The Straight Story on Posture from Mary Beth Janssen
Mary Beth Janssen leading a yoga class.
Well-known industry speaker/educator Mary Beth Janssen frequently begins her classes with some Ellen Degeneres humor: “My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.” After that intro, she takes walking, moving, breathing, nourishing, resting—all of life’s essentials—quite seriously.
Featured in this month’s MODERN SALON Healthy Hairdresser article on yoga, Janssen also guides students in being aware of their body position, especially their posture whether they’re sitting, standing or moving. After the “Ellen” joke, posture is the first thing Janssen addresses in her yoga classes. She leads them in Tadasana, or mountain pose, which brings their attention to the way they hold themselves, and then throughout the class she reminds them to adjust their posture.
“Working with people in nursing facilities and rehab settings, I’ve observed that ‘shoulder slump’ is a real thing,” says Janssen, whose eighth book, The Book of Self-Care: Remedies for Healing Mind, Body, and Soul, was published recently. “It happens with business professionals who sit at desks all day long, and it happens with hairdressers. If you’re not administering to your body and watching your posture, you will not be able to heal well from illness and injury, plus you’ll denigrate your nervous system, which is your body’s ‘communication central.’ Everything radiates from your nervous system, and your spinal cord must be healthy to keep that system working well.”
If you’re suffering from severe back issues and believe that you need surgery or other major medical treatment, Janssen urges you to consider committing to a program of postural alignment, spine care and physical activity. She says many people can relieve their pain by fixing their posture. Citing a finding that lower back pain is second only to the common cold in causing people to take sick days from work, Janssen blames bad backs on injuries, poor body mechanics and a sedentary lifestyle.
Poor posture triggers more than back problems as the small structural changes in the spine in turn affect the rest of the body. Over years of inadequate posture, your shoulders begin rolling forward, causing your chest to collapse over your abdomen and damage your breathing. The rolled shoulders also push your neck and head forward, tilt the pelvis and shift the spine, adding pressure on muscles and joints. Do you experience muscle spasms? A sore neck? Does your body feel tight? All of this can be relieved when you improve your posture.
The Tadasana that launches Janssen’s classes helps to reverse the shoulder slump by opening the rib cage, expanding the chest and realigning the spine. You can feel your body expanding, opening and releasing the stress. As your spine becomes healthier, you’ll have more energy but also be able to relax more as your system is better equipped to remove toxins and deliver oxygenated blood to your brain and throughout your body.
To get started on fixing your posture, Janssen suggests six steps:
- Breathe smoothly and diaphragmatically. Inhale, filling your lungs widely and deeply so that your belly extends out. Fully release the breath on the exhale, which should bring your belly back in. The inhale energizes and nourishes your body systems; the exhale relaxes and detoxifies.
- Connect with the earth. Standing with your feet aligned under your hips, ground the soles of your feet into the earth or floor. Lift your toes and separate them to try to create space between them, and then plant them back down into the earth.
- Stand tall. Draw your head back to stack it directly over your shoulders, shifting the weight of your head to your shoulders and upper back instead of your neck. Help yourself align and stand tall by visualizing a string lifting the crown of your head toward the sky.
- Realign your shoulders. Roll your shoulder back and down, so that your shoulder blades move in toward each other. You should feel your rib cage and chest cavity opening and expanding, allowing for optimal breathing. As you heart center lifts and opens, feel the “heart chakra” center of love and compassion sending loving energy inward to you and outward to others.
- Stand in a “neutral spine” position. Gently draw your tailbone downward, which will pull your lower abs inward and bring your pelvic bowl into an “upward cup” position—neither tilting forward nor tilting backward.
- Maintain. In this position, you’re nurturing and decompressing your spine as well as opening your body to move the oxygen and pump fluid, so make this your default posture. Take more belly breaths, monitor your position and make this stance a good habit.
Janssen adds that good posture requires good shoes. Over time, high heels or a bad fit can harm the musculoskeletal system, causing aches and pains throughout the body. Your legs and back should work together as a unit. Jansses recommends shoes with a round or square toe and a heel not more than two inches high.