Sure, the Hunchback of Notre Dame is a loveable character who defeats evil and is eventually regarded as a hero, but the tale Disney failed to tell its audience was the sad one about the many detrimental health effects slouching or hunching can have long-term. While none of us likely identify with the exaggeration of the hunchback himself, when was the last time you watched yourself walk around on video? You may be more hunchbacked than you thought - actually, likely so!

The constant stress your spine is under can result in chronic pain or tension headaches, the tightness in your shoulders and chest can result in trouble breathing or digesting properly, not to mention the increased likelihood of depression, anxiety and - ready for this one? - diabetes.

Hunching is something many of us don’t even know we’re doing. There’s the first problem. Just because we feel fine in our body does not mean that we are moving properly or optimally, it simply means the body has adapted- and this can be to our detriment. You may not see the negative side effects today or tomorrow but sooner than later they will catch up with you. And it’ll make you wish you had started to pay more attention to your posture ages ago.

Here’s how to straighten up and take control of your structural health now according to our wisdom ;) through our 4 pillars.

Functional Training

When we look at the thoracic spine and the joint-by-joint theory, we know that the upper part of the back is supposed to be mobile. It’s supposed to extend and flex. When the upper back or the thoracic spine is caught in an inflection (aka. hunch) we are missing all of that range of motion. That makes movements like a squat or even just lying on a mobility ball impossible as they require an openness through the chest.

The first thing we need to do physically? Be self-aware. We need to understand and realize our posture. Since our eyes are in our head (duh) it actually makes it pretty difficult to tell what our posture actually looks like. This is where having a trainer or a coach can come in handy. If someone has been telling you, “Hey, your posture sucks,” … LISTEN. Even though you might walk around feeling “normal” in your body, you’re supposed to be upright. If you’re closer to the ground than the sky then there’s a problem and it’s going to affect your health in the latter half of your life AND it’ll affect your performance in your 20s and 30s (for those still in the “invincible” stages of life)

We need to strengthen the back muscles, the rhomboids and the lats, and we need to open the chest. Usually, the chest is tight which is pulling the shoulders forward. This is how we fight back:

Thoracic Extension:

  1. Start on all fours.
  2. Bring your right hand to your head.
  3. Lift elbow up to the sky, opening up the body with it.
  4. Return hand to the ground. Repeat on the other side.

Frontline Stretch:

  1. Start on your knees, sitting back on your heels.
  2. Place your hands on your heels. Arch back to push chest toward the sky, dropping your head back.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds, come back to starting position and repeat.

Holistic Nutrition

One of the most preventable diseases we know of has now also been linked to poor posture: Diabetes. “WHAT?!” you may be thinking. Well, it’s true. As we’ve discussed, when your hunching it throws your spine all out of whack. When you’re spine isn’t positioned correctly, it has a direct effect on your liver as it interferes with the nerves controlling your liver’s function. The liver’s role is to filter blood coming from the digestive tract. When your blood sugar is too high, part of this filtration process includes storing glucose- the liver is basically a sponge for excess glucose. If the liver isn’t working properly, that isn’t good news for your blood sugar levels. And, when the organs in the torso are not being massaged by the breath, circulation suffers. Its a vicious cycle.

Nature

The symbolism associated with hunching is that we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. When we look at Energy Healing or the chakras within the body, when someone is flexed forward there is an energetic pressure there. We often see this manifest in migraines, upper trap issues, feelings of overwhelm or defensiveness. Even if someone is able to do the physical part- they strengthen, they can complete their stretches, the mental component can still hold their posture back (or forward, as it were). If you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed, like you’re always facing chaos or are in a stressed mental state, then it may be time to insert some stability in your life- just not in your spine. 

We can get much inspiration around stability and strength from nature. Looking at the trees and how powerful and upright they are - they remind us to stand strong, reflect on our life and see where we are not paying attention, not standing up for ourselves and not releasing the tension in our lives. Remember nature shows us that you have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of others. Shade is a by-product of a trees growth - not the reason for it.

Self-Care

When you’re looking to connect with people, whether that be in a job interview, at a public speaking event or just in making a first impression, your posture is the first thing people are going to notice. It won’t matter how confident or competent you are, we need to be aware that we live in a very visual world and, as wrong as it may be, judgements are being made. Even for someone who is confident, poor posture is often translated as incompetent, shy, timid, meek. Without saying a word, you’ve already started off on the wrong foot.

From a self-discovery standpoint, it’s, of course, true that there are all these physical and biochemical components but for someone who is more introverted (Like me! Hi!) they will naturally just assume more of a hunched position because they’d just like to go about their business in private. If you find this is happening more and more to you, it’s likely an indication that you need to spend more time alone. Not in a hermit kind of way- in a way that is celebrating your me-time. 

In society, there is an overwhelming pressure to be extroverted or the centre of attention but that doesn’t fit for 50% of the population- it’s just not who they are. So, we really need to take a look at our lives and ask, “How can I create a space for myself where I can be confident.” When you start embracing who you are alone, it becomes that much easier to be yourself with others when you won’t want to keep people at an arm’s length. When you have sufficient time by yourself (and that’s different for everyone) then you’re able to actually connect with people when they are around because you have that balance and a great presence and posture to go with it.

Good posture is more than just physical and more than genetics. It’s effects and causes are mental, bio-chemical, spiritual too. Not sure if your posture is working in your favour or, want to learn how to make it better? Book a functional movement assessment with one of our trainers here!