You can improve your posture dramatically and significantly by practicing yoga.
Good posture has a very simple definition. When you are standing, sitting or lying down with good posture, you are in the place where you are most biomechanically efficient. Most likely, when you are truly in the place of good posture, you won’t hurt anywhere or your pain level will be dramatically reduced.
Over the years, so many people have come to me for healing work where they have wanted me to put my hands on them to make their pain simply go away.
Although this is possible in the short run, the minute you get up from a healing session with me and sit, stand or lie down with bad posture, the minute your pain will return.
Having taught yoga now for 16 years, I am a big believer in its profound healing effects on all levels.
I am now in my sixth yoga teacher training, and this one is the very best I have ever taken. It’s with Lillah Schwartz of Lighten Up Yoga in Asheville, North Carolina.
Lillah gave us an assignment to think about all the key postural muscles in the body and ask ourselves which yoga poses stretch and which ones tone and strengthen the prime movers. This blog post is inspired by my homework assignment for Lillah.
Although I have studied this information at the Chek Institute, Lillah’s approach to posture is more effective, in my opinion, because it’s integrated, compassionate and comprehensive and treats the body as a whole.
At the Chek Institute, I learned how to do an hour and a half posture assessment measuring the curves in the spine, determining which muscles were short and tight which ones were long and weak. From this information, I was trained to write corrective exercise programs.
Posture is a very complex thing to study and at the end of the day how we sit, stand or lie down has a lot to do not only with muscles but also our psychology. Schlumping is a state of mind, for example!
It was Moshe Feldenkrais who talked about how every mood we experience has a corresponding feeling, posture and breathing pattern associated with it. We can change the way we feel by changing our posture and changing the way we breathe – which is what yoga is all about!
When you want to improve your posture, the first place to begin is to understand which muscles in your body are short and tight and which muscles are long and weak.
Stretching a muscle is really LENGTHENING a short, contracted muscle.
Toning a muscle requires that muscle to CONTRACT and STRENGTHEN.
In order to sit, stand or lie down with good posture, it’s all about balance. The short, tight muscles need to be lengthened and stretched. The weak, long muscles need to be strengthened and toned.
You train your postural muscles every day, all day long, by the habitual ways that you sit, stand or lie down.
As we practice yoga, the problems with our posture become corrected and over time we learn how to sit, stand or lie down in ways that make us feel much better, look amazing and live in a pain-free way.
Here is a short list of your key postural muscles, where they are and what to do to make them better.
Hamstrings. This is the biceps femoris in the back of your upper legs from your buttocks to your knee. In most but not all people, the hamstrings are usually short and tight and need to be STRETCHED.
Stretches: Supta Padangusthana (supine big toe pose, lying hamstring stretch with strap); Upavista Konasana (wide leg forward fold); Janu Sirsasana (revolving head to Knee pose); Pascimottanasana (seated forward fold)
Toning Poses: Virabhadrasana III (hero 3); Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel); Vrksasana (tree pose)
Hip Flexors. This is a group of muscles that allow you to lift your leg to your chest.
Quadriceps. This is a group of muscles on the front of your top thigh.
Stretches: Half Bhekasana (half frog, lying quadriceps stretch); Full Bhekasana (full frog, double quadriceps stretch); Supta Virasana (supine hero)
Toning Poses: Virabhadrasana I (hero 1); Virabhadrasana II (hero 2)
Ilio psoas and iliacus. These muscles attach the ribs and sacrum to your leg bone. They are deep in your groin. Because most of us spend too much time sitting, these muscles are usually short and tight and need to be stretched.
Stretches: Low Lunges with knee on ground; Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog); Dhanurasana (bow pose)
Toning Poses – Utkasana (chair pose); Garudasana (eagle)
Latissimus dorsi. This is the largest muscle in your back and attaches your back to your arm bone. In most people, the lats are tight.
Stretches: Parvatasana (arms overhead and hands interlocked); Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog); Balasana (Child’s pose, arms stretched out in front)
Toning Poses: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog); Vasisthasana (one arm side balance)
Pectoralis Major and Minor. These are your chest muscles.
Stretches Bharadvajasana I (sage twist); Door hang chest stretch; Urdhva Mukha Sanasana (upward facing dog); Parsvottanasana (intense chest stretch)
Toning Poses: Caturanga Dandasana (pushup or plank); Lolasana (pendant pose); Bakasana (crane)
Trapezius. This is a kite-shaped muscle in your upper back. In most people, the upper trapezius, which is the top of your shoulder, is usually very tight.
Stretches: Balasana (child’s pose); Garudasana (eagle arms)
Toning Poses: Ustrasana (camel); Dhanurasana (bow); Matsyasana (fish); Purvottasana (reverse plank)
Rhomboids. These muscles are between your shoulder blades. They may be painfully tight and often contain many trigger points that give your massage therapist job security.
Stretches: Garudasana (eagle); Balasana (child’s pose)
Toning Poses: Matsyasana (fish); Ustrasana (camel); Dhanurasana (bow)
Anterior Tibialis. Muscle on the inside front shin.
Stretches: Vajrasana (diamond pose); Supta Virasana (supine hero pose)
Toning poses: Vrksasana (tree pose), Virabhadrasana I and II (hero 1 and 2)
Peroneus Longus and Brevis. Muscles on the outside of the lower leg.
Stretches: Vajrasana (diamond pose); Supta Virasana (reclining hero)
Toning Poses: Virabhadrasana II (hero 2); Virabhadrasna I (hero 1); Vrksasana (tree pose)
Erector spinae muscles. These muscles are on both sides of your spine.
Stretches: Uttanasana (standing forward fold); Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold)
Toning Poses: Salabasana w/ variations (locust); Utkatasana (chair pose); Vasisthasana (side arm balance); Virabhadrasana III (hero 3)
Gluteal Group. This includes your gluteus maximus and minimus on the outside of your buttocks as well as the piriformis deep inside your hips.
Stretches: Hip stretches towards the chest; hip stretches knees away from chest; Eka Pada Kapotanasana (pigeon)
Toning Poses: Garudasana (eagle); Setu Bandha (bridge)
Diaphragm. This is a dome-shaped muscle inside your rib cage. It is the primary muscle you use to breathe. Developing our breath gives us power and energy.
Stretches: Dhanurasana (bow); Dandasana (seated extended leg posture)
Toning Poses: Navasana (upward facing boat); Viloma I and 2 (deep breathing with inhale/exhale interrupted)
Quadratus Lumborum. This is a deep muscle in the lower back. Often one side is tighter than the other due to the common habit of crossing your legs.
Stretches: Jathara parivartanas (basic twist with bent knees); Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended side angle stretch)
Toning Poses: Utthita Trikonasana (triangle pose); Ardha Chandrasana (half moon pose)