Classical Yoga science views poor posture as the root of many maladies from depression to respiratory and heart ailments; thus proper posture is the cornerstone of the physical practice. Back pain is the most obvious affliction, but consider this: improper spinal alignment starts with the feet and works its way up through the joints–ankle,knee,hip, shoulder–affecting them all. Rotator cuff tear ? Poor rooting of humerus bones into the sockets perhaps due to thoracic kyphosis. Knee or hip pain? Maybe toeing out the feet too much, misplacing the head of the femur bones and throwing off the pelvis. These imbalances then ripple throughout the fascia (connective tissue) to neighboring joints, wrecking systemic havoc and causing pain.
Making matters worse, another side effect of poor posture is poor breathing. The hunched position closes off the lungs and doesn’t allow for optimal diaphragmatic breathing. Shallow breathing can push us toward “fight or flight,” increasing the overall resting tension of the body, making us feel irritable and worsening,…posture. Now, you’re in a downward “slouch spiral” –throw in a dark, 40-below windchill day and you too could be an extra on the set of Grumpy Old Men.
Maybe you’re wondering if it’s too late? Can you correct your posture, reduce your ailments and improve your mood? Can you breathe better so you can have less “fight or flight” and a little more “rest and digest?” Yes–the fact that so few of us receive proper training on how to stand let alone breathe, most people are quick learners of the concepts once they have the information. The key is reprogramming yourself as you move through the world and making it routine. Start by following these 10 steps:
- Stand with your feet a few inches apart, whatever is “normal,” for you. Notice, do the toes turn out like a duck or in, like a pigeon? Be a human! Set your feet straight so the insides of the feet are perfectly parallel to each other. Feel how doing that sets your knees, pelvis and maybe even shoulders in a better place.
- Notice if your ankles tend to roll out or in, and whether your toes are gripping at the tips. Don’t worry, we’ll fix this all in the next step
- Place a yoga block between your thighs and you were gently squeezing it. You can use an actual block or rolled up bath towel.
- Place a yoga strap around your shin bones, between the knees and the ankles. Press gently out into your strap as you hug the block in.
- Once you activate these oppositional forces in harmony, you’ll feel the weight balance evenly over all your toe mounds, not just the big toe. Now, push down your toe mounds evenly –picking up the toe-tips will help, especially if you have weak arches. The muscles of the legs will activate and hug the bones. Lift the kneecaps to support the knees –a lot of knee problems result from not knowing to engage quads when standing.
- Now, picture the pelvis as a bowl of water. Make sure it’s not spilling out–this may require a subtle pulling up and back of the lower abdominals and pelvic floor, or “pelvic lift.”
- Place the shoulders in the sides of your body, so your upper back and upper chest feel the same width across. If you’ve been slouching for years, this may be difficult to sustain.
- Now, the head– if you drive, use a computer or sit on a sofa, it has probably been craning out WAY TOO FAR in front of your body. Level the chin, drawing it back to the throat until you feel the weight of the head over the tailbone and the tailbone over the heels and ankles. You should feel rooted through the heels and lighter on the front of your feet.
- Breathe! Reach your arms straight up overhead and hug a block between your palms. Keep your bum and belly from spilling out with a subtle pelvic lift and pulling in of the floating ribs. There should be NO neck tension. Work your way up to holding this “Mountain Pose” for several minutes.
- As you breathe, look at a focal point. ONLY nose breath, and try to make your exhalations longer than your inhalations.
Minus the arms overhead (awkward) practice this Mountain Pose whenever you’re standing–in line, at a party, etc. Try to maintain the alignment while walking as well.
What if it’s just too difficult? You’re either too tense, too weak or both but you don’t want to end up looking like Quasimodo? Consider a more classical, mindfulness-based yoga practice where perfecting posture is a priority–not the ubiquitous rapid-fire “vinyasa flow” yoga which can lead to injury. Holding poses for long periods of time is challenging, creates better body awareness, and sets you up for a meditative state, resulting in additional health benefits.
“Long Life Yoga” is such a class and has been running for over 10 years in the North Oaks East Rec on Wednesdays at 12:30 pm. Due to popularity, a new session is being added Mondays starting in October. Visit yogahotdish.com for information.
Men are welcome to these classes and actually need yoga more than women. They tend to be less flexible by nature and prone to back problems. North Oaks resident John Martin says, ” Yoga’s emphasis on breathing, balance and a level spine has led me to, among other things, much better posture. I am amazed at how much standing up straight contributes to a feeling of well- being.” Dr. Bob Schubert adds, “The yoga practice has really increased my awareness of body position. This kind of input is really helpful in improving posture and avoiding fatigue.” And, yes, it’s OK to come if you just want to improve your golf game!