By Bill Boland, Alignment Guru
We look at our friends, our loved ones, young and old, and we see them slouched over, walking with feet turned out, walking on their toes, or not walking at all—just too tired to walk. That’s not how we want our children to be. We want them to be able to move, to walk, to sit and stand with comfort, ease, and grace. Here are some tips for helping parents to do that, without nagging or becoming irritated ourselves.
1. Make good posture a game. Youngsters mimic their mothers and fathers, and learn postural habits as well as gestures and gait patterns from us. If you want your little ones to develop healthy postural habits, you have to practice them. So, work on yourself, first. And when you see your children mimicking you, reward them with praise.
2. Practice yoga together. Try these easy-to-follow poses together: mountain pose, tree pose, cat and cow, and down dog pose. They all build coordination and strength, but more importantly, they build big-time body awareness.
3. Build posture from the ground up. Bring awareness to your child’s feet as often as you can. Help him learn to stand with toes pointing forward, with his weight equally balanced between the heels and balls of both feet.
Ensure that your child wears sensible footwear when necessary, and goes barefoot whenever possible. Children don’t need flip-flops; they need to be barefoot. Most of a child's balance information comes from his feet and shoes, no matter how cute, stunt neurological development. Wearing flip-flops or high heels is developmentally detrimental to alignment and postural well-being.
4. Teach Lightness of Being. Teach your children grace and lightness when they move. Start with talking about their top and bottom, head and feet. Cue them to be aware of their heads "floating" on their spines like balloons. We all take our bodies for granted, but if we are aware of how we move, that lightness will carry over to good alignment and posture.
5. Whole body walking. You are how you move. Your child will also learn by your example in walking. It is important that you walk with awareness. Practice a graceful and long stride. Learn to walk with your whole body.
Here’s a trick: Walk around the living room and see if you notice your butt muscles and your hamstrings (back of legs) working. If you don’t, your stride is too short. Now do the same walk, but extend your stride by an inch or two. See if you notice the butt muscles and the hamstrings working. If you do, your stride is good and you are using the muscles properly.
6. Chin level with the earth. This is a daily yoga reminder. Grandma probably walked with a book balanced on the top of her head; fashion models still do that today, because it is a way to organize the body for elegance and good posture. If your chin is level with the earth, then your head is up and your shoulders are relaxed. Encourage this simple trick in your children: If you look down, you will fall down.
7. Use your whole foot. Your foot has four points of contact: heel, mid foot, forefoot, and toes. Show your child that he can use his entire foot to walk, balance, and push off, and to really feel their feet when they walk! They will develop good balance, and a healthy stride will build muscle and neuromuscular coordination.
8. Play every sport, any game. Children learn movement by being active. Different games, different sports demand different movement patterns, all of them good. Encourage your children to be active. Sitting should be minimized. TV, iPads, smartphones, internet games should be a treat for them but only as a reward for being active. Kids will sit plenty in school. Don’t contribute to their inactivity.
So, get out there and throw the ball with your kids! Encourage them to play every safe sport, to dance, to run, throw a Frisbee, and to be kids. It's critical to the development of their bodies, and their brains!
Photograph: Outdoor Posture Exercises, Frances Benjamin Johnson, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA