YOUR YOGA MOJO BLOG
Why Posture is Important and How to Improve it
Moriah Diederich, Yoga Mojo
Holistic Yoga Therapist™, RYT500, Accessible Yoga Ambassador
Posture is the foundation to good health.
This sounds like a bold statement, but without proper alignment it is impossible for one to move through life without accumulating aches and pains relating to poor posture.
Good posture is critical to our health and well-being. Certain habits can create poor posture, which leads to chronic pain, headaches, the need for pain relief medications and sometimes even surgery. Learn how to feel better and realign yourself with healthy posture at Yoga Mojo & Movement Therapy!
Stress, repetitive movement patterns and habits lead us to hold ourselves in a variety of imbalanced positions. These imbalances, also known as compensations, cause us to develop aches and pains that over time can become constant. Eventually this chronic pain can cause us to take medication, and possibly even have surgery to try and eliminate the pain.
Thankfully, we can learn to re-align ourselves and become more mindful of posture. This mindfulness can show us why we feel certain pains and possibly even eliminate them.
So let’s begin with good posture.
What is “good” posture?
Good posture = balance. Balance over your foundation, your feet. A well-aligned spine where you’re not pitched too far forward or back, and not leaning or rotating to the right or left.
Humans look symmetrical – we have two legs, two arms, and if you were to divide us in half each side would look the same. Right?
This is not the case in how we actually hold ourselves. When you look in the mirror, you may notice that one shoulder is higher than another. Or perhaps your head is tilted to the right, or pitched forward ahead of your shoulders.
If you look at your feet – are they parallel? Or is one or both feet angled in or out, or possibly one foot is ahead of the other?
These inquiries into how you are holding yourself is the start of becoming mindful of your posture. Now let’s learn how to re-align yourself.
Start with your foundation
In order to build a home, you begin by constructing the foundation. If the foundation of the home is crooked, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for your home to be built straight.
So let’s use this same analogy for your body, and begin with your foundation: your feet.
HOW TO SET YOUR FOUNDATION:
Begin in a standing position and march in place. Settle in a typical standing position, as if you were waiting in line at the grocery store or bank.
Notice the weight of your body in your feet. Do you feel the weight in the front of your feet, or in your heels? Are you carrying all of your weight on one side?
Notice the alignment of your feet. Is one foot ahead of the other? Is one foot or both angled in, or out?
Bring your feet hip width apart and align your feet so both sets of toes are in one line, and not angled in or out. If this is challenging, take note and allow your feet to angle themselves naturally.
Begin to rock forward and backward, shifting your weight from the balls of your feet back onto your heels. Your feet won’t actually move from the floor – you’re literally just rocking front and back. Notice if one position (forward or back) feels more natural to you than the other.
Find neutral – where the weight of you body isn’t in the front or back of your feet, but right over the arches.
Now notice if your weight is imbalanced between left and right, and if you have a tendency to shift your hips and place your weight all on one side.
Begin to sway left to right, noticing your weight shifting and then find neutral, where the weight of you body is centered between right and left, and balanced between front and back over the arches of your feet.
Notice what this feels like, and how it may differ from how you typically hold yourself throughout the day. Could this be contributing to any knee, hip, back or neck pain you may be experiencing?
Now that you’ve set your foundation, we can look to see if your center – your pelvis – is in alignment. Your pelvis holds the base of your spine, so aligning this area is key to setting proper alignment all the way up your vertebrae.
HOW TO ALIGN YOUR PELVIS:
Begin in a standing position.
Place one hand on your belly, the other on the small of your back (at your low back or sacrum).
Move the hand that’s over your belly down and the hand on your back up. Feel your pelvis tilt as you move. The action will feel like your sticking your bum out.
Now move your hands in the other direction, where the hand on your belly moves up and the hand on your low back moves down. Feel your pelvis tilt in the other direction. This will look like your tucking your body under, as if you were a dog with his tail tucked between his legs.
Go back and forth, rocking your pelvis forward and back, and notice which direction feels easier and harder. Chances are the easier side is where you typically hold yourself.
Now settle into a neutral position – where your pelvis is not tilted too far forward or back.
Notice how this position feels, and the difference between how you typically hold yourself. If these movements are challenging, it is your opportunity to become more mindful of the way you can move your pelvis and the core of your body.
Try this exercise in both a standing and seated position and notice how this new alignment differs from your typical position. Could your habits be contributing to your back pain, hip pain or neck pain?
HOW TO ALIGN YOUR SHOULDERS:
We’ve all heard that you have to “pull your shoulders back” and “stand up straight” to have good posture. I agree in standing up straight, but the action of pulling your shoulders back can actually be difficult to maintain. Why? Because it requires muscular effort to do this.
To pull your shoulders back you literally have to squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold – which is physically exhausting. Instead, I prefer to have clients do an exaggerated shoulder roll which leaves their shoulders down, back and wide.
SHOULDER ROLL EXERCISE:
You can do this standing or sitting:
Exaggeratedly move your shoulders as far forward as they’ll go. Notice if your neck or torso want to do this movement for you. Try to isolate this movement to just your shoulders.
Now from this forward position, move your shoulders up as high as they’ll go.
Next, move your shoulders back, but keep them wide. In other words, don’t squeeze your shoulder blades together, just move them as far back as they’ll go.
Release your shoulders down. This is the “down, back and wide” position that I am referring to. Notice if your shoulders feel more relaxed than if you were to “pull your shoulders back.” Notice the difference in how this position feels to your normal posture. Could your normal posture be contributing to headaches, migraines, back pain, tight neck and shoulder pain?
Repeat the shoulder roll several times and also roll your shoulders in the opposite direction throughout your day.
This movement will help loosen up the muscles in your neck and shoulders that tend to get tight and help set you up for better posture.
HOW TO ALIGN YOUR HEAD & NECK:
In our modern culture, we often see people with a forward head posture, looking down at their phones or craning their neck in order to see the computer monitor. Students will lean over their desk to read a book or tablet, and those who read for fun may sit up straight in a chair but inevitably drop their head forward to read the book. Even driving, it’s easy to crane your neck over the steering wheel to better see something.
Now take the following fact: the human head weighs an average of eight to ten pounds. Essentially, you have a bowling ball of a head on top of a little stand (your neck). And now for the really important fact: for every inch your head moves forward, your head doubles in weight.
So you can imagine – if you’re head is even just a few inches forward suddenly you have a thirty pound head! Your poor little neck and shoulder muscles don’t stand a chance! When your neck and shoulders are tight from carrying your head forward it can cause headaches and/or migraines, and if this posture is habitual it will lead to a hunchback posture and possibly even cause severe issues in your cervical vertebrae.
TIP: If you find yourself craning your neck to look at your monitor, increase the font size and zoom in! I have become a pro at the short keys on my computer to quickly zoom in on web pages and email. You can learn more about keyboard shortcuts and how to zoom in and out on your computer here: https://www.computerhope.com/tips/tip129.htm
NECK ALIGNMENT EXERCISE: You can do this standing or sitting:
Ensure you have done the previous exercises outlined in this post so everything is stacked properly from the ground up.
Drop your chin slightly, and notice how this lengthens the back of your neck. Notice also if you habitually raise your chin (for instance when moving from a seated position to standing), and how this action could compress your neck muscles and contribute to them being tight.
Using your earlobes as a guideline, place a finger on your slightly dropped chin and push gently back and up. This action will ramp your head back so your ears are right over your shoulders, and lift the muscles in the back of your neck so they’re not compressed.
Notice how this feels compared to your typical posture. Could your habit of holding your head forward be contributing to your chronic pain, tight muscles and headaches/migraines?
FEEL BETTER IN YOUR BODY!
I am passionate about helping my clients learn how to realign themselves in order to breathe, move and live better. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about how your posture might be contributing to your daily aches and pains. I’d love to help you feel better in your body!
Esther Gokhale, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee and Foot, April 1, 2008, Pendo Press
Kathleen Porter, Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living: The Practice of Mindful Alignment, July 22, 2013, Healing Arts Press
Moriah Diederich is a certified Holistic Yoga Therapist, RYT500 and Accessible Yoga Ambassador, and has been featured on KGW8 Portland Today. She owns Yoga Mojo & Movement Therapy in Vancouver, WA, where she offers holistic yoga therapy and private yoga classes customized for each client and their specific needs. Moriah is passionate about helping people move more comfortably on a daily basis with the energy to enjoy family, community and the world around us. She believes that every individual can benefit from yoga because the practice is accessible to everyone and teaches us how to sustain healthy movement for life. Moriah lives in Camas, Washington with her best friend and husband Bret Canfield and their two furry kids: a couch potato Pitbull named Rookie, and a sweet and sassy green-eyed cat named Evie.
Yoga Mojo & Movement Therapy
108 SE 124th Ave, Suite 18
Vancouver, WA 98684
Mon – Fri 9am – 6pm
By appointment only
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Yoga Mojo & Movement Therapy is conveniently located off I-205 and Mill Plain and serves all of the Clark County, Washington area including Vancouver, Washougal, Camas, Felida, Salmon Creek, Ridgefield, Battle Ground, Hockinson and La Center.The second exit after the NB I-205 bridge, Yoga Mojo is also quick and easy to get to from Portland, Oregon.