This article was commissioned by an international web site on height increase. For more information about posture training, stretching and natural means of increasing your height, please connect to: Growing Taller by Catherine Carrigan A.C.E. Trainer www.totalfitness.net
Stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office, at age 37, was usually more of a nuisance than anything. When the nurse asked to measure me, I almost laughed.
“I have been 5’ 2 1/2” my whole life,” I said.
“No,” she said, after reviewing the long, metal ruler. “You are 5’4”.” Coming home, I was sure she had made a mistake. I asked my husband to measure me. I stood against the white wall of our bedroom, and he marked the spot with a pencil. I could see for myself: it was true! And yet it was so incredible, to have grown 1 ½ in my late 30’s, that if anyone else had told me the story, I would have deemed the report unbelievable.
“Talk about spiritual growth,” I said to myself. “This proves it!”
My own personal experience with the results of posture training, improved nutrition, yoga, and simultaneous personal recovery from lifelong manic depression have left me with a deep impression that my clients can accomplish great things. My book, Healing Depression: A Holistic Guide (New York: Marlowe and Co., 1999), is the official handbook for the Depression Wellness Network, www.depressionwellness.net, which is based in Seattle, Wash. When medical doctors told me that the side effects of the lithium and antidepressants I had taken for 18 years were beginning to destroy my physical health, I realized that there was no book that said, No. 1, that it was possible to survive with mental illness without medication, much less, No. 2, overcome it. Terrified, I began to research. I spent three years at the Emory Medical Library in Atlanta, and simultaneously investigated and embraced a wide range of holistic practices.
Although many have asked me how they too can overcome depression, few have asked how to grow taller. I must confess that when I began posture training, I didn’t have that goal in mind – the results of what I set out to do have been far greater than anything I could have imagined.
The mission of my business, Total Fitness, is to empower myself and my clients to achieve total fitness of mind, body and spirit through individualized exercise and nutrition programs, ongoing education and positive partnership.
Because I believe in practicing what I preach, when I heard about posture training from one of my heroes in the fitness business, Kim Goss, a fitness author who trains Olympic ice athletes, I decided I’d better try it for myself. I never recommend a product or train my clients on any equipment or with any specific techniques that I haven’t mastered myself.
Athletes need to be structurally balanced in order to be most efficient. Most people have multiple muscle imbalances – for example, tightness in the chest and weakness in the upper back – that not only affect the way they look but also their speed, balance and ease of movement when they engage in sports.
Kim took one look at me and saw his mark. “Hi, shorty,” he joked, patting me on the top of the head.
Only because Kim teased me did I embrace his routine with a vengeance. I like variety in my own workouts, and the exercises he showed me, though difficult, provided a new challenge.
Meanwhile, I had begun the practice of yoga.
In this time-honored tradition of exercise, it is believed – and now proven by medical researchers like Dr. Candace Pert – that we hold the tension of our emotional memories deep in our muscle tissue. In fact, Dr. Pert says that if you want to know what’s happening in your subconscious, just look down at your body!
Over the years, now having earned three certifications in teaching yoga, I have learned through my own practice that when I deal and resolve the emotions that come up in my day to day living, my body stays relatively limber. When I come to my mat each morning and find myself stiff or restricted, instinctively I know that there’s something I haven’t yet begun to resolve – so I work it out on the mat.
Today, Total Fitness offers posture training as a regular part of each client’s exercise program. I believe in making people strong from the inside out. Great trainers will not take a weak, tight person and simply throw them into weight training without appropriate stretching or core work. For years, I have included proprioneurofacilitation (PNF) stretching as well as balance training on physio balls and balance boards to engage and strengthen the abdominals and the back, as well as Touch for Health, a method of balancing muscles that incorporates acupressure. If you would like to improve your posture, I recommend the following protocol:
Begin with an assessment. Shorter people often tilt their heads to look up, slightly overarching their lower backs, which causes their rear ends to protrude. Taller individuals often spend their lives rounding their upper backs and looking down on the rest of us. Stand against a mirror, with your heels up against the wall. If you can pass more than two hands behind your lower back, you may benefit from exercises that will strengthen and stretch that area. Notice also the difference between the left and right side of the body. Most people tend to hold their chronic pain on the left side of the body, which is accessed by the right hemisphere of our brains, where we tend to hold more emotional memories. Each body will have slightly different areas that call for correction. Determine the imbalances between the back and front of the body, right and left sides, as well as top and bottom.
As you assess your posture, notice how that reflects the way you are living your life. Overfocused people will be leaning slightly forward onto their toes, often with their necks slightly pushed forward. Those who are underfocused tend to lean back. Extreme overfocus often shows up as squint lines between the eyebrows. According to yogic tradition, those who push themselves relentlessly through life will be locked up in the upper back, behind the heart area in the rhomboid muscles, especially those who are not submitting themselves to the will of God. Many times my clients will ask me how their posture became distorted over time. “It’s the way you use your brain,” I reply.
Find a certified yoga teacher and discover your individual muscle imbalances through the practice. Most people are tighter on one side – usually the left, but not always. Yoga works on the five koshas, or layers on the human existence – mind, body and spirit. Your postural restrictions may be due to imbalances in your emotional body, or the way you are breathing. As you engage in the practice of yoga, I hope you will begin to enjoy its many other benefits. Most of all, yoga teaches us to accept ourselves where we are at each day. Even if you begin with the goal of improving your posture, over time you may realize that the practice is more about tuning in and finding a divine harmony with yourself and the flow of life. In releasing self criticism and embracing the spiritual nature of all of us, you will find new joy, no matter whether you succeed in growing taller or not.
Examine your stress level. Research shows that chronic stress may actually restrict children’s growth. In my business, I have seen women in their mid-30s who have lost as much as an inch and a half in height in as little as a year and a half due to extreme anxiety, stress and depression. The stress hormone cortisol produced by your adrenal glands breaks down muscle tissue. Learn to meditate, and realize that five minutes of pure anger will raise your cortisol level for as much as six hours.
Begin a balanced weight and posture training program with a certified personal fitness trainer. Most people who lift weights neglect their core muscles, with the exception of what’s called the “show” muscles – the abdominals. I am always explaining to my clients that their waist goes all the way around! To have strong abs, you must have a strong back, and vice versa. Most individuals who try to train on their own will slack off on challenging areas, and it is very important to work all parts of the body to build a balanced physique. As you interview prospective trainers, ask them what kind of background they have with balance and posture training. Each individual will need a different program strengthening different muscles, depending on their body shape.
Examine your nutrition. Fifty percent of results from strength training come from what you choose to put in your mouth – and what you choose to avoid. If you don’t eat protein within two hours of your weight lifting, you may not receive the full benefits. Make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of the nutrients you need to build muscles – especially protein and water. If you suffer from chronic aches and pains, you probably need what’s called an oil change – massive amounts of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon or supplements like EPA. Chronic pain may be an indication that you have eaten too much saturated fat from foods like red meat and junk food.
My favorite posture exercises:
Superman, batman and aquaman: Lie on your stomach, face down on a towl, neck straight. Superman: Bring your arms overhead, palms facing towards your ears. Lift your upper body off the floor. Batman: Arms stretched in a T position from your shoulders, lift your upper body only. Aquaman: Arms next to the side, palms back, lift the arms and shoulders and upper body off.
Find a balance board to stand on and/or a physio ball to sit on to perform upper body exercises like shoulder presses, bicep curls and lateral raises. You will have to use your abdominals as well as the small muscles in your back to stay on the ball while lifting weights.
Yoga exercises like the cobra, locust, bow and downward and upward facing boat engage the muscles required to improve your balance, lengthen the body and strengthen the back.
Catherine Carrigan is president of Total Fitness of Atlanta, Ga., www.totalfitness.net, and the author of Healing Depression: A Holistic Guide (New York: Marlowe and Co., 1999). She teaches seminars worldwide on health, fitness and nutrition and is an internationally-recognized expert on mind-body fitness. She is honorary board chairman of the Depression Welness Network, www.depressionwellness.net, a national fitness spokesman for Johnson and Johnson and the mind-body fitness expert for www.aboutstress.com.