Lauren Clark | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 10 June 2015

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Science Says We're Standing Wrong

The Debrief: Westerners tend to have an 'S' shaped spine – which is why we're more likely to get back pain than those in remote parts of the world

Remember when you'd get told off as a kid for slouching at the dinner table? Turns out, your slump wasn't doing you any harm. Sitting up straight has just been revealed as plain awful posture – told you so, mum.

The S-shape backs found on virtually all Westerners are not natural or healthy, and should look like the letter 'J'. Esther Gorkhale, a California-based acupuncturist, known by Silcon Valley as the 'posture guru', explains to NPR, 'the J-shaped spine is what you see on Greek statues. It's what you see in young children. It's good design.'

Ultimate spinal design apparently consists of a flat back – with your bottom stuck out – creating the 'J' form. Sitting up straight is actually the worst advice you can be given. 'That's just arching your back and getting you into all sorts of trouble,' reveals Gorkhale, who has in the past been drafted in to sort out the backbones of Google, YouTube and Facebook.

Unsurprisingly, our lazy cocktail-guzzling existence, and partiality to Five Guys, is to blame for the weird way in which our spines develop. 'If you have a lot of fat built up in the belly, that could pull your weight foward,' says Dr Praveen Mummaneni, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, also to NPR. 'The sedentary lifestyle promotes a lack of muscle tone and a lack of postural stability because the muscles get weak.' 

This is why our counterparts in remote patches of the globe – with their J-shaped spines – don't suffer from back pain. 'They have this very regal posture,' recalls Gorkhale of research trips to isolated parts of Ecuador, Portugal and West Africa, where even older members of the community were still very active and hadn't experienced back pain. 

Despite probably standing wrong almost your entire life, it's not too late to learn. Rebuilding your core is the key, because strong abs can support the 'J'. Looks like it's time to reacquaint yourself with that pre-work Pilates class.

Note: this is no excuse to slump over your desk when hungover.

Gorkhale has got five tips for turning your S into a J:

1. The Shoulder Roll 

Pull your shoulders up, push them back and then let them drop — like a shoulder roll. Now your arms should dangle by your side, with your thumbs pointing out. 

2. Lengthen Your Spine

Being careful not to arch your back, take a deep breath in and grow tall. Then maintain that height as you exhale. Repeat: Breathe in, grow even taller and maintain that new height as you exhale. 

3. Squeeze Your Glutes

Tighten your buttock muscles when you take a step.

4. Don't Put Your Chin Up

Add length to your neck by taking a lightweight object, like a bean bag or folded washcloth, and balance it on the top of your crown. Try to push your head against the object.

5. Don't Sit Up Straight...

Instead do a shoulder role to open up the chest and take a deep breath to stretch and lengthen the spine.

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Follow Lauren on Twitter: @laurenelclark

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