Did you ever think about your body posture as a determining factor for your mental state?
To start off and hopefully pique your interest, I would like you to do this short mental exercise:
Picture in your mind an anxious or sad person. What kind of posture does that person have? Is it an upright posture with relaxed shoulders and open chest, or is it a hunched-over sort of closed posture?
What do you think that means? Read below and I am confident that you will find out how good posture benefits overall happiness.
What Is Happiness?
I believe that everyone has their own version of what happiness is, and while details might vary there will be many things in common as well.
With that being said, I think we can all agree that happiness will at least include:
- having positive thoughts about yourself,
- not being overly anxious
- being confident in yourself and your ability
- doing something well (mentally and physically)
Body And Mind: The Two-Way Street
At first glance, most people will think about a negative body posture as a reaction to negative emotions.
But it is just as true to say that you have negative emotions because of a negative posture. Your thoughts and emotions affect your body, and your body affects your emotions and thoughts.
It is a circular thing, and trying to separate or distinguish one part doesn’t make much sense. Even if it were, it is not like your negative mood is more true or real because it didn’t “originate in your mind”.
If you are skeptical you can try out one of the oldest examples in the book. Smile and laugh for a full 30 seconds and see for yourself if that didn’t change your mood and positivity of your thoughts.
One study done in 2014 investigated depressed individuals and how their sitting posture affected their tendency to recall negative things about themselves. The people who slouched recalled more negative words about themselves than positive, while there was no bias among people who had an upright-sitting
Posture And Breathing
It shouldn’t be a surprise that your breathing pattern affects your body. In general, a relaxed breathing pattern will be long and deep and stressed breathing will be short and shallow.
The latter is also a common effect of the fight-or-flight response.
Your lungs need plenty of space to expand and contract in order to take long and deep breaths. When you are hunching over you are literally compressing the space within which can interfere and compromise your breathing.
Just imagine trying to inflate a balloon when someone is sitting on it – not very easy right?
After all, there is a reason why both good posture and relaxed breathing is so important in things like meditation and yoga, it is really essential for a calm mind.
A thing to take note of is that many of your internal organs can potentially be negatively affected by your posture. Another big problem hunching-over / slouching can lead to is indigestion or worse. Food needs to be able to flow freely through your gut.
Indigestion, constipation, hernia, and acid reflux are more commonly seen among people with bad posture.
Posture And Confidence
We are all constantly both consciously and subconsciously assessing or reassessing ourselves based on how other people respond to us. Many times it is with subtle cues, body language or other kinds of non-verbal communication.
Basically, we are looking for feedback to identify who we are relative to our environment.
How we present ourselves and carry our bodies can have a powerful effect on how other people perceive you, and it is far from only being about physical attractiveness.
Do you, for example, try to “hide” / make yourself smaller, or do you stand out with an open posture not afraid of putting your guard down?
If people respond well to you and pay attention to what you say when you speak, it is going to make you feel more confident in that situation.
There is also some interesting research suggesting that adopting certain postures would have an almost immediate effect on hormone levels normally associated with feeling more confident. Those conclusions were later heavily criticized and it is now a very controversial topic. Perhaps future research will be able to establish a link.
My Personal Experience
The first 2-3 years of studying at University I was often scared of asking questions in class. Even though it is many years ago now I still remember it clearly.
The problem was really that it took me a long time to get comfortable in new social situations. I am introverted and you could say that it takes me some time to “warm up” to people, especially when I was a teenager and in my early twenties.
The faculty admiration had some disagreeable procedures, one of which were to place students randomly with every new course. I had a lot of different courses and there were a lot of students.
Basically every new semester I was placed in new classes mostly with students I had never seen before. This meant I rarely became comfortable and almost never spoke up in class.
One day I just got really tired of feeling like that, and I wanted to do something about it. I realized that I had to face the problem and push myself to speak in class, but I also wanted something that could make that easier.
You know, instead of confronting my fears head on I wanted some kind of easy trick…
That is when I first came across some information on the internet about posture and its potential influence.
Following the advice and suggestions of what I read, I tried to keep my spine upright with an open chest while sitting in class.
It was not a “magic pill” but it did make it easier for me. I should say that I was very skeptical at first and it took me a long while to acknowledged that it couldn’t just be a placebo effect.
Being conscious about my posture and its influence also started me along the journey of learning to overcome my uncomfortableness in new social situations.
My math teacher for the first few grades of primary school was a very experienced teacher. I believe he had something like 40 years of experience as a math teacher and he was a great example of what “being old school” means.
There were many things he didn’t tolerate in class, and he always told us to sit up straight when we were studying. He said it was better for our focus.
It makes good sense because sitting up straight and having proper body alignment promotes good blood circulation. With good blood circulation, oxygen and glucose flow freely to the brain.
What might surprise you is that your brain has the highest energy demand of all organs in your body, estimates range from about 20-25 %, and it needs a constant flow as it has no means of storing energy like other organs and muscles.
Some interesting studies have also been able to show that students performing tests scored higher when they were sitting up straight with relaxed shoulders compared to when slouching.
Surprisingly, there seemed to be an even bigger difference when the test subject as on the students feared.
You can read more about these findings here.
Furthermore, since good posture can positively influence your mood, confidence and perhaps make you more relaxed and less anxious, it would not be far-fetched to say that this could indirectly lead to better mental performance.
Another interesting point about mental performance is that there seems to be a strong argument for a link between happiness and the mental state known as flow.
Simply put, the more flow the happier you become. If you think it sounds weird or interesting, you can read more about it here.
Flow is essentially this unique mental state of altered consciousness where we become “laser-focused” and completely immersed in the thing we are doing. Creativity and productivity go through the roof and our sense of time and space can disappear.
My point with this is that good posture could potentially make getting into flow state easier, but also that focusing and getting immersed in doing something that you are good at and then perform well makes you happy.
Hopefully, I triggered a desire for being more aware of your own posture and perhaps work on improving it.
You don’t have to worry about getting a “perfect posture” at all. Firstly, I am not sure such a thing exist. Secondly, you don’t need one to enjoy a happier life.
It is not going to work like a magic pill and it won’t be an overnight change, but as your posture becomes better you will gradually but surely see improvements.
There are many different things you can do to improve your posture, but I can’t recommend any single thing. Regrettably, there is not one thing that can solve the whole problem.
What I can recommend instead is that you focus on these three things:
Most people will want to improve the ergonomics of the places they spend most of their time, e.g. their desk at the office. As a guideline, you should be able to sit with upright spine when typing while maintaining approximately 90 degrees angles at your knees, hips and elbows and your screen should be about eye-height.
- Posture Awareness:
You need to become familiar with what good posture feels and looks like. Three common issues are shoulders rounding forward and inward, forward tilting head and a protruding belly due to tight hips. Some people found it very helpful to buy a product that both works to help correct posture and improve awareness.
- Stretch short and tight muscles and strengthen long and weak muscles:
Poor posture is usually caused by muscular imbalances. E.g. rounded shoulders are often caused by tight chest muscles and weak muscles around the shoulder blades.
For the high-achievers, I would recommend getting a stronger core and to work your tight and sore muscles. Practicing yoga is a really good option for this and if you don’t know where to start you can check out the popular Youtube channel Yoga With Adriene
For an easier way to work those sore muscles, you might want to look into some of the popular handheld massagers. While they can work really well and be cheaper than going to a masseuse, they are still relatively expensive. If you are still interested, here is a list of the cheaper alternatives.
YogaDownload.com – Stream at home, and Download when you’re on the go! by
Marcus is the owner of the site Strengthery where he likes to write about weight training, weight loss, and health-related topics. After a shoulder injury and in general having a hard time with his posture, he became obsessed with learning everything about it. He now likes to share what he learned.