Due to sedentary lifestyles and poor habits in daily activities, many Americans tend to have poor posture, exhibiting the traits of kyphosis, an excessively rounded upper spine, and lordosis, an excessively arched lower back. Because of its emphasis on proper posture, yoga can help reverse abnormal curves in the spine, correcting both the “hunchback” curve that occurs in postural kyphosis and the “swayback” curve that occurs in postural lordosis. And since posture has been found to affect every system in the body, yoga’s efficacy in creating optimal spinal alignment will also improve one’s overall health and well-being.
The effects of bad posture
Bad posture can lead to tension and pain in your neck, back, and shoulders. Poor posture can inhibit the circulation of blood and body fluids, reduce lung function and capacity, and reduce metabolism and digestion. Bad posture can also lead to states of depression, increased negative thoughts, lowered self-esteem, and decreased energy and vitality.
Proper posture, on the other hand, improves your energy levels and overall quality of life. In the subtle body, good posture helps keep open the nadis or energy channels and allows the chakras to function at their optimal levels.
Can you fix poor posture?
Most people have poor posture due to bad habits that can easily be fixed. If posture issues are related to issues like scoliosis and osteoarthritis, then posture changes will be limited and take longer. Cultivating body awareness is the key to correcting your posture and creating good habits, and a regular yoga practice is excellent for both. Getting into the habit of sitting and standing correctly may not feel comfortable initially. Once your muscles become conditioned to support you in sitting and standing up tall will be easeful and comfortable.
What are the signs of bad posture?
- Rounded or slumped shoulders
- Forward head position
- Neck and shoulder pain and tension
- Tilted shoulders or pelvis
- Bent knees when standing or walking
- Back pain and body aches
- Flat feet
- Muscle fatigue and low energy
Reversing a hunchback curve
Kyphosis is often a byproduct of computer and desk type work, and it is often seen in conjunction with a jutting forward of the chin and head. Upper back bending poses will help reverse this “hunchback” curve as well as stretch the muscles on the front of the torso which often have become chronically tight in this condition. Practicing weight-bearing backbends, such as Reverse Table pose, Bridge pose, and Bow pose will strengthen the back muscles to assist the holding of a corrected posture.
Reversing a swayback curve
Lordosis is often the result of weak abdominal muscles, or due to overcompensation for other muscle-skeletal imbalances. To correct this “swayback” curve, you must learn to “tuck your tailbone under” to help flatten the low back through the engagement of the abdominal and core muscles of the body. You can explore this tilting action of the tailbone in Cat Tilt pose’s rounding of the low back. Other poses that round the low back engage the “tailbone tuck” to reverse the “swayback” curve and to stretch the muscles of the low back are child, rabbit, and standing angle. Building strength through poses that engage the core muscles of the abdominals and low back, such as Boat, Low Plank, and Balancing Table, will be most helpful.
Yoga poses to promote good posture
Spine lengthening poses promote good posture and proper alignment of the vertebrae in both kyphosis and lordosis. When the spine lengthens, it naturally moves towards a correct alignment of natural 3 slight curves in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae. The most important yoga posture to master for creating optimal posture is Tadasana, the mountain pose. Many of the seated poses are similarly helpful to bring awareness to the alignment of the spine.
A general yoga practice will help to promote good posture, but there are ten yoga poses that will be especially helpful in cultivating alignment awareness, increasing flexibility, and building strength. For the best results in improving your posture with yoga, practice as many of the following asanas as possible:
The best yoga classes for good posture
Not all yoga classes are helpful for improving posture. It is best to avoid rigorous styles like vinyasa or ashtanga. To learn how to create proper posture, focus on alignment based and gentle styles of yoga, like the following.
- Gentle yoga
The purpose of this slow paced class is to improve mental relaxation and flexibility, as well as strengthen muscles without causing undue strain. If you are new to yoga or lead a sedentary lifestyle and want to improve your health and reduce stress, this class is perfect for you.
- Hatha yoga
This is generally an basic all levels class that helps you improve your body strength and flexibility. This style usually includes meditation and breathing exercises as well as simple poses that will lead to a healthier life because it reduces stress, lowers back pain, and prevents injury.
- Yin yoga
The class involves slow, deep and long held postures, which is important if your poor posture is due to muscle tension and tightness.
- Iyengar yoga
With a strong focus on correct alignment, these classes deepen physical awareness and postural mindfulness. The long hold times of these poses build both strength and flexibility.
- Core strength yoga
These are usually short format classes that use poses to strengthen the muscles that support your spine, abdomen and torso. In this class you will learn the correct way to strengthen these muscles through a series of yoga poses that focus on isolating each of the major muscle groups.
- Yoga for low back pain
If back pain is the source of your poor posture then seek out a class that specifically focuses on back pain relief. These therapeutic postures focus on creating flexibility and improving muscular alignment, which can help relieve pain associated with muscle imbalances.
Check your alignment
To check your alignment in Tadasana use this technique: stand with your back to the wall with your heels touching. Then adjust your hips, shoulders, and back of your head so that they are only very lightly touching the wall. Without pressing any part of your body into the wall, slightly reach the low back to the wall, feeling the tailbone tuck under. You can alternatively use a mirror or have a friend check to see if your ankles, hips, shoulders, and head all line up in a straight line.
How long does it take to correct posture?
Research tells us that it takes three to eight weeks to establish a new routine, so expect at least 30 days to see and feel an improvement in your posture. There are several factors that affect the amount of time it takes to correct your posture. For example, how many minutes of exercise you get per day and at what level of yoga classes you are taking will greatly affect your progress. How much your core strength is targeted and improved will also be an important factor in seeing an improved alignment of the natural curves of your spine. It may be a lifelong practice to continue to strengthen your postural muscles and to improve and maintain your posture.
Cautions and Contraindications
Kyphosis and/or lordosis that is caused by osteoporosis, severe scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, and ankylosing spondylitis may benefit from the therapeutic use of these poses, but it will be necessary to consult with a medical professional before starting a yoga practice. If the spine has developed osteoporosis or osteopenia, deep backbends like Camel, Bow, and Wheel pose can be painful and even cause injury and should be avoided or approached with great caution.