The importance of Posture in and out of the saddle
Ok so we've all heard our parents, relatives, even teachers tell us since we were children to not slouch. Then we start riding lessons and we hear it all over again. Somehow in the saddle we take it more to heart and really do work on our posture. We try so hard to sit straight, bring our elbows in, and lower which ever shoulder is offensively up. As we know the list can go on, my favorite for a while was that my head tilted to the right. No matter how much I was determined for it to stay on straight, it would tilt. Drove me batty but once I was off my horse I never thought of it for long. So why aren't we paying more attention to it out of the saddle?
The truth is that slouching is a habit caused by many factors, and we become comfortable with our habits. We defend them because leaving our comfort zone is uncomfortable. Well I am going to reveal a secret that I share with all my students. Everyone who annoyingly corrected your posture was right. Quite simply it's the easiest way for you to work continuously on building a strong core and connection to your body. So learn your body's definition of straight and work toward that as much as you can throughout your day.
Here's another point on posture, it has an effect on how we are perceived by the people we meet. It's subtle and most of us don't realize we are making these assumptions but they happen. Think about, it the first time you meet someone you usually see them before you speak with them. In those few minutes your posture tells a story about you without you being aware of it. Whether it's a potential boss or a potential trainer they are making inferences about you based on your posture. I am not saying that is good or bad it really just is what it is, as they say. I will tell you that how you carry yourself in your daily life effects how you carry yourself in the saddle. This will always reflect on some level how your horse is relating to you as well. Are they able to influence your posture and maybe avoid really working through? Or are you so stable and connected in your posture and seat that you are truly able to influence theirs?
Now we all slouch from time to time but here's the thing, you need to first determine if your slouch is because of lazy posture or because of actual pain or weakness/spinal issue in your body. It's best done with a person well trained in posture analysis, but given that we don't always have access to these professionals, a good friend with a good eye to give you feedback, or in front of a mirror are options that will help you monitor your posture. I personally like to take video or a picture and then review it to see where I am at. Now this is my opinion (but a lot of other people will agree with me on this) Pilates instructors are obsessed with posture. We are trained to read your spine and your muscular imbalances, always with the eye to achieve the most balanced posture for our clients. With this in mind we work every session to help the posture imbalance we are dealing with that day along with the ones that are consistent. There are many exercises in our method that are designed to help with posture, in fact all of them are, but which ones are right for you?
I feel that the seated spine exercises are wonderful for an every day posture picker upper.
Seated Spine stretch forward: I like to teach this to people using a wall. I have my clients line their mats up against the wall and then sit, straight backed against the wall, feet no wider than the edges/corners of your mat, feet strongly flexed, and arms actively reaching straight out infant of you from your shoulders, palms facing each other. (If you can't sit with legs straight you can sit up on a block, I feel blankets are to soft for this exercise, you need to feel your sits bones. If you don't have block you can bend you knees slightly keeping your heels on the ground to help with grounding.) From here connect your spine to the wall, take a few breaths to do this. Every time you inhale imagine your spine growing up the wall. When you exhale try to keep you length and really ground into you sits bones. From here on and inhale you start: grow tall ground through your sits bones and hamstrings, reach your heels to the opposite wall, toes pulling back towards you. On your exhale, tuck chin to chest, chest to ribs, just your upper back should be off the wall and your lower back will be against the wall, as if your belly button is trying to make a mark on the wall. Take and inhale in this forward position. Then exhale and reverse slowly stacking your spine back onto the wall, with your head coming up last.
Seated Spine Twist: Sitting away form the wall, in the center of your mat, legs together toes pointed or flexed (I have found that for some people they are better able to ground flexed, traditionally you are in pilates stance/ballet first position for this exercise) Sitting with your straight back raise your arms out to the side. Arms are long fingers are closed not open, and shoulder blades are down and flat on your back. It is very important that you only turn your torso not your hips. (if you hips turn your heels will slide past each other this is not correct and you need to reset and then do less of a turn with your torso. It's quality of your form not your range of motion remember that.) From here it's a three count inhale turn for one, turn more two, turn all the way for three. Then exhale and untwist returning to your starting position. Repeat to the other side. In this exercise it's helpful to visualize yourself growing taller as you wring out your spine. As you untwist you should aim to keep the length. I do three turns to each side.
Saw: So this exercise combines the Spine Stretch Forward and Spine Twist. Return to the seated Spine stretch position with the only change that your arms remain in the Twist position. Make sure you feel both sits bones and that you are as long as you can be through your spine, and hamstrings. From here growing tall on your inhale twist to your left, on your exhale fold chin to chest, chest to ribs, ribs to thighs. Your pinkie finger is going to be sawing you pinkie toe. Exhale reverse the forward bend and then untwist. Repeat to the other side. I do three per side but feel free to do more. Again points to remember here: weight must stay the same in both sits bones throughout the exercise, especially in the forward fold over the leg. This means you might not fold over that much and your pinkies may never meet. That's not a big deal what is a big deal is that you stay equally grounded through both sits bones and that you go into and out of the exercise the same way.
PS these seated exercises aren't only wonderful for your posture, the are great for you lungs and lymphatic system. Not to mention that your core is working very hard to hold your posture and your hamstrings are getting work and a stretch.
Please enjoy and if you have any questions please reach out I am always available:)