Your posture is not only important for your physical and emotional health—it also sends a message to others about who you are and how you feel about yourself. People unconsciously notice your posture when speaking to you or simply seeing you. Slumped shoulders or a tilted head sends all sorts of negative messages. It says, I’m tired…I’m not confident…I’m grumpy…I’m not approachable…I’m worn out. Beyond inadvertently projecting these messages to others, you also are internalizing these messages yourself. Your posture affects your thoughts, your words and your overall energy. 

Luckily, there are simple things you can do every day to improve both your posture and the messages that it sends to your mind and spirit… 

Use a “mental mirror.” Look at all the people around you, and ask yourself, When someone looks at me, how do I look? Seeing yourself in this mental ­mirror helps you automatically sit up a little straighter, pull your stomach in, drive your shoulders back and raise the top of your head. 

Look up. When you walk, do you look down? Most people do. The problem is that when you look down, your shoulders immediately roll forward, putting tremendous pressure on your neck. Whenever you’re walking, look straight ahead instead. A lot of people think, Oh, I’m going to trip. But you won’t because you have ­peripheral ­vision that keeps you from tripping and you certainly don’t need to look at your feet to know what they’re supposed to do. When you look straight ahead, it reduces strain on your neck. If you must look down, do so with your eyes—not with your whole head. 

Clasp your hands behind your back. When standing, interweave your hands behind your tailbone with elbows slightly bent. If you have to move your shoulders to do that, then your shoulders were rolled forward. ­Ideally, if you put your hands behind you, your shoulders shouldn’t move at all. This exercise reminds you to get in the habit of thinking about your posture and standing up a little straighter. It’s a simple trick that will make a big ­difference. 

Find out how tight your neck muscles are. Put your hands in front of your face with your palms facing you and pinkies linked together. Then put your hands up on top of your head, and gently drop your chin toward your chest using just the weight of your arms. There are certain stretches you shouldn’t feel at all. This is one of them. If you do feel it, that’s a sign your neck and shoulder muscles are too tight. Do this stretch daily for five deep inhales, and the stretch will get easier. This move allows you to get rid of the tension in your neck and shoulders. If tightness continues, consider getting a massage. 

Warning: Stiffness also may be a sign that you are dehydrated. Most people don’t drink enough water. You can improve your posture just by drinking more water. To determine how many ounces you should drink through the course of each day, cut your body weight in half and use that ­number. 

Put an hourglass on your desk or set an alarm to remind you to move. This way, you have a visual reminder of when an hour has gone by. A lot of people get lost in their work, and the next thing they know, they’ve been sitting at a desk for three hours. The hourglass makes you a little bit more accountable for getting up and walking for at least a minute or two—whether it’s just to get some water or walk some papers over to another desk. 

Make sure all your stretches are ­balanced. Many people think they should stretch both sides equally, but if one side of your body is tighter than the other, you need to adjust for that and stretch the tighter section more. Be mindful of this imbalance. The goal is that both sides should feel similar when done stretching. Give each stretch a number from zero to 10. Zero means you don’t feel it, while 10 means you feel it a lot. If one side is a four and the other is a six, go back to the six side again and stretch until it feels closer to the four. Work gradually, and open up that area so that it’s equivalent to the other side. 

Be aware of what good posture feels like. Put your back against a wall with your butt flush against it. Position your heels about one inch away from the wall, and keeping your shoulders back, try to pull your stomach back toward the wall as much as you can. Everybody’s different. The size of your butt and the arch in your back will determine how close your lower back will be to the wall. While in this position, try to put the back of your head against the wall behind you with your chin straight. A lot of people can’t do it because they’re so hunchbacked. If you do this move over and over again, it will help you become aware of the right posture and improve it. Once this posture starts to feel more comfortable, it means that the muscle balance in your chest and your back are equal. 

Start each day more mindful of your posture. Every morning, before you get going for the day, lie on your back—­either in bed or on the floor. Interweave your fingers and put your hands behind your head with your elbows flared to the side. Bend your knees, and with your feet flat on the bed or the ground, drop both knees to the left side. Place your right knee over your left so that your right knee can ultimately go all the way down to the bed or floor, and just relax there. This is a passive stretch. Passive stretching means that you’re letting gravity do the work and you’re not pressing it, you’re not pulling and you’re not forcing it. Then switch sides and drop both knees to the right. You want to do this every day to free your back muscles and allow good posture habits.

The Single Best Stretch

Bad posture often starts in the hips. When your hips are out of line, it throws off your back. And if your back bothers you, you tend to compensate with your shoulders and neck. 

Try this stretch, which you should feel in your outer hip…

While sitting up straight in a chair, place your right ­ankle on top of your left knee, and gently press your right knee down, holding for three deep inhales. Do this on one side, then the other side, and then come back and do the tighter side again. Important: Be aware of which side is tighter. Work gradually, and open up that area so that it’s equivalent to the other side.