I’m an occupational therapist who specializes in pain management and ergonomics. Both of these specialities require a thorough understanding of the human body and how it interacts with the world during your daily activities. I have learned many details about alignment over almost three decades of practice through both hands-on working with clients and by studying many different reference books, video and research articles. By far, my favorite author regarding body mechanices is Katy Bowman M.S. Her books, 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, are all easily readable and based on science from a variety of disciplines (math, physics, physiology, exercise science and more). 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 pointing straight forward and aligned directly under the hips. Keep the weight on the heels. Many people tend to stand with their feet wider than their hips and angle the feet away from their midline. This creates a greater sense of stability when the hip and back muscles are weak. When bringing the feet into proper alignment, this can create a sense of the knees 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
If you are sitting, aim for 90 degrees at the hips, knees, and ankles for your home base position. When you are standing, aim for stacking your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles. The weight of your body should be on 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. Untuck your tailbone. Honoring your low back curve is a huge 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. A few tips to help you determine the best alignment for you.
On the front of you body you can feel three distinct points. First feel the front of your hip bones. Then slide your down your abdomen right underneath your belly button 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 agaist the wall, they should all touch at the same time. Another, perhaps easier point to observe is the angle of the tailbone. If you held a flashlight agaist 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.
When standing, stack the 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 alginment 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 so you can 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 with a little focused attention you can change faster than you may believe!