Did your mother or your grade school teacher ever yell at you to sit up straight? How about now that you are older, do you have a yoga teacher who is constantly making you aware of your posture? Good. You should, because yoga teachers are there to allow you to become more aware of your body, especially how you hold tension.
We all can be guilty of hunching our shoulders, or holding them up in our ears, especially during times of stress, myself included. A dear friend of mine was inspired to share her story, and it is my privilege to post it today. Because of chronically bad posture while she was working, my friend now has a degenerating vertebra in her cervical spine (her neck).
What is worse is that a significant amount of the pain we may experience in our body is due to holding tension. This is self-perpetuated by lack of body awareness. In other words, the pain you experience in your shoulders, your low back, your mid-back, or your hips can be a direct result of your lifestyle.
Directly below is my friend’s story. Below that is a script of how I describe proper posture in my yoga classes. If you would like more help, please join me in class and I will help you during, before or after.
Bad posture, my vertebrae, and what everyone I know should learn from me
This is not easy to explain. Anyone who knows me knows that I have given a lot of focus to alignment of my spine. It is fundamental to yoga practice and dance, both of which have been major passions in my life. I’ve done the forward and backward bending, sun salutations, cobras, bridges, cats, cows, spinal twists, and lotuses; I’ve pliéd and relevéd, done bar work, floor work, belly dancing, warm-ups, cool-downs, shimmies, hip circles, hip bumps, and undulations. I’ve found my center, gone to my happy place, Om-ed, visualized and raised energy.
None of these practices were enough to protect me from my body’s natural tendency to destroy itself from within during times when I was distracted by working or mental concentration or stress. What my body did was, to round the shoulders slightly forward. This set off a chain reaction to the middle back (slightly hunched), the chest (slightly hunched), the heart chakra (closed), the head (slid forward), and the neck vertebrae (not stacked up properly).
How I know this is, I started having a lot of discomfort in my neck. It would get tight when I was working at the computer. I had trouble finding a comfortable position in bed. It was hurting a lot. I went to the chiropractor. X-rays showed that I have completely lost the natural curve in my neck. One of the vertebra is degenerating to the point where the disc is bulging and thin. When you have loss of disc height in your spine, you can start to have problems in the nerves that exit the spine at that level. If the disc is gone, the bones will have no cushion and you will have bad pain. We don’t want these things to happen to us.
I have been told that there is no way to recover the curve in your neck once it is gone. I refuse to believe this. I have become much more aware of the muscles all around the neck. The key to having it lined up properly seems to be to open the chest out [Amber’s note: She means keep the shoulders broad, not to hyperextend through the upper back.]. The shoulders, then, naturally relax and drop into place, and the head floats where it should be instead of thrusting slightly forward over hunched muscles.
For some reason, this all feels kind of embarrassing to me. But it is what it is, and I’m dealing with it with a good chiropractor, and my own bending, stretching, relaxing and aligning work. The reason I am writing this piece is to spread the word: habitual slouching has a cumulative effect over time that can be truly devastating. So please, everyone, take care of your spine by becoming aware of your alignment. Yoga or dance can be very helpful in learning how to stretch tight places and line it all up the way it should be. But also be aware of the times when you are paying the least attention, because that’s how I ended up this way. Don’t worry, I’m going to be O.K., just be smarter than me and don’t do what I did, which was to not notice that I was stressing my spine without realizing it!
Proper Standing Posture
- Stand with the feet hips width apart.
- Root down through the big toe mound, and press firmly through all four “corners” of the foot.
- The weight of your body should be balanced over both of your feet in their entirety.
- Lift up on the inner arches, which activates the quadriceps.
- The quads should be engaged, which pulls the knee caps up toward the face. If there is pain behind your knees, it means you are hyperextending through your knees. Simply keep a micro bend there if there is pain.
- The hips are square and the tailbone tucks under slightly to even out the bowl of the pelvis.
- The lower abs engage to protect the low back. In yoga, this is called engaging mula bandha, or the root lock, where we also slightly lift up on the pelvic walls.
- The core pulls in toward the spine to hold the spine erect, but not so strictly that you alter your ability to breath. If the belly button pulls in toward the spin and up toward the face, you have engaged uddiyana bandha, or the flying up lock.
- The shoulders circle up toward the ears on an inhale and then relax down the back on an exhale.
- The collar bones remain broad (no internal rotation of the should joint).
- The shoulder blades slightly hug in toward one another to remain broad through the collar bones and to keep the shoulders depressed.
- The chin floats parallel to the ground.
- Lift up through the crown of the head.
I bet you did not think there was that much involvement to proper posture. When sitting, everything in the upper body is the same, but just make sure to keep the hips level, and do not hunch the shoulders! Use lumbar support if you need help to keep the hips aligned.
The ancient yogis believed that our ability to stand erect, meaning our spine, is what allowed us to evolve mentally into sentient beings. Whether or not this is true I cannot tell you. What I can tell you is that proper spinal alignment is important. It prevents bulging discs, degenerative vertebrae, and chronic pain. Proper alignment is important enough to practice to avoid the painful effects of bad posture. Come to my classes and I will help you!