I am yet to become a member of the Mom Club (and in no rush to get there) but I am interested to see what the induction process looks like. Judging by how universal and ubiquitous many of the methods and admonishments are of mom’s everywhere, I suspect there must be a whole carefully guarded secret oath, rulebook of tenets, or doctrine to which one must pledge. My mom, true to these unwritten rules of motherhood, used to always (much to my annoyance) reprimand me to stand up straight or to fix my slouching posture. And even more annoying is when years later, I learn and understand the million and one reasons why she was (yet again) 100% right. There are almost infinite benefits to having good posture not only limited to the usually touted physical ones such as reduced back pain and slumped shoulders, improved breathing, circulation, etc. but there are also many unexpected psychological ones too. And the even better news (for me anyway) that is that one highly effective way to perfect your posture is with barre!
Interestingly, as I was doing research for my Happiness Project, I came across an old Fast Company article entitled The Science of Posture: Why Sitting Up Straight Makes You Happier and More Productive, which cited studies suggesting the impact of posture on our subjective wellbeing. Just as research has shown the impact of a simple gesture on our positive affect (like holding a pencil in your mouth vertically or horizontally as I wrote about previously or shaking your head yes or no which can actually change your mind), one experiment the author shared demonstrated the power of posture on our ability to “remember positive memories or think of something positive in general.” In Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin resolved to find ways to jump more in her day-to-day after learning that it has been correlated with a surge of increased energy, while research shows that “a slow, slumped walk… can do the exact opposite and drain us of our energy.” A study at Ohio State University showed that those who exhibited poor posture were more likely to feel “helplessness and stress [while] adopting postures associated with power can decrease sensitivity to pain.” Further research has shown that we express power outwardly with improved and more open posture which can impact the release of testosterone, while reducing cortisol, which makes us feel more self-confident and in control.
As I mentioned, a great way to perfect your posture is with barre. Both barre and Pilates encourage you to work in ways that strengthen your core and in positions which allow you to develop the muscles required to support your weight correctly. As Michele Olson, professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University said, “barre is…effective at targeting the ‘support and steady’ muscles that run close to your bones and tie into your core and spine – the ones most of us neglect when we spend a lot of time sitting or engaged in forward and backward activities like running.” Building strength in these areas is helpful in protecting us from injury, improves our performance and durability across a variety of settings, and gives us a more svelte and pulled in appearance. And since barre is a full body exercise, it develops more balance/corrects imbalances which are common in many other fitness activities and sports which tend to over-train a particular area. Furthermore, one of the big focal points at the studio is working with good posture and alignment in every position. The hands on instruction provided in most barre classes focuses on perfect posture as opposed to arching your back or over-tucking forward in order to lift your leg that inch higher. The goal is to maintain correct alignment of shoulders, ribs, hips, and spine no matter what position you are in or muscle group you are working. In doing so, barre helps to elevate your awareness of posture during class and outside the studio.
So hopefully you’re 1. sold on the fact that good posture brings with it many good things and 2. an excellent way to perfect your posture is with barre. Now you may ask, how exactly can I ensure I do just this in my next sweat sesh?
- Your goal is a neutral pelvis and spine as opposed to one that is arched or hunched. You don’t want your pelvis to be excessively tilted in either direction and you should respect the slight curvature in your spine rather than forcing it to be rigid or imprinted.
- Push your shoulders down and back, far away from your ears and open the collarbones wide. You don’t want to feel any tension in your neck and/or shoulders.
- Focus primarily on keeping your abdominals engaged – you should keep your stomach muscles active in each exercise. Think of pulling inward with your navel coming in toward your spine, BUT keeping a heavy tailbone and your back long as opposed to over-tucking and rounding forward. Think crown of the head reaching toward the ceiling and tailbone down to the floor.
- Pick a spot or single focal point ahead of you and to fix your eyes on it throughout the exercise. This will eliminate distractions, increase your awareness of alignment, and help to reduce chances of your posture going downhill as you start to fatigue.
And of course, whether you barre or not, the benefits and power of perfecting your posture are compelling. Your health, your self-confidence, level of happiness, and your mother will thank you!