Not many people find long periods of standing easy. If you have to stand while listening to a long speech, for example, does your back start aching? Pain and muscle strain arise when we don’t align our body with the line of gravity. When we manage to find this straight downward pull of gravity, standing becomes more natural and effortless. It can even allow us to experience a deep sense of peace. This blog considers two common types of misalignment and examines ways of improving our standing posture.
To stand for long times in an effortless way, we have to centre our body’s weight in the line of gravity. When the weight of your head, shoulders and hips are not stacked on top of each other, it’s like trying to keep a precariously balanced tower of blocks upright. If the body is off balance, muscles have to work much harder to hold the vertical position. Think of a pencil that can stand when you put it straight, but it falls as soon as it’s only slightly off to one side. When you look at a person sideways, being in the plumb line means that the ears, the centre of the shoulders, the centre of the hips and ankles are aligned. When this happens, gravity assists in standing, so that muscles don’t have to contract and tighten unnecessarily.
Correcting standing posture
Standing exercise 1:
Look at yourself sideways in a long mirror and observe the alignment of your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle. Here are two common holding patterns and how to start correcting them:
1. Hips pushed forward
A misalignment that often happens is when the centre of the hips are in front of the ankles and the centre of the shoulders are behind this imaginary line. This way of standing makes the back muscles work harder to keep the body upright. This ‘leaning into the hips’, can be seen in combination with either forward rounded shoulders or with the chest pushed forward.
I examine rounded shoulders in this blog: https://beneyoga.co.uk/rounded-upper-back-and-shoulders-how-to-look-after-your-posture/.
–Shift your hips back so their weight is centred above your ankles. It may feel like your heels carry more weight than you are used to, but our toes are not meant to carry weight. Think of your weight going down through the centre of the heels and behind all the toes.
-It’s likely that you will now also have to bring your trunk forward to bring the shoulders in line with the hips. This may feel very strange at first, as if you’re leaning forward.
-Once you see a better alignment in the mirror, stay in this position and breathe. Try to connect with the force of gravity pulling you straight down.
2. Chest pushed forward
In this holding pattern, we push the chest forward and pull the shoulders back. The muscles in the middle and lower back are strained. People adopt this posture in an effort to stand straight and tall, and to avoid slumping forward. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of forcing involved in this over-compensation.
-Place your hands on the solar plexus (between the floating ribs) and allow this to soften this down and slightly back.
-Place the back of your hand on the lower back and feel this area relax and lengthen down.
-Breathe, and connect with a sense of greater ease.
Once you have found the gravity line, you can feel in tune with the pull that comes from gravity as well as the rebound upward. Gravity allows us to be stable and grounded, but the result is obviously not a complete slumping. There is also a rebound from gravity that allows us to stand tall. The Scientist Isaac Newton explains this phenomenon in his third law of motion. This law states that if one body exerts a force on another body, this second body exerts an equal and opposite force on the first body.
This law and its relation to the spine was one of the passions of yoga teacher Vanda Scaravelli. She wrote in Awakening The Spine (1991): “This double movement of force and anti-force, which may sound like a contradiction, also operates in our bodies, and more precisely at the waist, dividing simultaneous into heaviness (towards the ground) and lightness (towards the sky), obeying a universal physical law.” Exploring this grounding and simultaneous lengthening helps us free and elongate the spine in standing and yoga poses. The heaviness or grounding does not mean that we have to tuck the tailbone under, as this would disturb the natural curves of the spine.
Standing exercise 2:
-Breathe out and feel the connection of your feet on the floor.
-Every time you breathe out, feel heavy and stable, “grounded” from the waist down.
-Once you have found the “grounding”, keep focusing on that as you exhale. Every time you inhale, feel lightness and length from the waist upward.
-Keep breathing in this way for a few minutes, with the sensations of both grounding and lightness in mind. Our breath and our focus help us feel stable and tall at the same time.
More help: It’s not always easy to correct your own postural habits and movement patterns. It may be even harder to find the role of breathing in all of this. If you would like to benefit from an improved posture, contact me here for a free consultation: https://beneyoga.co.uk/book-a-free-consultation-call/. In this free chat via Zoom or phone, we can discuss if and how yoga therapy could help you.
Check out this blog to find out how a slumping posture can influence our mood: https://beneyoga.co.uk/sitting-posture/.