I’m an occupational therapist who specializes in pain management and ergonomics. These specialties require a thorough understanding of the human body and how it interacts with the world during daily activities. I have learned many details about alignment over three decades of practice through hands-on work with clients and studying different reference books, videos, and research articles. By far, my favorite author regarding body mechanics is Katy Bowman M.S. Her books are all easily readable and based on science from a variety of disciplines (math, physics, physiology, exercise science, and more). Some of my favorite titles include Move Your DNA, Movement Matters, Dynamic Aging, Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief, Diastasis Recti, Don’t Just Sit There, Whole Body Barefoot, and Alignment Matters. She is a huge advocate for natural movement and lots of it. Her approach is practical and based on common sense (and research). If you want to learn more from Katy, start with Move your DNA.
Let’s start from the ground up and review good alignment. Remember, we are not robots and should not always be in one standing or sitting posture. We should be equally as comfortable in good alignment as we are in any other position. We should easily fall into good alignment during our daily activities. If we fall out of good alignment due to laziness or fatigue, that is OK, but we should return there as often as possible.
When standing, aim for the feet to be pointing straight forward and aligned directly under the hips. Keep your weight in the heels. Many people tend to stand with their feet wider than their hips and angle their feet away from their midline. This stance creates a greater sense of stability when the hip and back muscles are weak. Bringing the feet into proper alignment can make it feel like the knees are angling inward. It can take some time to realign the muscles back into the proper position and create a feeling of normalcy.
Lower Body Alignment
While sitting, aim for 90 degrees at the hips, knees, and ankles for your home base position. When you are standing, try to stack your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles. The weight of your body should be in your heels. Many people tend to tuck their tailbone and shift their hips forward, putting the weight in the front of the feet. Over time this creates wear and tear on tissues not designed to support this line of force in the feet, knees, and hips. The fascial system restructures itself to support this posture leading to tightness in the muscles and joints. At the same time, other muscles in the back are over lengthened and become weak, and others are shortened and become tight.
Low Back Alignment
There are a few key alignment necessities, whether you are sitting or standing. The number one alignment necessity is to maintain your low back curve. Try to untuck your tailbone by sticking it out behind you. Honoring your low back curve is a significant step to aligning your body in a manner that will protect you from future back and hip pain. It also encourages the rest of the body to line up properly. If you are used to a tucked tailbone, untucking can feel very strange. Here are a few tips to help you determine the best alignment for you:
On the front of your body, you can feel three distinct points. First, touch the front of your hip bones. Then find your belly button and slide your fingers down your abdomen until you reach the pubic bone. These three bony points should line up. By this, I mean, if you were able to press the front of your body flat against the wall, they should all touch simultaneously. Another, perhaps easier point to observe is the angle of the tailbone. If you held a flashlight against your tailbone with the light shining toward the floor, the light should hit the floor a foot or two behind you (about 30 degrees) and NOT straight down. The closer the light would hit under your body, the more tucked your tailbone.
While standing, stack your shoulders and ears above the hips. If the chest and shoulders are tight, there can be a tendency to tip the rib cage up when bringing the shoulders and ears back. Bring the ribs down over the hips and then bring the shoulders and ears back. If you look at your collar bones, they should be parallel with the ground.
The arms should hang straight down and in line with the body. The thumbs should be forward, and the middle finger would touch the seam of your pants.
Head and Eyes
Your head should be far enough back on your shoulders that your ear opening aligns with your shoulder joint. Your chin should also drop down toward your chest. A good alignment point to check is if your eyes are level with the base of your skull. You may ask a friend to take a picture of you from the side to check this detail.
There are additional details that are difficult to correct on your own such as hip rotations. It is best to ask a therapist for help but, the above points are a great place to start. Don’t expect change quickly, as it likely took many years to develop your current posture. The good news is that you can change faster than you may believe with a little focused attention!
The document below is an assessment you can use to evaluate your own body alignment. The details matter. If you need help, contact me!