As a fitness professional trained in musculoskeletal assessments, you are already aware that a client’s posture holds clues about their structure and movement potential. However, have you ever considered that better posture can make you happy? Or that you can also use the results of a postural assessment to gain insight into your client’s mental state of mind and emotional well-being? Furthermore, that by helping clients improve their posture, you can also improve their mood?
Emotions Help Shape Your Posture
Someone who is feeling depressed or helpless tends to have a rounded upper back and shoulders and slouches? From a postural analysis standpoint these imbalances are called excessive thoracic kyphosis, a protracted shoulder girdle and internally rotated arms. Alternatively, someone who is angry or preparing themselves to fight or flee tends to have excessive tension in their neck, jaw and lower back. From a postural perspective these musculoskeletal deviations are known as excessive cervical lordosis, a forward head and excessive lumbar lordosis. Over time, if these emotions become habitual the musculoskeletal system learns to repeat these patterns and they become manifested in both the brain and body evidenced as ingrained postural habits.1
Good Posture Can Boost Your Mood
While our emotions help shape our posture the reverse is also true in that good posture can improve your mood.4 To experience this phenomenon for yourself practice the following exercise to make you aware of how your posture affects your emotions and mental experience surrounding a particular event or thought.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Slightly knock your knees together, round your shoulders and upper back forward and look down at the ground. Now say aloud, “I am the king/queen of the world”. How do you feel? Not very convincing right? Now stand upright with your feet and knees pointing forward, your shoulders pulled back and your spine upright and eyes looking forward. Repeat the words, “I am the king/queen of the world”. Much more convincing! You can now appreciate that although you were trying to convey the same message in both postures, the more upright posture affected your confidence and mood allowing you to be much more self-assured, assertive and believable.
Practice this exercise several times and share it with your family and friends. Once you feel comfortable with the technique, try it with your clients. It is recommended, however, that you introduce this exercise with a client only once you have developed a certain level of trust and rapport with them.3 This is because many people are still a little hesitant to accept the magnitude of the mind/body relationship and may shy away from these concepts if you introduce them too early on in their corrective exercise program.
Change Your Posture, Change Your Life!
Once your clients are more aware of the mind-body relationship between their emotions and their posture, you can coach them to become mindful of those times throughout the day that their bad mood or negative state of mind is affecting their posture and vice versa. You can then encourage them to change their mood by performing corrective exercises that you have taught them as part of their ongoing program to address their poor postural habits.
For example, let’s consider a client that has excessive thoracic kyphosis (i.e., a rounded upper back and shoulders), and has communicated to you either directly or indirectly, that they feel as though people “walk all over them” both at work and in their significant relationships. You can coach this client that the next time they feel this way they should perform the exercise you have taught them to help encourage thoracic spine extension and shoulder retraction to help improve their posture.4 The subsequent repositioning of their body/posture will increase their feelings of self-confidence and improve their ability to “stand up for themselves” and create more positive relationships for themselves both at work and at home.
Now that you understand how posture affects a person’s mood, feelings and emotions, you can teach your clients about this relationship, help them become more aware of their unhelpful postural habits, correct any deviations and ultimately increase their happiness, health and vitality.
To learn more from Justin Price about how to assess and correct your clients posture to not only improve their mood, but get them out of pain, check out The BioMechanics Method Corrective Exercise Specialist course.
1Hanna, Thomas. 1988. Somatics. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
2Price, J., and M. Bratcher. 2018. The BioMechanics Method Corrective Exercise Specialist Certification Program. 2nd Ed. San Diego, CA: The BioMechanics Press.
3Price, J. 2018. The BioMechanics Method for Corrective Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
4Sherington, C. (2010). The Integrative Action of the Nervous System. New York, NY: Ayer Company.