We have all heard that yoga is great for your posture and is a gentle way of exercising, but is your yoga practice helping or hurting your spine?
The human spine is designed to have curves of both the lumbar and cervical for shock absorption and ease of movement. When we do exercises that flatten our spine, we are overriding our natural design. Many Yoga positions reinforce bad posture and go against our natural curves. (Our curves are there for a reason!) These exercises make up a large percentage of our current Yoga, Pilates and fitness exercises. With a little bit of awareness, we can avoid distorting our natural shape and instead move to support the curves of our body.
Chronic pain is directly related to poor posture. In fact, according to Cedar Sinai Spinal Institute, 95% of pain is a result of dysfunctional alignment. Many a sore back is blamed on too much time sitting at a desk, but exercises that put our body in right angle positions that simulate the chair shape are just as harmful.
Two simple tests may determine whether an exercise or yoga pose serves the human design: it should allow the spine to have its natural curves, and it should not cause restricted breathing. The breath is a wonderful barometer to realize if one is holding tension.
These are common positions and exercises that distort our natural alignment, creating more pain and joint destabilization:
• Sitting in chairs with poor posture.
• Toe-touching with knees straight while standing or sitting, like the yoga forward bend.
• Forced abdominal exercises that direct us to fatten the lower back.
• Positions that create a right angle, straight leg standing or seated bends.
• Cycling, paddling and spinning with your spine in a C shape.
• Tucking the tailbone (chronic compressed lumbar spine). Do not tuck your tail bone!
The human body is not designed to sit in chairs! Our trunk is not designed to be static in a right angle, so we often fall into a slouch. This pushes our head forward, and we strain our shoulders, upper back and neck muscles to support the extra weight of the head posturing forward. The strain culminates in chronic pain, headaches etc. Yoga moves should wake up dormant postural muscles and align you from the inside out, working on the deep stabilization muscles rather than the large, gross muscles. In doing so, we feel more and the more we feel, the more we can heal.
Good posture should be a natural result of doing exercises and poses that simulate your body’s innate curving shape…maintaining the lumbar and cervical spine. It is imperative that in our daily movements through which we live in our bodies, we have our natural, neutral spine alignment. When alignment is not balanced, the whole body suffers from pain, tension, and eventually the deterioration of cartilage and joints. To be pain-free, you need to learn to engage your body in its natural design, sit with actively curved spine engagement, but also make sure that your exercise supports good posture and not good poses.
Kathleen has taught yoga for 17 years-curing herself from the effects of 4 car accidents and an auto-immune disease. Teaching has shown her a common thread with poor posture and pain. Founder of Anatomy of Yoga Alignment, Kathleen loves to share the healing capabilities of a safe yoga practice.
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