Have you noticed, when watching the Anzac parades, the difference between the way the soldiers and ex-soldiers march, compared with the non-soldiers? Or maybe you have watched a ballroom dancing competition, or seen either “Shall We Dance” (with Richard Gere) or the old Australian film, “Strictly Ballroom”?
Know what they have in common? Good posture!!! It seems to be in poor supply these days. What a pity. Good posture is so important.
Posture affects all the systems of the body, thereby affecting every aspect of our lives.
Many (especially) young people feel inadequate and self-conscious and so they droop their shoulders to “hide” from the world. But the drooping shoulders become a habit, and over time the shoulders become habitually rounded. The long-term effects are far-reaching.
Poor posture can lead to back pain, neck pain, spinal dysfunction, joint degeneration, constriction of blood vessels and nerves.
Poor posture can lead to vertebrae being pulled out of alignment (sometimes causing nerve impingement), and airflow becoming laboured as the sternum and chest pull downwards, creating pressure on the diaphragm. The reduced oxygen intake can lead to headaches, dizziness, poor sleep, poor circulation and anxiety. A prolonged period of inadequate oxygen intake can make the body more susceptible to bacteria, mental and emotional stress, fatigue, low energy, poor concentration and increased risk of illness.
“The body’s natural posture aligns the musculoskeletal system and keeps the internal organs in the correct position for optimal health, allowing the rib-cage and diaphragm to assist the lungs in breathing correctly”. 1
Several digestive problems can also be caused by poor posture, including constipation, acid reflux and some hernias, because of the compression of the internal organs and abdomen. Correct posture allows the internal organs in the abdomen to assume their natural positions.
Many people don’t realise that they have poor posture.
Whether you’re sitting, standing or lying, the back of the neck should be lengthened; when sitting or standing, your jaw should be parallel to the floor; when lying, the jaw should be at right-angles to the floor. The shoulders should be back and down, thus lifting the chest and pulling in the tummy (not tightly, not so that the breath to the abdomen is restricted).
Many people in a yoga class lie nicely with the back of the neck lengthened, but the instant they start to move into a lying-down asana, the top of the head goes back and the back of the neck is shortened. To get maximum benefit from the supine postures, try to keep the lengthening up the back of the neck.
Many of the yoga asanas help with posture.
Kandharasana, the shoulder pose is excellent in this regard as your shoulders are forced to stay on the floor and for neck safety, the chin is tucked down towards the chest, thus lengthening up the back of the neck.
The cobra pose, bhujangasana, is another excellent practice for keeping the shoulders back and down. Most of the shoulder practices both loosen any tightness in the neck and shoulders and strengthen the shoulder muscles so that they can stay back and down.
Please take some time to observe your posture – it’s helpful if you can see your natural self reflected in a shop window or the like, so that you see yourself as others see you. I was lucky – my Mum and Dad had both been in the army, so every time we were leaving the house, our parents would pull our shoulders back. We didn’t like it at the time, but we’ve all been grateful all our lives for having good posture thrust upon us. Even the old thing about walking with a book balanced on your head helps to keep you straight.
In India – as in other places – rural women still carry loads on their heads. I don’t think much of the idea generally, but it does mean they maintain good posture.
So while I am not suggesting that we all go ahead and put our washing or loads of shopping on our heads, I do recommend that you either take up ballroom dancing, or I will see you next week at a Yoga Alive class.