We have all heard how important it is to sit and stand up straight, maintain proper posture. Yet it is so extremely difficult to be mindful of this throughout our day and remember to check our posture regularly.
Why is this? One big reason is that in our western world, we spend so much time during our day engaged in activities that weaken the muscles we need to be strong (upper and mid-back and abdominal muscles) and tighten the muscles we need to be flexible (chest, shoulders, lower back, and hips) to attain good posture. Sitting at desks, driving our cars, texting. Messaging and scrolling on our phones and mobile devices are just a few of the culprits.
Today, we will talk about what good posture looks like, explore the benefits of achieving better posture, and then I offer you a handful of yoga poses that you can try out to help you build a better posture.
What does good posture look like? According to Harvard Health, a publication of Harvard Medical School, good posture when standing means your:
Chin is parallel to the floor and shoulders are even (roll your shoulders up, back, and down to help achieve this).
Your spine is neutral (no flexing or arching to overemphasize the curve in your lower back) and your arms at your sides with elbows straight and even.
Brace your abdominal muscles, keep hips even, and your knees pointing straight ahead.
Distribute your body weight evenly on both feet and your arms are at your sides with elbows straight and even. This happens to be Mountain Pose (Tadasana). The foundational standing poses in yoga.
Benefits of Better Posture
Keeps bones and joints in proper alignment for muscles are being used properly
Reduces fatigue because muscles are being used properly
Helps decrease the abnormal wearing of joint surfaces
Reduced lower back pain
Less tension in your neck and shoulders
Increased lung capacity
Improved circulation and digestion
To help improve our posture we are going to do a short 10-minute yoga sequence that will:
Warm-up your muscles and joints
Do some moving and breathing
Strengthen areas that are weak
Stretch areas that are tight
What you will find here are options to move your body in ways that will stretch and strengthen it for health and wellness. Everything offered here only has value if it feels good in your body. Rather than master yoga postures, time is much better spent using them as a way to discover what is going on in your body. In this way, you can use the postures as a tool to gain a deeper understanding of what your body is experiencing and what it needs.
This process takes time. Many of us spend the majority of our day pretty disconnected from our body and it’s needed. Those things tend to take a back seat to all of the external demands on our time and energy. Therefore, what we need most runs completely counter to every message we receive from society… do it now, do it perfectly, be the best at it, what is the quick fix, take the shortcut to get the job done.
Here are some yoga poses to strengthen your back and open your chest:
Cat and cow is a gentle movement between two poses to help warm up and bring flexibility to the spine. It stretches and strengthens the back, torso, chest, shoulders, and neck while also massaging the internal organs.
Coming onto your hands and knees, perhaps placing something under your knees for cushion, spread the fingers wide and stack your shoulders over your wrists and hips over your knees.
Starting with a neutral spine, inhale and while keeping straight arms (with soft elbows) let the belly drop, tailbone, and head rise. This is a "cow" pose. On the exhale to move into a "cat" pose by drawing the belly in toward the spine, rounding the back, tailbone lowers and your chin moves towards the chest. Co-ordinating your breathing with the movements calms the mind and the body. Continue doing this for 5-10 rounds.
This is the standing pose. The foundational pose from which all standing poses originate. Stand tall with your feet about hip-width apart. You can feel our foot placement and decide if it is better for you to bring your feet closer or take a wider stance.
Even a pose as simple as standing up straight will look and feel differently depending on your body. Tuck your shoulder blades down you back by rolling your shoulder up, around, and down. This has opened up the chest and front of the shoulders and is key for helping us with our goal of improving posture.
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) with Hands-on Hips or Cactus Arms
Standing in Mountain (Tadasana), take a step forward with one leg. Keep a nice wide base with your feet, like they are on train tracks, not a tightrope. Draw the hips forward to a place where they feel comfortable. Bring your hands to your hips.
OPTION 1: Keep the hands on your hips and draw your elbows towards each other behind you. This can be a very small movement, nothing we do today has to be extreme to have an impact. Maybe you bend into the front knee to receive an additional leg front leg strengthener. You can choose to stay here or try option 2.
OPTION 2: Raise your hands overhead while both legs are straight. As you inhale, bending the front knee and let the arms come down with elbows bent. Exhale, raise back up to straight arms and legs. With each inhale, as you come down to the bent knee and bent elbows (cactus or goal post arms) feel the chest open and gently draw your shoulder blades towards each other. Do this 3-5 times and then switch sides with the opposite leg in front.
Staff Pose (Option to do this seated in a chair with knees bent)
This pose may look easy in the picture but it actually takes a lot of effort. It is an excellent pose to build strength in the back and abdomen. Stay in this pose only for as long as you can still breathe comfortably and can keep your shoulders down away from your ears. Sitting up tall, legs straight out in front of you, or with knees slightly bent. Place the hands down by your side somewhat in line with the hips, the goal is to have a long spine and open chest.
You will feel the muscles in your back working. Stay strong in the abdominal muscles and make sure you are breathing. Holding the breath will hold tension in your body.
From a kneeling tabletop position (like how we started Cat/Cow), shift your hips back towards your heels. If this is uncomfortable you can place a blanket in between heels and hips or a rolled blanket under the feet to support the ankles. Your knees and thighs may be close together, allowing your body to rest on your thighs and round through your spine, or you may choose to open the knees wide and let the chest sink down towards the floor, in between the knees.
Arms can be outstretched in front of you, resting by your sides, or you can bend the elbows and rest the head on the hands. This is a counter pose to stretch and release the muscles we just worked on. Stay here for anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes.
Practice some of all of these poses throughout your day when you have a few minutes of time and before you know it you will be enjoying the benefits!