There’s something very appealing about sitting in a café and watching the world walk by. We’ve all had our moments of people watching, chuckling to ourselves, shaking our heads in dismay or thinking the oh-so-common refrain, “This is Turkey.”
Unlike most “people watchers”, I have little concern for dress, weight, or status, instead relishing the observation of each individual’s biomechanics. In addition to the obvious Quasimodos, I observe each person’s gait and often think to myself, “Hmm… that person walks with more weight on the outside of their foot,” or “that guy is going to have a serious neck issue soon,” or “yep, I bet that guy complains about his lower back ALL the time. If that same man only knew some proper stretching exercises, I’m sure he wouldn’t look so disgruntled.”
Awareness of posture and how we carry ourselves is increasingly common, but most of us still lack the knowledge behind it. As a GYROTONIC® and a Pilates instructor, I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve heard discussing poor posture and exercise without having a clue what they are talking about. Good posture requires the optimal distribution of force through the body against gravity. With good posture, everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs, twisting to reach across the dinner table, or raising your arm to grab an item off the shelf should be relatively easy – effortless, in fact!
The consequences of bad posture and the benefits of good posture are substantial, significantly affecting your quality of life. What seems like an insignificant detail in how you step with one foot affects your entire body. Any deviation in your foot ricochets upwards. For example, lower back pain can result from more weight on the outside of your foot. To compensate, the knee torques and the hip shifts and tightens. The pelvis then shifts so that the back muscles on one side overwork and tighten, compressing the spinal discs, pinching nerves, and causing you pain.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. The distortion and compensation will continue up and over to the opposite side of the body. Why? Because our bodies are amazing, and work as a whole. The body is a great team; one part supports the other even if the other is at fault. So what is the ideal posture? Therapists use the “plumb line”, a straight line down the body that can be measured from a frontal and/or profile position. The ideal profiled plumb line passes through the ear lobe, the tip of the shoulder, the center of the hip, and slightly in front of the knee and ankle. Joints outside of the plumb line are susceptible to fatigue and strain.
For instance, it’s a Saturday afternoon in Nişantaşı, and a woman is engaging in some leisurely window shopping. She’s wearing high heels, clutching her Louis Vuitton bag on her right shoulder, and tilting her head to the right as she talks on her cell phone. All of her weight is on the front of her feet. Her body compensates, and in order to stay upright, she sticks out her bottom and pushes out her chest. This particular woman’s profile shows her shoulder, hip bone, and ankle protruding in front of the ideal plumb line.
The body has static (slow twitch) and phasic (fast twitch) muscle fibers. Static muscles are deeper, burn energy slower, and maintain posture with little effort. Pilates focuses on the deeper, static muscles of the body that you don’t normally work in the gym. That’s why quality Pilates sessions are great for posture and alignment. Poor posture uses phasic muscles, which tire quickly, resulting in muscle fatigue and causes the deep static muscles to atrophy. Rounding and lifting her shoulder to carry her bag and use her phone is tiring the trapezuis (phasic) muscle of our Nişantaşı friend. Unused muscles become weak, tight, and short, pulling bones and resulting in compression and friction. Compression limits circulation, which, over time, leads to deterioration around the joint. Sooner or later, our friend will complain of shoulder and neck pain. And that’s just analyzing one area of her faulty plumb line.
Meanwhile, the ever-prevalent slouching is more detrimental than people believe. Slouching collapses the upper body into the pelvis and closes the ribcage. That’s a lot of pressure on the low back, hips, and organs. An aligned ribcage maximizes the capacity for breathing. Breathing stimulates the organs and all systems of the body (circulatory, digestive, and so forth). Breathing releases toxins from the body and has tremendous psychosomatic benefits. I have witnessed exceptional changes in an individual’s overall wellbeing because of change in their posture and breathing.
So what can we do to improve our posture?
There is no “cookie-cutter” solution to analyzing and correcting faulty posture. Awareness is the key. In the beginning, better posture must be your focus 24/7; it takes time and mindfulness to change old patterns. Eventually, the mind and body develop new habits and a better posture becomes natural. It’s best to seek professional help when starting. Forcing what you think is good posture can create more problems, and lifting weights or exercising with poor posture will worsen the situation. In general, the body requires elongation. Space and freedom between joints relieves the pressure of gravity. Highly effective movement modalities for this are GYROTONIC® and Yamuna Body Rolling®.
In recent years, Istanbul’s fitness, mind-body industry, and therapy sectors have boomed. Though not all practitioners are created equal, there are more and more individuals investing in quality education and upholding high standards. A good practitioner is concerned with your ideal alignment, aiding in your development of body awareness and providing you with simple tools to apply to your daily activities.
In Istanbul, I often observe people in cafes, buses, and on the metro, their postures communicating their characters. Many individuals look as though they’ve given up the fight against gravity. Others stand aggressively tense, overcompensating against slouching with a military stance. Then there are a select few who stand, sit, and move with ease. They just glow, as though unaffected by gravity or a care in the world, much less the challenges of modern life in Istanbul.