As a fitness professional, you are probably already aware that a person’s posture holds clues about their musculoskeletal health and movement potential. However, have you ever considered that better posture can actually make a person feel happy? Or that you can also use the results of a postural assessment to gain insight into your client’s state of mind and emotional well-being? By helping clients improve their posture by applying techniques you have learned in your corrective exercise specialist certification, you can also help them improve their mood and make them feel happier!
Emotions Help Shape Your Posture
It is easy to see how a person’s state of mind can affect their posture. Someone who is feeling depressed or helpless tends to slouch and have a rounded upper back and shoulders. From a postural analysis standpoint, these imbalances are called excessive thoracic kyphosis, a protracted shoulder girdle, and internally rotated arms. Similarly, 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. If negative emotions become habitual, or are experienced for prolonged periods of time, the musculoskeletal system learns to repeat the postural patterns described above. Eventually, the psychological factors affecting the brain manifest in the body as ingrained postural habits.1
Can Better Posture Make You Happy?
While our emotions help shape our posture, the reverse is also true; restoring good posture can improve your mood.4 To experience this for yourself, try the following activity. It is designed 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 (or 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 erect and eyes looking forward. Repeat the words, “I am the king (or 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 feel more self-assured, assertive and believable.
Perform this activity 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 activity with a client only after you have developed a certain level of trust and rapport with them.3 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 programs.
Change Your Posture, Change Your Life!
Once your clients are more aware of the relationship between their emotions and their posture, 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). When they become aware of an emotion that is affecting their posture, encourage them to change their mood by performing specific corrective exercises that you have taught them as part of their ongoing program to address their musculoskeletal imbalances.
Take, for example, a client that has excessive thoracic kyphosis (i.e., a rounded upper back and shoulders). A person with this deviation may feel depressed, lack confidence and/or like others “walk all over them” at work and in their significant relationships. Encourage this client to become aware of how these negative feelings are affecting their posture and contributing to excessive thoracic kyphosis. Then coach them that the next time they feel these negative emotions arising to use the exercises you have taught them to improve their upper body posture (e.g., foam roller exercise to encourage thoracic spine extension along with shoulder retraction exercises).4 The subsequent repositioning of their body/posture will not only improve their physical state, but it will also increase their self-confidence so they feel better able to “stand up for themselves”.
Now that you understand how posture affects a person’s mood, feelings and emotions, educate your clients about this relationship. Helping people become more aware of their unhelpful postural habits and employing strategies for correcting deviations can ultimately increase their happiness, health and vitality.
To learn more about how to assess and correct posture to improve mood and get clients out of pain, check out the fitness industry’s highest-rated corrective exercise specialist certification course – The BioMechanics Method.
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.