I remember walking across the room with a book on my head as a girl. An outdated tradition of practicing posture and poise. Even at a young age, the importance of posture is instilled in us. We know we’re meant to stand up straight; yet, the reasons why are much less commonly explained. At some point as we become adults, for many of us keeping our spine straight falls by the wayside and we settle into the posture of modern life.
Texting, driving, and working at a desk all begin to take their toll and we end up collapsing in the chest and rounding forward. This posture (let’s call it “tech-asana”) compresses our spine as well as our entire thoracic cavity. It adds pressure to the lungs and abdominal organs that inhibits the function of our respiratory and digestive systems (along with just about every other system in the body). The hip flexor muscles become overly tight and the lumbar spine is pulled out of its natural curve. Shoulders tighten and the neck takes pounds and pounds of extra pressure as it’s tasked with the entire job of holding the head upright.
We may forget to practice good posture, but many of us are actually experiencing ailments and discomforts of our poor posture right now. For those of us who remain in a lifetime of tech-asana pose, a host of problems may arise as we age. Poor posture contributes to degeneration of the discs between the spine, poor functioning of the organs (constipation, trouble breathing, and difficulty with reproduction can all be linked to posture), a loss of range of motion that can become permanent, and chronic pain; to name a few!
The beauty of the human body, however, is in its miraculous ability to reshape itself. At virtually any moment in our lives, if we start practicing posture consciously, our beautiful bodies are able to function effectively and efficiently. We reap the benefits and undo the effects of tech-asana.
For the sake of this conversation, let’s define good posture (while standing) as:
- Joints stacking on top of one another (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders)
- Thighs and pelvis both in a neutral position
- The natural curves of the spine are all present (lumbar, thoracic, cervical)
- The head is aligned directly above the shoulders, neither the front or the back of the neck is shortened
We practice this posture often in yoga, it’s called Tadasana or Mountain Pose. Each additional posture in yoga reverts back to the alignment of Tadasana. Even in extreme forward bends and backbends, we are looking to maintain an even-ness in the movement of the spine that allows us to keep a level of Tadasana. The more awareness we bring to our Mountain Pose, the more challenging it becomes to truly find our perfect posture as we connect to all of the subtleties of our body and its alignment.
When sitting, it becomes even more challenging. Due to tension in hips and hamstrings, most Western bodies sit in a very “tucked” position. We lose the curve of our lower back and revert to tech-asana. Many adults are so locked in tech-asana that they actually cannot sit on the floor in good posture without some help.
So how can we help ourselves practice good posture? Here are some tips to take care of your posture (and yourself!)
- Practice Mountain Pose when you are standing in line at the grocery store, on the subway, even while walking. Try to maintain an upright spine, your front and back body equally tall.
- Give yourself a boost. When you sit on the ground (in yoga, at a picnic, at a fancy Japanese tea ceremony, in meditation, etc.) aim to have your hips higher than your knees. Sit up on cushions, blocks, blankets, anything that you can find to lift your hips. This will release your hips and hip flexors and allow your pelvis to neutralize, freeing up the rest of your spine.
- Take time to stretch. Go to yoga. Start an easy at home routine of stretching. You’ll benefit most from doing a few gentle stretches in the areas that you are the tightest. Try some reclined hip and hamstring stretches followed by an easy backbend. Place a pillow or block under your chest to open your shoulders and release tech-asana.
Remember that it’s never too late to improve your posture and improve the quality of your life. Start where you are and take one step forward at a time. The hardest part of practicing good posture is simply to remember to be conscious of your body, but you can cultivate a habit of consciousness in your everyday life. Start right now.
Photo by Brittany White
Elizabeth Crisci is a yoga teacher and artist in Fairfield County, Connecticut. She is the creator of Love by E, handmade gemstone mala and jewelry. She teaches in workshops, special events, and trainings in the Northeast in addition to a range of regular, weekly classes. She teaches smart and accessible yoga designed to make you feel good. She loves every minute of her work. You can find her writing and her teaching schedule on her website.