Posture is as important as eating right, exercising, getting a good night's sleep and avoiding potentially harmful substances like alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Good posture means your bones are properly aligned and your muscles, joints and ligaments can work as nature intended.
Good posture means your vital organs are in the right position and can function at peak efficiency. Posture also helps contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system. Without good posture, you can't really be physically fit.
Surprised? Well, you're not alone. The importance of good posture in an overall fitness program is often overlooked by fitness advisers and fitness seekers alike. In fact, the benefits of good posture may be among the best kept secrets of the current fitness movement. The good news is that most everyone can avoid the problems caused by bad posture...and you can make improvements at any age.
Know Your Curves
The natural state of your back has three curves which form an S.
The first curve of your spine is the cervical (neck) curve. Consisting of seven small, flexible vertebrae that support your skull and the cervical curve tilts slightly forward.
The second curve of your spine is the thoracic (mid back) curve. This curve has 12 vertebrae which are larger and more rigid than the cervical vertebrae. The thoracic curve has a prominent backward curvature.
The third curve of your spine is the lumbar (low back) curve. This curve consists of five massive vertebrae that carry most of the weight of your body. The lumbar curve has a forward tilt.
To keep your spine well-aligned and healthy, you must maintain the balance of these three curves. By maintaining this alignment you minimize stress on the spine, which helps prevent back pain and injury.
Yoga Can Help
Yoga helps improve your posture in the following ways:
1) Strengthens the muscles that support your spine - easier to maintain good posture.
2) Improves the flexibility of your spine, enabling you to maintain good posture throughout different movements.
3) Improves the flexibility of your shoulders, hips and hamstrings, allowing you to maintain good posture without strain.
4) Enhances your body awareness, so you are more conscious of your posture throughout the day.
Better Posture Made Simple
Follow these simple steps to quickly improve your posture.
1) Bring your feet parallel, not turned out, and about hip width apart. Bringing your feet parallel engages the muscles in the front of your thighs and keeps your hips, knees and ankles in proper alignment.
2) Reach up through the top of your head, feeling your spine lengthen, getting tall.
3) Bring your pelvis to a neutral position. To find this neutral position, place your hands around your hips, then tuck your tailbone slightly until your pelvis is directly over your thighs, so there is no bend in your hip joints, and there's less sway in your low back. As you tuck your tailbone, you should feel your abdominal muscles engage a bit.
4) Draw your shoulders back and relax them down, bringing your hands in line with the seams of your pants.
5) Level your chin, keeping your head directly over the spot between your shoulders, not forward or back.
Here are some easy ways to check your posture at home:
Stand facing a full length mirror and check the following:
1) Your shoulders are level
2) Your head is straight, not tilted to the side
3) The spaces between your arms and your sides seem equal on both sides
4) Your hips are level, not sloped to one side
5) Your ankles are straight and not turned in or out.
You can also have someone look at you from the side and check the following:
1) Your head is stacked over your body, not jutting forward or pulled back
2) Your chin is parallel to the floor, not tilting up or down
3) Shoulders are in line with ears, not drooping forward or pulled back too far
4) Your hands are in line with hips, not forward or back
5) Your knees are straight, not bent or hyper-extended
6) Your lower back is slightly curved forward, not too flat or curved too much, (creating a swayback)
Do your best to practice these points of posture everyday, and before you know it, your posture will be perfect.
Nancy Wile, Ed.D. is the founder of Yoga To Go - a yoga organization that provides simple and effective yoga programs for busy people around the world. You can subscribe to her free yoga and fitness newsletter at: www.YogaTG.com