Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fighting Gravity with Good Posture

Gravity can be an amazing beautiful thing when taking a walk through the autumn forest.  The sound of crunchy leaves rustling at your feet while the colorful confetti falls from the tall trees.  All this beautiful magic brought to you by the sun and gravity.

But a lifetime of gravity's pressure on your body pulls you down, compressing the gaps between your spine vertebrae  and reducing the lubricating fluid.  Our tendencies to hold a certain posture result from an expression of our personality and compensation for injuries and gravity; bodies are lazy and they'll fall into the stance of least work.  Less muscle work sets us deeper in crooked ways.

Inversions are such powerful poses in yoga, they reverse gravity, sending our wrinkles and organs upside down.  Inversions counterbalance the effects of gravity, and boy do they feel good (although headstands can be harsh on your neck, so mix up the inversions and don't do a headstand everyday).

Actually most of yoga practice encourages longevity of your body.  One of the students in my teacher training is 72 years old, she's been practicing yoga for 30 years and she hangs through the 1.5hr intense classes with the rest of us!  On Saturday we had a hardcore evening practice centered on stability and grounding through the feet.  It was so vigorous that I was sweating (and I'm not a sweater), I worried about our 72 yr old friend MJ.  But after class she was all smiles.

I had to say, "MJ that was a really tough practice! I hope I'm in as good shape as you are when I'm your age."

"Keep doing this and you will be." She said with a big smile.

Last weekend's yoga workshop was taught by guest yogi Jamie Elmer of First Ray Yoga.  Can I say how much I love that the teach training program I chose brings in famous guest teachers from all over the States, I love that!  So Jamie came in to teach muscular and skeletal anatomy applied to yoga postures.  She also trained us on how to stand up for longevity.  How to stand in a posture that keeps back and body healthy.  Now I want to share this priceless info with you.

Try in front of a mirror if possible.
Sorry for the crummy picture
We're going to start from the feet, since feet are the base of every bone in your body.  If the basis is off, then the temple wont be stable.  Misalignment in your feet can flow downstream, prompting pain in your knees, hips, and on.  My aunt suffered from headaches until an osteopath discovered the headaches were caused by a misalignment in her knee!  So something off with your base can have far reaching consequences.

Position your feet hip distance apart.  Usually a little wider than you originally think.  Do your feet naturally splay out or invert?  Point them so both second toes face front... Unless that's painful, in which case don't do this exercise, I don't want to hurt you!

Once you feet are hip distance apart and facing front wiggle your toes.  Focus on distributing the weight of your body on all four corners of your foot, but not your toes.  Imagine your foot is a car, you want all four wheels holding equal weight.

Now look at your knees.  Are they locked?  Unlock them by letting a breath of air rest behind them.   If they are facing any direction other than straight ahead, position them forward.  If this is painful or too difficult then  you can angle the foot a bit.

Lets talk about the pelvis.

Feel for the front of your two hip bones, near the sides of your waist line.   Now feel for your pelvic bone, which is basically, uhh, right above the crotch.  Those three points should all be on the same plane, perpendicular to the floor.  So tilt in what ever direction needed to get those points completely parallel with the wall in front of you.

Also, relax the bum.  Don't tighten the bum.

Imagine the pelvis is a bowl suspended by the legs pedestal.  You want the rib cage hovering directly over that bowl.  For most people that means lifting and tilting forward, as if you are being lifted up and over by your bra strap.  It may feel like you are hunched over, but really, you are becoming more straight... look in a mirror.  Stretch out your spine, imagine someone is pulling the back of your head up with a string.

Now Breath.

Roll the shoulders back so the shoulder blades are flat as can be, without pinching them behind you.  It should feel different, but not forceful.

Lift your chin up a bit directing the head straight ahead.

Breath again.

Imagine the spine stretching up while the feet drive into the ground beneath you.

This posture, Tadasana (mountain pose):

  • Aligns the spine
  • Opens the chest
  • Strengthens your arches, ankels, knees and thighs
  • Tones the abs and bum muscles

Standing in Tadasana is not easy, but incorporating the posture into daily life will help reverse the effects of gravity on the spine and save back pain.  Joint pain comes from reduced cartilage and fluid due to compression over time.  Using the erector muscles along the back to add space between the bones will allow the body to maintain fluid between vertebrae and prevent wear down.  One visualization that helps me is to imagine placing a breath between each vertebrae  It sure makes you look and feel taller.

Hope that helps others!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and no information provided in this post should take the place of medical guidance.  This post provides DIY tips but personal adjustment by a yoga teacher trumps any info provided here.  If anything hurts, please cease :). Namaste.

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