questions:
    • Is everything level? 
    • Are you clenching your teeth? 
    • Are you tensing your jaw? 
    • Are you sticking your chin forward? 
    • Are your shoulders pulled forward or rising up near your ears? 
    • When you stand up or walk do your hips feel tense?

Do this quick self-assessment a few times a day so that you can start to understand your tension patterns. This will help you adjust your body position and regularly train the appropriate muscles to work throughout the day. Posture correctors like the Etalon Bra can also help you rewire your muscle memory without having to think about it. You’ll experience a lot of the postural health benefits of exercise without a formal exercise routine. 

How Breathing Impacts Your Posture

Since we don’t have to consciously think about breathing, we often forget how much our breath can impact the way we feel — both inside and out. Breathing directly connects the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. If you're familiar with yoga and meditation practices, you may already know that tapping into your breath can change the state of your brain within minutes. Have a stressful situation ahead of you? Take a deep breath. It may seem like simple advice, but connecting with your breath is one of the first major steps to finding alignment in the mind and body.

Along with the self-assessment mentioned above, do the same with your breathing. Check in on  your breath regularly and ask yourself:

  • What body parts move while you breathe – your diaphragm or your chest and shoulders? 
  • Do you feel your rib cage and belly expand with each breath? 
  • Do your shoulders feel like they are up near your ears when breathing?

Many people regularly tense their shoulders and breathe shallowly rather than use the muscles that were designed for breathing. People with “forward head posture” use their chest and shoulders to breathe — this is called “forward head breathing.” But shoulders aren’t designed to help you breathe. That’s reserved for your rib cage and diaphragm, the large muscle located within the rib cage.

Ideally, you want to breathe through your belly while your chest and shoulders remain still. This habit can be corrected by retraining yourself to belly breathe. Better posture will also allow these breathing muscles to do their job, helping you conserve energy and improve your oxygen utilization.

To use your breathing muscles, do the following:

  • Allow your shoulders to relax and drop away from your ears. 
  • Place a hand just under your rib cage and make sure your ribs aren’t thrusting forward. If they are, allow your ribs to drop. This relieves tension in your low back and gets your core in alignment to do what it does best — assist with deep breathing. 
  • Keeping your hand in place, take a deep breath and feel your rib cage expand. Your hand should be moving with each breath. This type of breathing triggers the release of certain hormones in your brain that tell your body to relax, improving your alertness and focus. 

It takes some practice, but the more you become aware of what your rib cage is doing throughout the day, the fuller you will breathe and the better you will function. This type of breathing will eventually come naturally to you.

Finding Alignment in Movement

Sukie Baxter, author of Perfect Posture For Life, suggests not looking at your body as an object stuck in binary states, like broken or fixed, but as a system constantly in flux — one that is always becoming something. 

“Your body isn’t just a dumb machine carrying your brain around,” she says. “Rather than viewing your body as an object, like a car, I encourage you to shift toward seeing yourself more as an information system. Your body is always taking in data about its environment, then shifting and responding accordingly.” Your brain is also listening to your body and sending directives back to it — this is the mind-body experience and you can see it manifest in your posture.

We can’t spend all day focusing on controlling our posture. It’s more sustainable to incorporate healthy posture habits into your daily life and through a diverse range of movements. These can be applied through an exercise routine (like yoga, swimming, or running), in how you sit in front of your computer, how you stand while you’re cooking, and how you walk.

Learning How to Walk

A good place to start focusing on alignment is by looking at how you walk. For optimal walking, our bodies were designed to use the backs of our legs while keeping the trunk upright. Today, most people don’t walk like this because of excessive muscle tension in the front of the hips caused by too much time sitting.

The hip tension we carry causes us to walk with our trunk leaning forward. Essentially, we’re just falling through space rather than performing the act of controlled walking. With a forward lean, you limit the ability to use the backs of your legs to power your walk. This wastes a lot of energy.

Here’s a few tips to help improve your alignment throughout the day: 

  • Spend time alternating positions throughout the day. If you work at a desk, set up a dynamic workspace so that you can alternate between standing and sitting. 
  • Take frequent walking breaks. 
  • Make sure that your shoes have arch support for alignment. Using products like Fulton’s cork insoles can ensure your shoes are aligning your body. 

Taking steps to reduce tension in the front of the hips will allow the backs of your legs to start working again. You’ll save energy and reduce your risk of pain and injury. You’ll be able to walk further distances, which will ultimately impact the way you feel.