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How to Finally (Maybe) Stop Slouching

Photo: Photo Illustration by Stevie Remsberg/Photo Getty

There is a window in my kitchen adjacent to the sink. When I wash dishes at night, I’ll occasionally use it to look at the reflection of my right side. What awaits me in the window is, to my surprise, never a person with perfect ballerina-like control. It is not a person with a calm exterior, posture as straight as a pencil, a modern-day Sabrina Fairchild elegantly doing the dishes. No.

Instead reflected back at me in the darkened window is — AH! — a round-shouldered ghoul! A slouching demon doing her hell chores, the Hunchback of Notre Dame cleaning up after that night’s pasta. In that moment I’ll straighten up, put my shoulders back, and — whew, yes — then it looks like Sabrina Fairchild is doing the dishes.

But what happens to my posture when I’m not in front of that window?

It’s a new year — 2019 — and it’s time to at least briefly attempt not existing in a hunched-over state at all times. At least for me and for my colleague Edith Zimmerman, whom you will hear from shortly. Hunching (over the computer, usually) puts a painful strain on our shoulders and backs, it keeps us from breathing as deeply as we could, and it puts “stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together,” says this website. Plus it makes us look like the lady who gave Snow White a poison apple. Clearly, something needs to be attempted to be done.

Documented below is our adventure in several high- and low-tech un-hunching options.

OPTP PRO-ROLLER Standard Density Foam Roller

I did not know what a foam roller was before this project, and I did not know how to use the odd cylinder once I received it. Luckily, I was able to access several YouTube videos (like this one: “How to Foam Roll for Better Posture”) that showed me how to foam roll for better posture.

The foam roller is incredible.

Foam rollers are for use in “self-myofascial release,” which the internet tells me is like giving yourself a deep tissue massage. People use them before and after exercising, to prime and soothe muscles, or they use them just because rolling feels good in a way that also hurts, like opening your heart to love.

To tell you a tiny bit about myself though it makes me uncomfortable as you are likely a stranger, I have scoliosis. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, and the affliction is a character trait commonly used in TV and movies to signify a “nerd,” even though, I’ll have you know, Kurt Cobain also had scoliosis. To treat it, I had rods fused to my spine. Often people ask if the rods will be removed at some point, like braces, but no. They will be on my dead skeleton, as will, I assume, my bottom-teeth permanent retainer.

I blame the forward hunch in my right shoulder in part on imbalance due to scoliosis (maybe incorrectly). And I have numerous scoliosis-related aches and pains that I’ve attempted to address with stretches and self-massage. The roller, I’ve found to my joy, is a much better tool for this. There are a few YouTube videos related to using foam rollers with spinal fusion that I’ve been using as my guide, and I am so grateful for them and the roller that I could scream and die.

Will self-myofascial release fix my posture in the new year? It does make my shoulders feel less like they’re made of cement, and it does feel good to use, so I think maybe it actually might help, a little.

The Darma Cushion (Tested by Edith)

The Darma cushion has an amazing website and a totally compelling promo video, which suggests that by using it I could even find love at the office. I am sold on that (just kidding, HR), although the cushion itself I am not yet 100-percent crazy about. It’s comfortable, and it’s exciting (I love the idea that I can measure my own breathing through my butt?), but it kept buzzing to tell me I was sitting wrong. I know that’s the point, but it didn’t dawn on me, like ever, even as I write this, that I should actually sit differently.

What happens is that when you slouch — or lean too much to the left, for too long — the Darma cushion buzzes, and a little alert on my phone tells me that I should center myself. The alerts were distracting: I had to manually dismiss them every five minutes or so, which I guess I could have corrected instead by actually sitting better, but sitting up straight felt like playing a character, which made it hard to think right.

I only made it an hour and a half before I realized that I am not as serious about posture as I thought, and the Darma’s kind-hearted encouragement to sit up straighter and center myself were falling on deaf ears. Maybe I don’t want a better posture after all. I’m sorry, Kelly; I’m sorry, Darma. Does my brain need for my body to be all sagged-over, chin jutting out, for me to focus on the internet with the kind of intensity I prefer? I guess so. —Edith Zimmerman, senior writer

Upright GO Posture Trainer

The Upright GO posture trainer is the device we tested that you are most likely to have seen in an ad on Instagram. It’s a little white bug-looking thing that you stick between your shoulder blades (it comes with a few extra adhesive strips), it’s very cute and small, and it functions with an app you download onto your phone.

Unlike the Darma cushion Edith tested, the Upright GO has two functions: training and tracking. Training happens once per day in sessions that only last a few minutes. If your posture slips for longer than four seconds during the session, the Upright GO will do a little buzz. After you train you can wear the bug and it will track your posture without buzzing for however long you want, and give you a report after: You had good posture for this long, you had bad posture for this long. You can celebrate or repent accordingly.

When I did my first session with the Upright GO, I wanted more training. I thought: I can’t wait to do this every day. Stand up straight, and not get a buzz because I’m a perfect student when I only have to be one in seven-minute increments once per day. But then every time the app reminded me that I had to do another session in the days that followed I thought, lyingly, Ahhh … I’ll get to that … later.

I’ve done a few more sessions since then, it’s true, but sadly I’m not sure I’m the sort of person who can be trusted to attach a device to myself regularly in order to improve my posture. But according to Upright GO, “87 percent of new users report a significant improvement in posture within two weeks of training,” so it stands to reason that there are people out there who can do it for at least two weeks.

AlignMed Sports Bra and Posture Shirt

AlignMed’s clothing, according to AlignMed’s website, is engineered with Neurobands® technology, which “interacts with your body to support the alignment of the chest, neck, scapula, and spine.” Sounds good to me.

I wore the sports bra and posture shirt a lot over the holidays, but most deliberately during any long drive, as driving long distances always fucks up my back very much and I would prefer that it didn’t. I really do like them (the bra and shirt). They help to set your body in the right posture and serve as a slightly uncomfortable reminder to put your shoulders back and sit up straight. You can feel it pulling your shoulders back and supporting your spine, and you can feel a bit of tension when you resist.

It’s harder, though not impossible, to slouch your shoulders when your clothing is trying hard to give you the opportunity not to. And I do think wearing it helped with my driving-related back pain. Plus, the bra is more uncomfortable than a normal bra and because of that it feels even better to take off. I believe I will continue to wear my AlignMed in the New Year.

This Australian Video on YouTube

Gabriella Paiella, Cut senior writer, shared this video of an Australian man wearing dress clothes trying to help viewers improve their forward head-carriage posture with me. It’s very good. She was tipped off to the technique by another woman and she claims, “It actually works if you do it.” I have never known Gabriella Paiella to be a liar, this technique is very simple to execute, and because of these two factors I will continue to do it throughout 2019 until I forget.

In conclusion, most of this stuff is fine but we highly recommend a foam roller.

Happy New Year and, of course, Happy Post-ure.

How to Finally (Maybe) Stop Slouching