Poor posture is often neglected in regards to personal health, considered an aesthetic issue more so than something capable of serious harm. Bad posture is often the culprit behind various medical conditions and can cause more long-term damage than just hunched shoulders. But are there better ways to improve posture aside from the archaic method of walking around balancing a stack of books on our heads, such as yoga?
In addition to increased strength and flexibility, studies have shown that practicing yoga can improve posture. Regular yogic exercise lengthens the spine and develops one’s core muscles, which aids in creating a more stable support system for the body’s musculoskeletal system.
In this article, we’ll first talk about posture—a definition of good posture, what causes poor posture, and how it can negatively affect your health in the long run. We’ll then discuss yoga’s postural benefits and list a few yogic poses known to help correct and maintain good posture.
According to the Harvard Health Letter, good posture is defined as “a neutral, upright spine—not flexed too far forward or backward.” The best way to achieve good posture is to position shoulders down and back, with head held high and core muscles—that being the abdomen, back, and pelvic floor muscles—engaged.
Maintaining correct posture minimizes tension exerted on the body’s musculoskeletal system, sparing one’s muscles, tissues, joints, and ligaments from excessive stress and wear over time.
Posture is divided into two subcategories—static and dynamic, and the names are pretty self-explanatory. Any posture requiring little movement or activity is static—for example, sitting in an airplane seat during an extended flight—while dynamic posture is defined by motion and action. It’s important to take both of these into account, as both types of posture affect one’s overall carriage in different ways.
Many different factors play into an individual’s posture, including age, weight, and day-to-day activities. Your profession, clothing choices, previous history of injuries, even the way you sit when watching TV for prolonged periods—all of these factor into one’s physicality as time wears on, and how we carry ourselves daily will either strengthen or fatigue our body’ natural support system. Here are a few of the most common factors linked to poor posture:
- Inactivity: These days many spend their lives hunched over desks, smartphones, and computer monitors for hours on end. As a result of our increasing inactivity, the general populace’s posture has continued to worsen over the last 100 years. Many assert that our inactive lifestyles are to blame, with unhealthy and repetitive static postures maintained over prolonged periods contributing to poor circulation and back problems.
- Obesity: carrying excess weight is also known to contribute to poor posture. Inactivity exacerbates weight gain, and extra body weight around one’s core, in particular, is known to contribute to stooping and slouching. This contributes to a variety of health problems, including back pain and pelvic and spinal issues.
- Furniture and clothing choices: although quite comfortable, chairs and sofas with lots of cushioning are quite bad for posture, providing poor support for the neck and spine while accommodating unnatural, slouched positioning. Shoes can also play a pivotal role in exacerbating back and neck issues when they don’t provide adequate support, with high heels in particular capable of doing long-term damage.
- Lack of awareness: The easiest way to improve posture is to be aware of it, points out NIH physical therapist Cris Zampieri. Zampieri and other experts advocate that we should be conscious in examining how we carry ourselves daily, ideally before issues arise in the first place. Most of our everyday activities and movements are involuntary, and when particularly careless, can lead to injuries, tears, sprains, or worse.
It’s important to listen to what our bodies are telling us, and experts say that exercises with an emphasis on mindfulness, such as tai chi and yoga, may be healthy ways to keep our minds and bodies in sync.
The long-term pains of poor posture cannot be understated: according to the NIH, “Years of slouching wears away at your spine to make it more fragile and prone to injury.” Spinal damage is just one of a litany of negatives resulting from poor posture, with the list including:
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Back issues
- Poor balance
- Respiratory difficulties
- Muscle and joint damage
- Agitated arthritis
- Poor circulation
- Memory loss and learning impairment
- Jaw misalignment, which can result in TMJ
Considered a sacred exercise in India for millennia, yoga practice did not emigrate to the West until the late 19th century. Since then, its popularity has risen steadily, and yoga now has something of a reputation as a sort of physical panacea.
Many claims have been made about yoga and its myriad health benefits, including claims to improve posture. But is it all hype? Practicing yoga over time has been proven to improve strength and flexibility—particularly in one’s core muscles, which serve as the literal backbone of good posture.
Our postural muscles are the ones most neglected in our desk-bound habits, less actively engaged when sitting all day—a stronger core takes the strain off of the neck, back, and shoulders and helps enable one to sit and stand up straight. Developing a habit of regular yogic practice will also elongate the spine, helping to correct abnormal curvatures that result from habitual slouching.
According to a study done by the NIH, many older adults suffering from hyperkyphosis—the stooped, curved shoulder position that can become an issue in old age—exhibited substantial improvement in their posture after taking part in 6-month long yoga practice.
Studies from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and the NIH both showed that over time yogic practice improved posture and balance in individuals with MS and heightened strength and flexibility. Studies show that yoga can also prove helpful in mitigating scoliosis, decreasing pain and stiffness and realigning the spine.
As discussed above, mindfulness—a crucial tenet of yoga—helps practitioners be more aware of their bodies and identify when things feel misaligned. With an ethos that incorporates awareness in conjunction with physical activity, the yogic practice encourages practitioners to be more attuned to their bodies and all of its sensations.
To help correct or maintain posture, it’s a good idea to practice yoga at least once a day, even if for a short period. Any stretching or dynamic movement that diminishes the effects of repetitive, static positions held throughout the day will help improve your posture.
It’s best to focus on poses that will enhance and strengthen the postural muscles, elongate the spine and open the chest or pectoral muscles. Some advantageous poses include:
- Chest expansion
- Mountain pose
- Cobra pose
- Camel pose
- Bridge pose
- Plank pose
- Cat-cow pose
- Seated spinal twist
Serious consequences can result from turning a blind eye to our slumping and slouching, but we first have to know what exactly defines good posture to address these problems. Our daily behaviors affect our posture more than we think, with things like physical activity, weight, and lack of awareness factoring into how we carry ourselves.
Regular practice of yoga is just one way to repair and maintain good posture, and many assert it has the power to do the same for our mindset.
- Harvard Health Letter: 3
- Surprising Risks of Poor Posture
- NIH: Getting It Straight | NIH News in Health
- US News: 10 Ways Poor Posture Can Harm Your Health
- Medline Plus: Guide to Good Posture
- Elsevier: Postural Correction
- National Library of Medicine: Yoga Training Has Positive Effects on Postural Balance and Its Influence on Activities of Daily Living in People with Multiple Sclerosis: A Pilot Study
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Therapeutic Yoga: Symptom Management for Multiple Sclerosis
- WebMD: Yoga Health Benefits: Flexibility, Strength, Posture and More
- Harpenden Physiotherapy: How Footwear Can Affect Your Posture
- Healthline: Can Yoga Increase Your Height? What It Can and Can’t Do
- Ace Fitness: Yoga and Posture
- Posture Guides: How Furniture Affects Our Posture
- Do You Yoga: 8 Yoga Poses to Improve Your Posture
- Very Well Fit: 6 Yoga Poses for Better Posture
- Yoga Medicine: Yoga for Better Posture
- Yogi Approved: Practice These 10 Yoga Poses to Correct Bad Posture
- Healthline: The Ins and Outs of Yoga and Scoliosis
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