What is Yoga? – How to Improve your Posture

There are many reasons people try yoga for the first time. Sometimes it’s the wish to become strong and flexible, or they’re drawn in by the beautifully performed poses. Others want to learn to relax, but for many, a major factor is the ability to improve posture.

There is a common misunderstanding that Yoga is only about gentle stretching and chucking in the occasional OM. Many are surprised when starting out with beginners yoga by the physicality of the practice and the fact that you actually build up a sweat. The purpose of Yoga is certainly to make you flexible, but there is far more to it. Flexibility in the body needs to be supported by strength; the more flexible you become, the stronger you should become too, and in the right places!

There is little benefit in building the kind of upper body strength that rounds your shoulders and collapses your chest, ultimately giving you poor posture. With Yoga you gain both upper body strength and beautiful posture – and that’s just one of many examples of where strength and flexibility need to be balanced.

Gregor Maehle in his book ‘Ashtanga Yoga – Practice and Philosophy’, beautifully outlines the chain of occurrences which lead to bad posture and ill health. In short, if you slouch a lot, you are likely to lose tone in the abdomen, your pubic bone drops, resulting in weak lower back muscles, which then are not able to support and erect your spine to its correct alignment. This is where the caving in of the chest begins. Also when breathing into the abdomen only – as we do when slouching – the ribcage becomes rigid, and you won’t find much movement there when breathing. It is crucial that we breathe into the chest, fully expanding and contracting our ribcage, using our intercostal muscles well. Then the heart, which is placed between the lungs, receives a massage with each breath. This greatly improves our cardio-pulmonary health, preventing heart disease etc.

With good posture your body is able to detoxify much more effectively; down to the level of the organs, blood, lymphatic system, nervous system, clearing any build-up around the joints; emotional and mental detoxification also takes place. This in turn enables your system to receive and absorb nourishment more easily.

Try correcting your posture whilst in a standing position. Where your shoulders were rounded – you might like to stand up now and try it out – gently draw your shoulder blades down the back and lift through the heart. Close your eyes, and if you focus, you will feel how the deep layers of your abdominal muscles- the transverse abdominis – through this simple action, switch on and create core stability, with all the beautiful benefits attached to that.

Yoga asanas – postures – are a wonderful aid to alleviating stiffness around the shoulders and also for strengthening the back. This month’s practice focus at NSY is ‘back-bending’, which is the best cure for exactly the issues aforementioned.

Standing and sitting in an upright position becomes easier and effortless; you are starting to become more aware of your body, to feel connected with yourself and others more beautifully, thus living life more fully.

This is a wonderful starting point for the exploration of the workings of our mind. After all, it is much easier to be kind, gentle, truthful, loving, active, studious and content when we feel good in ourselves and about ourselves. With a healthy physical body, Yoga’s teachings about emotional, mental and spiritual development are much more accessible.

Yoga is a way of life; it assists you in becoming happier, healthier, and a ‘better person’. Theoretically, we can all grasp the idea that being in the present moment and mastering the obsessive tendencies of our mind can bring us contentment and even bliss. But the only way to truly experience that, is simply ‘to practice’! You love Yoga, now come and do it!

OM Shanti,