The Problem At Hand
Good posture is when you stand and sit in an upright position. Your body is in a straight line without your shoulders slumping and drooping towards the front, and your back does not show a slight hunch. A perfect posture entails that your shoulders should be squared and relaxed, the chin should be up, chest out, and stomach in. These days it’s very very uncommon to find such a posture among men, women, and even children.
With all of us spending most of our active hours bent over a desk and laptop or slouched on the couch, this was inevitable fallout. You sometimes wonder how long it will be before entire populations start resembling the hunchback of Notredam; with shoulder bent forward and a bulge on the back. Why so much stress though on good posture, apart from it giving you a smart look?
For one, it helps you ward off a large list of posture-related health issues that attack the spine and lower vertebrae of your body.
Let’s start from the start. We have all been aware of what a good posture is since we were kids and were made repeatedly made conscious of it. Parents are forever telling their kids to not slouch sometimes verbally, and sometimes with a mild thump at the back of the head to drive home the point. We have ourselves been conscious enough to straighten up while entering the room for an interview or when going on that first date.
Every one of us has a fair idea of what a good posture is. What we don’t know, however, is how to undo the damage those years of slouching has done to our back. The obvious answer is to stop slouching and indulge in some form of therapy to reverse the damage.
Our lifestyle demands that we slouch right from when we sit in that car seat, to working in the office to coming back home tired and slouching on an overstuffed beanbag in front of the TV. The end result is dabbing painkillers on your back and neck for all the chronic pain that has developed, and which aggravates further during the night from that old mattress.
What Can We Do
What exactly can we do, then, to alleviate this problem of ours? The answer lies in an age-old practice; of doing yoga. Not only does yoga correct the body posture when practiced regularly but it also relieves the body of several other ailments. Yoga has been trending all over the globe as the sedentary lifestyle has also spread like an epidemic all over. It is not too difficult to master the asanas of yoga and with time, perseverance, regularity and patience it can be used to correct the posture and also your lifestyle. Apart from offering us the benefit of stretching, yoga strengthens our body and its core.
But before you embark on this journey of becoming a yogi, you need to first undo the damage that you have inflicted upon self through bad posture. It all starts with self-awareness which then leads you to form a plan that incorporates the asanas you need to start with. There should be tadasana, dharunasana, virbhadrasana, bhujanagasna, Adho Mukha vrkasana, and plank pose to start with as part of your list
You can have a look at some of these beginner level asanas here.
Why Do We Get a Bad Posture
Our spine has some natural curves that should be maintained while we are sitting, standing or undergoing any physical activity.
There is a mild forward curve in the neck and lower back, and a mild backward curve in the upper back and mid back. When we do not keep our body in a straight line habitually we tend to flatten or over curve these natural curves and develop an abnormal posture for our body. The most common forms of abnormal postures include a flat neck, flat lower back, and hunched upper back (known as excessive kyphosis).
Some other abnormal postures include jutting forward of the head (known as forward head) and sway in the lower back (known as excessive lordosis). These body curve abnormalities lead to several other ailments like a muscle strain, joint pain, and disk problems, to name a few. What ensues are never-ending trips to the physical therapists and orthopedics.
For the body to maintain a perfect pose, it requires a combination of two things.
Along with maintaining the optimum curves, the skeletal structure of the body also needs to be vertically aligned. Whenever this alignment gets disrupted, it adds pressure on the body muscles in the form of strains.
So a forward head will affect the upper back and neck muscles and you will start to experience pain in that area. These muscles become too weak to even hold the weight of your head without overexerting themselves.
First Step First: Assess The Postural Damage
Yoga trains your body to maintain the normal spinal curves and its regular practice helps you maintain the posture while going about your daily chores.
You can check if your posture is correct or not by following these step:
- Stand with the back of your head touching a wall. While your heels should be six inches away from the wall, your buttock and shoulder blades should be touching the wall.
- There should be less than two inches of gap between your neck and the wall, and between the small of your back and the wall.
- If the gap is more than this, it is an indicator of bad posture and a curved spine.
- When the gap between the neck and the wall is excessive and your chin seems to be lifted upwards, then you may be suffering from excessive kyphosis.
- When the gap between your lower back and the wall is so much that you can slide your hand in easily, you may be having excessive lordosis.
- You may be having either one of these or both these back and neck problems
Second Step: Analyse The Root Cause
You need to do an audit of your furniture and lifestyle to find out the reasons for your bad posture.
The reasons could be any, from a poor mattress, overstuffed chairs, job desk at a wrong height, the way you sit or even your lifestyle or work that involves long sitting hours.
Once you have identified the cause the next step is to identify the pain areas in your body. In simple words, these are the areas which you douse with pain relief spray at least once a day.
Third Step: Make Your Yoga Itinerary
In Yoga Sutras Patanjali says, “The fruit of right poise is the strength to resist the shocks of infatuation or sorrow.” Yoga heals the body as a whole through its postures and breathing techniques involved. If practiced regularly, it strengthens your core and your problem areas.
But as a first step, you select the asanas that target specific body areas.
- Tadasana and Dhanurasna for slouched back
- Adho Mukha vrkasana and sirsasana for maintaining optimal body curves
- Salabhasana and Bhujangasana for strengthening and shortening the mid-back muscles. It opens up the chest area and shoulders.
- Virasana for proper alignment in all the spine’s curves.
- Marjariasana helps the spine in getting back its flexibility
- Shishuasana relaxes the back and shoulders
- Utakatasana relaxes and warms up the knees and hipbones.
How Yoga Can Improve Your Posture
- According to several studies done, yoga helps in improving bad posture and can even reverse the effects of hyperkyphosis. It is an age-related posture problem which is also referred to as dowager’s hump.
- Yoga is especially useful for improving postures as it targets the muscles and joints most affected by bad posture, including shoulders, spinal erectors, abdominals, and neck
- Yoga asanas help in restoring the strength and fluidity of the spine. It also opens the heart area and reverses the bad posture.
- Yoga asanas are formed around achieving a particular posture and maintain it. With practice, you can not only perfect your posture and the asana but can also maintain the posture of the asana for longer.
- Yoga helps you in building a strong core foundation, provides posture support, and restores correct posture alignment.
- Yoga maintains the optimal natural curves of the body through its asanas
- Our spine is like the engine of our body and it keeps the other parts moving. If the spine is oiled well through yoga, it helps in effective functioning of the whole body.
Benefits Of Having A Good Posture
- Improved functioning of the organs – When you stand or sit with a proper body alignment, there is no undue pressure exerted on any of the organs and they all tend to function properly. Less pressure on the stomach, for example, improves digestion.
- Relief in back and neck pain – With proper posture the bones and the spine easily disperse the body weight over the back and neck muscles. It prevents a back or neck pain from developing and if you are already suffering from one, the inflammation and pain subside.
- Improves breathing – Yoga is based on the principle of following correct breathing techniques. When you inhale, the lungs need room to expand in the chest and that is hampered by a slouch. Slouching collapses the rib cage, leaving less room for the lungs to expand and you tend to inhale less than you should.
- Enhances memory – With good posture comes effective breathing and that allows you to inhale more oxygen. Higher the intake of oxygen, better are your cognitive skills which lead to better learning skills.
- Prevention of arthritis and joint pain – Good posture decreases the abnormal wearing down of the joints. Correct alignment of the bones spares the muscles from bearing any extra pressure. Abnormal wear and tear of joint surfaces is generally the cause of degenerative arthritis and joint pain.
- Changes your appearance– An upright posture takes away that bulk off your waist caused by a slouch and makes you appear slimmer. Standing upright makes you look taller by squaring your shoulders. You look kilos lighter than when you stand or sit slumped.
- Increases self-confidence– A slouched and slumped person tends to give out the impression of a lackadaisical attitude and the first impression matters in your personal as well professional life.
There are some other practices you can adopt in life which will aid in maintaining a good body posture.
Some simple changes that can be brought about in our lifestyle are:
- Making a conscious effort to not slouch
- Take frequent breaks from work which involves sitting for a long time.
- Set reminder around your home and workplace that remind you to stretch your back and neck
- Carry the body weight equally on both sides of the body. For example, while carrying the heavy laptop bag, keep changing shoulders.
- Make yoga the way of life and invest in a good yoga mat. Without it, even yoga cannot be performed effectively
Yoga is not an exercise form but is a way of life. Through its asanas, the body posture gets aligned while you do them and it stays aligned throughout the rest of the day too. In The Art and Science of Raja Yoga, Swami Kriyananda has stated, “Right posture is vitally important to the yogi.” It’s time to awaken the yogi in you and dump the slouch potato!