My mom always told me to sit up and stand up straight. At school, girls walked with a book on their head to practice good posture. Now, after many years of working as a physical therapist, I realize my mother’s wisdom in emphasizing good posture.

Many of my patients hate to hear these words because they bring up a very negative emotional response. Unfortunately, their mothers nagged them with the same words I am now using when I have them stand with their backs against the wall, trying to keep their buttocks, upper back and head lined up.

Most of them cannot keep their heads against the wall, and even if I use a rolled-up towel they can’t push the roll into the wall. Their chins point upward as their necks extend towards the wall with a hunchback look.

Not only does this make you look old, but it reduces your balance, decreases how much air gets into your lungs, causes neck and back pain, shoulder limitations, and possibly even jaw disorders.

There is a growing problem in the younger community with reliance on cell phones, tablets, and laptops, and even with students’ writing postures. There should be more emphasis on sitting up straight, angling writing surfaces similar to drafting tables, and using larger arm muscles to write in order to prevent fatigue. Using whole body mechanics is more efficient and aesthetically pleasing and results in more beautiful handwriting.

I also advocate keeping both feet on the floor for good pelvic alignment, which also prevents high blood pressure, according to my Chinese medicine teacher.

When you sit or stand up straight, try to align your ears with the shoulders. The shoulders should line up with the hips, which, if you are standing, should line up with the ankles from a side profile. Start looking at people and see how much their heads go forward. Even a small distance forward can put a big increase in pressure in your lower back disks. Gravity will pull a forward head down, causing more effort by the neck muscles to keep the head from falling forward.

This can explain constant soreness and hardness in many people’s neck and shoulders. When the head is aligned and balanced on the neck, almost no muscle power is needed to keep the head perched on the spine.

It takes about 21 days of constant awareness to change a habit, but if you stick with it, you will be rewarded with better health, younger appearance and better organ function. If you are still responsible for the welfare of children, encourage them to stand up and sit up straight, but please, do it in a way that makes them want to do it for a lifetime.

If you are already grown up and have a forward head, don’t despair, many of my patients are doing better! It takes a little work and encouragement but, under the guidance of a good coach, it is well worth the effort.

Sheila Yonemoto, P.T., has been a physical therapist for more than 30 years, specializing in integrative manual therapy, utilizing a holistic approach. She can be reached at Yonemoto Physical Therapy, 55 S. Raymond Ave., Suite 100, Alhambra, CA 91801. She also offers a qigong “Chinese energy” exercise class. Your first class is free. Call (626) 576-0591 for more information or visit www.yonemoto.com.

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