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D_Malik comments on Open thread, February 15-28, 2013 - Less Wrong Discussion

5 Post author: David_Gerard 15 February 2013 11:17PM

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Comment author: D_Malik 19 February 2013 08:12:22AM *  1 point [-]

I've been trying to correct my posture lately. Anyone have thoughts or advice on this?

Some things:

  • Advice from reddit; if you spend lots of time hunched over books or computers, this looks useful and here are pictures of stretches.

  • You can buy posture braces for like $15-$50. I couldn't find anything useful about their efficacy in my 5 minutes of searching, other than someone credible-sounding saying that they'd weaken your posture muscles (sounds reasonable) and one should thus do stretches instead.

  • Searching a certain blog, I found this which says that sitting at a 135-degree angle is better than sitting straight, and both are better than slouching. Elsewhere on the internet, some qualified person said that standing is better than all three.

  • At the moment I'm not sure that good-looking posture is healthier, but I'd guess it's worth it anyway because of signalling benefits. My current best guess for how to improve things is to use a standing desk and to give some form of reinforcement when I notice and correct my posture. And to sit as little as possible, and not in chairs. I may incorporate stretching, but only a little and in parallel with another activity because 15 minutes a day for like 3 months is a lot of time.

I could spend more time trying to figure this out, but I suspect others here might have already done that. If so, I'd be super happy if you'd post your conclusions, even if you don't take the time to say how you came to them.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 February 2013 06:14:20PM *  3 points [-]

Do not try to consciously correct your posture. You don't know enough. Some evidence-- I tried it, and just gave myself backaches. I know other people who tried to correct their posture, and the results didn't seem to be a long run improvement.

Edited to add: I didn't mean that you personally don't know enough to correct your posture consciously, I meant that no one does. Bodies' ability to organize themselves well for movement is an ancient ability which involves fast, subtle changes to a complex system. It's not the kind of thing that your conscious mind is good at-- it's an ability that your body (including your brain) shares with small children and a lot of not-particularly-bright animals.

From A Tai Chi Imagery Workbook by Mellish:

Conscious muscular effort to straighten the spine, or alter its shape in some obvious way, generally recruits the long muscles on either side of the spine (the erector spinalis group). These muscles are strong, but because they run almost the whole length of the spine, they exercise only a very coarse control over its carriage.

He goes on to explain that the muscles which are appropriate for supporting and moving the spine are the multifidi, small muscles which only span one to three vertebrae, and aren't very available for direct conscious control.

A lot of back problems are the result of weak (too much support from larger muscles) or ignored (too little movement) multifidi.

He recommends working with various images, but says that the technique is to keep images in mind without actively trying to straighten your spine.

Comment author: D_Malik 20 February 2013 01:47:54AM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the info, this looks really useful!

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 20 February 2013 10:44:30PM 1 point [-]

Mellish also said that serious study of tai chi was very good for his posture, and gave him tools for recovery when his posture deteriorates from too much time at the computer.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 February 2013 01:08:03PM 2 points [-]

My first thought is: what tells you that your current posture is bad, and what will tell you that it has improved?

Comment author: bogdanb 21 February 2013 07:11:29AM 2 points [-]

My posture improved significantly after I started doing climbing (specifically, indoor bouldering). This is of course a single data point, but "it stands to reason" that it should work at least for those people who come to like it.

Physical activity in general should improve posture (see Nancy's post), but as far as I can tell bouldering should be very effective at doing this:

First, because it requires you to perform a lot of varied movements in unusual equilibrium positions (basically, hanging and stretching at all sorts of angles), which few sports do (perhaps some kinds of yoga would also do that). At the beginning it's mostly the fingers and fore-arms that will get tired, but after a few sessions (depending on your starting physical condition) you'll start feeling tired in muscles you didn't know you had.

Second (and, in my case, the most important) it's really fun. I tried all sorts of activities, from just "going to the gym" to swiming and jogging (all of which would help if done regularly), but I just couldn't keep motivated. With all of those I just get bored and my mind keeps focusing on how tired I am. Since I basically get only negative reinforcement, I stop going to those activities. Some team sports I could do, because the friendly competition and banter help me having fun, but it's pretty much impossible to get a group doing them regularly. In contrast, climbing awakes the child in me, and you can do indoors bouldering by yourself (assuming you have access to a suitable gym). I always badger friends into coming with me, since it's even more fun doing it with others (you have something to focus on while you're resting between problems), but I still have fun going by myself. (There are always much more advanced climbers around, and I find it awesome rather than discouraging to watch their moves, perhaps because it's not a competition.)

In my case, after a few weeks I simply noticed that I was standing straighter without any conscious effort to do so.


Actualy, I think the main idea is not to pick a sport that's specifically better than others for posture. Just try them all until you find one you like enough to do regularly.

Comment author: JayDee 20 February 2013 11:19:38AM 2 points [-]

My own posture improved once I took up singing. My theory is that I was focused on improving my vocal technique and that changes to my posture directly impacted on this. If I stood or held myself a certain way I could sing better, and the feedback I was getting on my singing ability propagated back and resulted in improved posture. Plus, singing was a lot of fun and with this connection pointed out to me - "your entire body is the instrument when singing, look after it" - my motivation to improve my posture was higher than ever.

That is more how I got there than conclusions. Hmm. You might consider trying to find something you value for which improved posture would be a necessary component. Or something you want to do that will provide feedback about changes in your posture.

If you are like me, "I don't want to have bad posture anymore" may turn out to be insufficient motivation to get you there by itself.

Comment author: gokfar 19 February 2013 04:27:04PM *  2 points [-]

If you are looking for a simpler routine (to ease habit-formation), reddit also spawned the starting stretching guide.

I haven't done serious research and think it is not worth the time. As this HN comment points out, the science of fitness is poor. The solution is probably a combination of exercise, stretching and an ergonomic workstation, which are healthy anyway.

Comment author: D_Malik 20 February 2013 01:49:23AM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the links! I'll probably at least try regular stretching, so that guide looks useful.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 20 February 2013 04:50:43AM 1 point [-]

Have you taken a look at Better Movement? I think I heard Val talk about it in positive tones.

Comment author: moridinamael 19 February 2013 04:01:28PM 1 point [-]

For a period of time I was using the iPhone app Lift for habit-formation, and one of my habits was 'Good posture.' Having this statement in a place where I looked multiple times a day maintained my awareness of this goal and I ended up sitting and walking around with much better posture.

However, I stopped using Lift and my posture seems to have reverted.

Comment author: shaih 19 February 2013 08:24:49AM 1 point [-]

I found that going to the gym for about half an hour a day improved my posture. Whether this is from increased muscles that help with posture or simply with increased self-esteem I do not know but it definitely helped.