Years ago I was walking by a store front and saw a woman with terrible posture in the window, head leaning forward, shoulders rounded, back hunched, pelvis tilted…that woman, was ME! It was my own reflection I was negatively observing. The next visual, I feared, would be me with a hump back staring at the ground! Today, because of my consistent yoga practice it takes effort to try and stand with bad posture. Cell phones, ipads, laptops, sitting at a desk, slouching on the couch, stuck in long commutes all can make you look chronically hunch over. Besides the visual unattractiveness of poor posture, it also causes us to feel achy, tight, sore and leads to headaches and back aches. When you hunch forward, the chest collapses and compresses the heart, lungs and diaphragm. Hunching also strains the back muscles causing them to over stretch and become weak. Recent studies have shown that incorporating even just a few yoga poses a day can truly change your posture and your life. In addition to increasing body awareness, yoga strengthens the core, lengthens the spine and opens the chest and shoulders.
Here are some simple poses you can try during your day to improve your posture:
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
This seemingly simple standing pose is actually quite active. Stand with your feet hips distance. Engage all areas of your feet. Bring your shoulders up to your ears then roll them back a bit and drop. Reach the top of your head (crown) to the sky while reaching your fingers towards the earth. Bring your chin back so your ears are in line with your shoulders. Remain here for 5-10 breaths.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
In this pose you actually feel your spine lengthen. From your Mountain Pose, slightly bend your knees, and hinge from your hips and fold forward. Grab opposite elbows (rag doll) and sway around and hang here for a while. Let your heavy head help pull your spine nice and long (I like to think of one of those plastic straws expanding). Don’t worry about how straight your legs are – that will come with time. Release your arms to your shins or ground and try looking up and opening your chest and flattening your back on an inhale. then exhale and fold a little deeper. Do this 3-5 times.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
This pose not only opens the chest and works the spine, but it helps to strengthen the back as well. Lay belly down on the floor or mat. Place your hands under your shoulders. Push the tops of your feet into the ground and engage your quadriceps as you slightly tilt your pubic bone into the mat. As you inhale, gently lift your head and chest off the mat as you bring your shoulders away from your ears and elbows towards each other at the same time keeping the tops of your feet, toes and pelvis pushing into the mat. As you exhale take it all back down and repeat 3-5 times.
While this is known as a resting pose, it too is quite active and great for the back, hips, shoulders and spine. Start on all 4’s. Bring your big toes together and knees as wide as your mat or wider than your hands if you are not using a mat. Arch your back into a big cat pose. Keep this arch as you push your hips back to your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you. Keeping your belly active and drawn in towards the spine take 5-10 breaths pushing your hips back and hands forward with each breath.
Just as my poor posture developed over time, my good posture has taken time to develop as well. There are so many more yoga poses that will help you, but try these simple ones for a few days and see how much better (and taller) you feel.
Mary Poorman is a wife, mother of three awesome kids, yoga instructor and owner of yogaLOFT Milwaukee, www.yogaloftmke.com.