I kept seeing young healthy girls (and guys) walking around with a particular sway in their back: head forward and shoulders rounded. Not just overweight or out of shape girls. Even healthy and athletic girls stood that way.
A few days later, I was walking past the boutiques on Madison Ave. and saw the same posture on all the mannequins. And on models. I started noticing it whenever I saw pictures of celebrities. It’s even in my email spam – “we can arrange for you to interview these important celebrities about how they get ready for swimsuit season/weddings/walking their dog….” They all look so deeply disinterested and ironic, and maybe like they’re spending way too much time texting.
Slouching is in fashion apparently.
I’m not in favor of rigidly standing up straight. Stiff is not natural or healthy, either. But this particular posture is really problematic. It won’t have dramatic effects in the short term, but long term – as in years from now – there is potential for a lot of needless suffering. All that fashionable and studied irony won’t seem so ironic when their backs hurt.
Our spines do have some natural curves. But when we exaggerate those curves, or add extra curves, we create unnecessary pressure on the spine. The same is true of our shoulders. The short-term effects may be nothing more than a little extra tension. However, over the course of years, that extra stress can cause pain and weakness. We can end up with pinched nerves which cause pain shooting down arms and in the neck, headaches, numbness. Over time, that can result in serious and permanent muscle weakness. And that results in loss of mobility and our ability to do things we want.
Sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few weeks because it relates to two areas of my life that are really important to me – music and cancer. And because I am obsessively independent and hate the idea of not being able to do anything for myself.
Because we hold heavy instruments that often cause us to hunch forward, musicians are well aware of the problems of that posture. We suffer the consequences – pain, tension, sometimes severe enough to interfere with our jobs. The same is true for breast cancer survivors.
That’s why I’m fairly obsessive with my clients about working their shoulders and upper back. I’ve also worked with a number of musicians on the same thing. It’s important to have adequate strength to counteract the tendency to round forward (whether caused by surgery, radiation, or a heavy instrument).
A really simple exercise to work the upper back and draw your shoulders back is the wing pinch.
With your arms at your sides, bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Hold your hands, palms up, slightly wider than your body, keeping elbows at your side (like you’re holding a tray of brownies). Draw your elbows back and slightly in toward each other, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for a few seconds, and release.
This is a super-simple exercise that you can do anywhere. Although easy, it’s also very effective at countering all that rounded collapsing of the chest and shoulders.
I’m not advocating a return to those tortured attempts at walking perfectly straight with an encyclopedia on our heads – besides, no one even reads books anymore, let alone have encyclopedias. But standing just a little straighter would be a good thing, especially if we plan on being around a while.