As a yoga teacher, I find the discussion of posture fascinating and critically important. Indeed, so many Westerners have poor posture due to many lifestyle choices: inactivity, ill-designed chairs, too much weight, and too much time spent not only sitting, but hunched over a keyboard or video game. The result can be "turtle backs" that curve at the top thus placing way too much stress on the thoracic area of the spine. Try this exercise right now: sit up straight, now pull your biceps in toward one another so that your upper back curves, feel what this does to the middle of your back. Now, pull the arms apart, roll your shoulders back and down, and open the chest in the heart region. Feel how this frees the spine, particularly that whole middle portion. This is how your back loves to feel.
Paleo people didn't have to worry about slouching in their chairs, or even about sitting too much. However, we in the modern world do. Many of our jobs, especially office jobs, seem to require that we park our rumps for hours on end at our desks. Paleo living isn't just about eating, it's about cultivating those human habits that honor our physiology. So why not focus on posture? So many people suffer terrible back pain that paying attention to this foundational part of your health is critical. Here are some things that can help you to pay more attention to your posture. As one yoga teacher once said to our class "you're only as young as your back feels."
- Practice Mountain Pose: Stand with feet hips' width apart. Now ground your feet into the floor, feeling all four corners. Stack your ankles over your heels, your knees over your ankles, your hips over your knees, pull the belly up and in to give you "corset" strength. Stack shoulders over hips, chin parallel to floor, crown of head reaching skyward. This is standing tall.
- Stand more at work. I never teach sitting down. I feel that the energy I get from standing and moving brings more energy to my teaching. I wear wedge sandals or heeled boots as I find they provide more support than flat shoes when standing for many hours. If you have a desk job, think about what you might do standing. Do you have to sit to make phone calls? Probably not. Is there a book case or cabinet or counter where you could stand and work instead of sitting?
- Get rid of your office chair. Yes, you read that right. Upon seeing a colleague using an exercise ball as a desk chair, I decided to do the same. It's transformative. Now I have to hold myself up straight and tall to work sitting. My tummy is working while I'm working and it feels fantastic. You can get a ball for about $40. DO IT IMMEDIATELY. I promise you'll never look back.
- Restorative Pose: Lie back on the floor, or even your bed, with a rolled up towel under your lumbar (lower back). Close the eyes and relax the back into the support. If it tenses up then you REALLY need this, work with it until it softens. Do this every night. ESSENTIAL for those suffering daily back pain.
- Meditate. Buy a meditation cushion (also about $40). Train yourself to sit upright with legs crossed, or lower legs bent under upper legs (Hero's pose). Start with two minutes, then work up to five, then ten, then twenty. Focus only on breath and opening the heart. Every time you start to feel yourself slouching, open the chest, pull shoulder blades back toward each other and feel the spine straighten.
- Less television, more walking. If you spend all day at work on your butt, then why spend your night there too?
- Go Paleo, Drop some weight. Five to ten percent of your body weight is a big deal and so good for backs and knees. Don't believe me? Pick up a couple of ten pound weights, or five pound weights and walk around with them for a few minutes.
I just got back from South Dakota where prairie dogs, like the ones pictured above, sit straight up out of their holes. The people spend too much time indoors (in trailers and houses) and too much time sitting due to the lack of employment opportunities. A sedentary lifestyle is just one of many modern ills impacting the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation negatively, but it is an health problem so many of us suffer from due to a life filled with passivity. The first step to better posture is awareness. Put a post-it on your computer to remind you to sit up tall. Better yet, figure out more ways to stand up tall. It's a primary step in feeling confident and strong and building a healthy lifestyle. For your reference, I've included a link below to the article that inspired this blog.