Sit up straight! Your health depends on it

Vertebral column
The natural curves of the spine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t slouch! Sit up straight!

How many times were you told that as you were growing up? (I’ll ‘fess up – lots and lots in my case!!)

Well, to be honest, I feel like saying that to lots of people each and every day.

It’s not that I’m bossy (honest guv), but it actually saddens me when I see people sitting or standing with bad posture.  Because I know what it’s doing to them!

Lots of my clients tell me that they want to improve their posture with yoga. Good on them! I think we all have an intuitive sense that good posture helps us feel better all round.

So here’s why. This is what’s going on if you’re sitting or standing with a slouch…

Spinal misalignment = ouch!

I think this description gives a very real sense of the challenge and importance of good posture – it gives us something to focus on. Good posture is about your head!

“Think of your head as a bowling ball, big and round and heavy. When that ball is balanced directly over an erect spine it takes much less work for the neck and back muscles to support it than when it’s held several inches forward, a common postural habit. The head-forward position can lead to back pain, and contribute to such problems as headaches, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even fatigue.” (Dr Timothy McCall, from Yoga as Medicine).

So if the head is jutting forward all that weight is pulling on the neck, which leads to rounded shoulders which means we lose the natural curves of our spine. The vertebrae in the spine aren’t stacked above each other as they should be, putting strain on the spinal joints, and squishing the discs between the vertebrae.

No wonder back pain is so common!

Core muscles switch off

And now that the spine is curving forwards and out of alignment, our muscles become imbalanced.

Are you sitting? Then bring your awareness to your abdomen and the muscles there. Do they feel like they’re doing anything? Chances are, they’re probably soft because they’ve switched off.

Our core muscles are like a corset around our abdomen – they’re vital in maintaining stability in our body and our spine.

Prolonged poor posture means they get used to no longer doing the job required of them. They switch off and lose their tone.

Now, I don’t want to hear any “I haven’t got any muscles there anymore!”. They’re still there. They may have not been used in a while, but those deep core muscles are there and we can activate them in yoga.

Stomach gets squished

Think about your innards for a moment! If you’re slumped forwards, you’re compressing your digestive system – particularly your stomach.  Not a nice feeling after eating a big meal!

And being constantly compressed is not great for your internal organs at any time of the day. Lift yourself up and give them space.

Breathing is compromised

As well as your stomach, your lungs are compressed if you’re slumped forward.

Try this now. Collapse forwards slightly – so your shoulders are rounded. Try and take a deep breath. Can you. How does it feel? Now lift your breastbone and sit tall – take another deep breath. Feels much easier doesn’t it?

And if you’re not breathing well you’re not getting enough oxygen into your body nor are you breathing out all the toxins. And in yogic terms, you’re unable to take in Prana – or, life force – well.

Your energy levels plummet as stagnant energy gets stuck in your body.

It’s a pain in the neck

Rounded shoulders tends to make your chin jut forward – putting all sorts of strain on the vertebrae in your neck, leading to stiffness and/or pain as well as tension headaches and a clenched jaw.

Think of holding that bowling ball of a head in balance on top of your head instead.

Puts you on a downer & gives off the wrong message

And on a more subtle, but none-the-less very real, way, poor posture affects our emotions and our moods.

As we’ve seen poor posture leads to physical discomfort which will impact on our mood negatively because we’re daily having to cope with aches and pains.

Even more subtly, poor posture impacts on our energy centres. Rounded shoulders mean we’re obscuring our heart energy centre. We’re closing down our connection to our self and others.  We’re constantly in a position of defence against the perception of attack.

And this is transmitted to others in ways we probably don’t realize. Standing with poor posture is not giving off an aura of confidence or contentment to yourself or to others.

Sitting or standing tall (no matter your height!) can change your mood, your self-confidence and the way others perceive you.

Powerful stuff!

Wow, all this from something as simple as the way you’re sitting?! Oh yes…

Now, you may be thinking “that’s all very well, but you’re a yoga teacher, you’re bound to have good posture” Well, as a teenager and into my twenties I slouched.  I tried to hide my height and this meant I was dimming my light! I didn’t feel confident and people often told me I was shy.

Now I stand upright and feel so much better for it on every level of my being.

How to stand / sit well

Good posture aims to maintain the natural curves of the spine.

Engage your core muscles i.e. the lower abdomen, slightly. Enough so you can feel a slight tension there but you can breathe easily and the tension doesn’t spread to other parts of your body.

As you breathe in, feel your spine is lengthening upwards.

Lift your shoulders up towards your ears and then gently roll them back and down.

Bring your awareness to your breastbone and feel as if you’re lifting from there. That’s the key to good posture: lifting from the breastbone.

Breathe, feel you’re lifting up through your spine. Relax your jaw. Relax your shoulders.

Stand tall, beautiful you! Even if it feels like you’re scared or unsure. Take a deep breath, lift from your breastbone and be ready to face the world :)


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About Stella

I’m Stella Tomlinson and I teach slow, flowing Dru yoga in Southampton & Eastleigh (Hampshire, UK) to improve posture, flexibility, spinal health … and to help people improve their posture.

Dru yoga is characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations.

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Wishing you much good health and happiness!

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