Good Posture: The Secret to a Graceful Physique
How to have perfect posture, according to Pilates Guru Erika Bloom.
As a pilates instructor, Erika Bloom really understands the mechanics of muscle alignment and balance—the California native studied dance theory and mathematics along with taking a pre-medicine course that delved into human anatomy. After graduating college, Bloom pursued a professional dance career, touring with ballet and modern dance companies on the international circuit before embarking on pilates. In 2003, she opened up her first studio in New York City. Today, the sought-after guru has six studios to her name, including her most recent Brentwood, L.A. outpost, outfitted with calming pale tones and breezy views of the Pacific.
Photo Credit: A Wild Dove
Pilates, with its focus on lengthening and core strengthening, has become a mainstay of modern wellness routines—a fact that’s no surprise to Bloom, who has noticed a steady influx of clients with tech-related misalignment issues. “I see clients come in with a forward head, cervical kyphosis, and many other issues from constantly looking down at their phones,” she says. “Our heads are heavy and this shift forward affects the alignment of the entire body.”
It’s unlikely anyone is giving up their smartphones soon, though. Instead, the solution, says Bloom, is training your body to hold itself in proper form—and stay there—while firing off work emails and navigating through daily life. In fact, she says, attending to your alignment “should be part of our regular self-care, just like healthy eating and manicures are.” Here, Bloom teaches us how to stand tall in 2018.
Why is it so important to have good posture and body alignment?
Superficially, we all look younger, thinner, more fluid and graceful, and more beautiful with good posture. Most remarkably, though, posture affects digestion, immunity and metabolism.
The benefits are numerous and wonderful. Superficially, we all look younger, thinner, more fluid and graceful, and more beautiful with good posture. Most remarkably, though, posture affects digestion, immunity and metabolism. The neutral alignment of the spine allows the diaphragm—the main muscle of respiration—to expand down in engagement, as the breath fully fills the lungs. This correct movement of the diaphragm assists the organs in digestion, cleanses the adrenals of cortisol and massages the liver. So essentially, proper alignment can give us good skin, keep us from getting sick, prevent bloat, help us sleep better and more!
Photo Credit: Bex Gunther
How can you tell if you need an adjustment—are there “warning signs?”
We all need attend to our posture consistently because modern life, with computers, driving and sitting, creates imbalances in our bodies. It should be part of all of our regular self-care just like healthy eating and manicures are. I so often hear people say, “oh that shoulder just pops and clicks,” “my knees are just bad,” or complain about back or neck pain when really all of those things are symptoms of bad posture and improper alignment and can be remedied. Aches and pains are not a normal part of living. Become less agile and mobile as we age is not something we have to accept.
What types of workouts naturally build good posture?
The beauty of pilates is that it focuses on the small intrinsic muscles of the joints and the spine that support posture and proper alignment.
Mindful movement that can be done with ease and attention to breathe is the best for creating beautiful posture and preventing misalignment. The beauty of pilates is that it focuses on the small intrinsic muscles of the joints and the spine that support posture and proper alignment. It also uses eccentric muscle engagement against spring resistance. What this means is that it lengthens muscles while also creating strength; it teaches muscles to work at every point in their range of motion. The machines also demand even-engagement. It’s genius.
Outside of the studio, how can we make sitting at a desk better for our bodies?
First, start with raising your computer screen up closer to eye level so you are not encouraged to slump or look down at your screen. Next, choose a chair that allows your feet to be flat on the floor with your knees lower than your hips. This will encourage you to find your neutral spine: your lower back will be slightly arched, your mid to upper back slightly rounded and your neck slightly arched. Feel the top of your head float up as your sitting bones reach down.
What about shoes and bags—do our fashion choices impact posture?
We need proper movement in our feet to have correct alignment. [With shoes] think about one that allows the toes to properly flex as you walk—a too-tight, pointed high-heel or a flat that requires your toes to grip [down] to hold onto it, won’t do this. We can still choose beautiful, fashionable shoes if we keep this in mind. I love Anine Bing’s Lily Sneakers. In regards to our bag, the weight of the bag is the biggest consideration. Choose one that is not too heavy to start, and then use organization and minimalism to keep it from being so full that it becomes a strain on your shoulder! Personally, I carry the Chloé Drew bag.
Can we counteract tech-neck or straining forward to look at screens and tablets?
When you do need to be on your phone, try to be aware of your posture while using your phone.
Absolutely! I recommend doing a flight extension exercise (see below). We should also all try to minimize the time we spend looking down at our phones. Enjoy the skyline as you walk! Converse with your friends and family while at lunch. Take a moment to just enjoy your surroundings. When you do need to be on your phone, try to be aware of your posture while using your phone by lessening the amount of slump you adopt [when looking down] at your device.
Is posture something you inherit—or can your habits change it?
Both. Our structures are formed from genetics but also habits. We have a lot more possibility to create change than we realize. New research shows that the fascial pulls from posture and movement can changes muscles shape and even bone shape and density. Therefore the exercise we do and the posture we adapt can deeply affect how we look, function and feel.
Photo Credit: Patricia Pena
To maintain a graceful physique Bloom recommends the following at-home exercises:
Lie face down with your arms along your sides. Reach your arms back as you float up into a small upper back arch while maintaining a long, supported lower back. You should feel like the top of your head is reaching forward as your fingers and toes reach back. Lower back down to the starting position. Do 8 reps.
Begin on your back with your knees bent, feet flat and heels in line with your sitz bones. Press into your feet to lift your hips up into a bridge position, maintaining a neutral spine. Roll down from the bridge back to your mat, articulating through your spine one vertebra at a time. Do 15 reps.
ALL FOURS OPPOSITION REACH:
Begin on your hands and knees in an all-fours position, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Extend your right arm forward and your left leg back, focusing on keeping your pelvis and torso even and still. Inhale and reach your fingertips away from your toes until your spine lengthens. Exhale and engage your deep abdominals as you return your arm and leg to the start position. Repeat with your left arm and leg, and continue alternating sides for 12 reps on each side.
Feature photography by Patricia Pena
Kari Molvar is a beauty writer and backstage reporter who has covered everything from high-performance skincare to hands-on makeup applications. She started her career in beauty as a senior editor at Allure and has since written for Vogue, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country and the Wall Street Journal among other print and digital publications. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two (DIY-obsessed) young daughters. Follow her @Kari_Molvar