In July we have been exploring the movement and function of the upper back. Upper back strength is so important to stop you from rounding forward (heard of text neck?), and to keep you standing tall. Keeping this same area mobile will help you relax your shoulders and stop the build-up of tension so you feel more comfortable at the end of the day whether you have been standing or sitting.
How are you sitting now?
This focus on the upper back was part of a little series I did on posture – the other areas I covered were the feet/ankles, and the pelvis/lower back. Good posture is so important for keeping your body free of tension. You know those little short-cuts you take with posture – slouching in a chair, standing on one leg (like you have a child on your hip), cradling your phone with your shoulder, or letting your shoulders round. They aren’t dangerous, you won’t end up with long-term damage, but you are creating tension in the muscles by putting them in positions that they shouldn’t hold for too long.
We are all guilty of hunching over a computer or mobile phone, but have you checked to see if it is adversely affecting your posture? Stand in front of a mirror with your arms hanging by your sides and have a look at which way your knuckles face. Knuckles facing forwards equals rounded shoulders possibly from tight chest muscles, and a weak upper back.
How does yoga help posture?
Doing something like yoga helps to bring your attention to your body, and to your posture. Over time you build better awareness of where your body is in space, and how it is feeling as it moves, or interacts with a chair and desk. With more awareness you notice that you are jutting one hip out, leaning the weight unevenly through your body, or rounding the shoulders and creating tension through your upper back. With awareness comes the possibility of doing something different, making little tweaks that will bring your posture to a more natural, neutral alignment. Therefore, you will reach the end of the day in a more comfortable state, with less tension through your body.
The other half of better posture is working to improve it. Again, this could be with yoga, but any exercise that works on strength, long muscle length, and flexibility of joints is key.
We all have naturally larger and stronger chest muscles which tend to pull you forwards rounding your shoulders and hunching your upper back. Ideally, they need to be counteracted by a strong upper back, helped by strength through the back of the neck, triceps, and back of the shoulders. Equally, your chest muscles need to be kept long and supple to prevent them pulling and rounding even more. The last part of the puzzle is joints that move freely and comfortably, which in the upper body is the vertebrae, and the joints that make up the shoulder girdle.
The NHS website recommends doing exercises like plank, bridge, and chest stretches to help rounded shoulders straighten out. All of which can be found in your local yoga class!
Find the right yoga
However, it’s important to know what you are doing, and be guided by the right teacher. This is because there are a lot of weight-bearing exercises for the upper body in yoga, which can add to the stress and strain instead of help. For example, take that classic yoga pose – downward facing dog. It’s so important to know how to do a safe downward facing dog because of the pressure placed on the shoulders in this position. But done correctly, it is a brilliant exercise for strengthening the shoulders and contributing to better posture.
And if that hasn’t convinced you that yoga can help you get better posture, have a read of this:
‘To help correct your standing posture, imagine a string attached to the top of your head pulling you upwards.
- keep your shoulders back and relaxed
- pull in your abdomen
- keep your feet about hip distance apart
- balance your weight evenly on both feet
- try not to tilt your head forward, backwards or sideways
- keep your legs straight, but knees relaxed’
Sound familiar? No, it’s not a description of Tadasana, but the NHS recommendation of an ideal standing posture. We practice this every week in yoga, so if you need help to fix your posture then get to a yoga class!