The foundation of good posture is a neutral pelvis, both in sitting and standing. A neutral pelvis allows for the spine to stack vertically with its natural curves so the head can rest comfortably on top.
If you’re not already doing so, take yoga classes where you have the opportunity to practice the intricacies of Tadasana (Mountain Pose), our anatomically neutral standing posture. There are common cues you may hear while practicing this pose, but each individual’s body is different, so learning Tadasana is not solely about practicing standing upright. Some people have scoliosis that rotates the pelvis and spine, while others may have imbalanced musculature in their hips and back due to habit, occupation, sports or injury. Most of us have some aspect of tech neck that challenges posture. So we all have different work to do to come into neutral, and the foundational poses we do in yoga can help with this.
In group yoga classes, introduce yourself and let the instructor know you are working on your posture. He or she may be able to give you personal adjustments, especially if you are a regular student and the instructor has more time with you and more knowledge of your practice. It also may be worth taking a few private yoga classes with an experienced instructor who can guide you regarding your own unique anatomy, movement patterns and posture.
Ultimately we are looking for a balance of strength (sthira) and flexibility (sukha) in the musculature and joints in the body. This takes time and regular practice. My classes incorporate a lot of core work and focus on spinal mobility and stability (including pelvic stabilization), to provide a strong foundation for a neutral spine, movement of the limbs, and a solid base for all yoga poses. When you solidify the basics you can then safely and strongly layer on additional moves and/or explore different relationships to gravity. Think Supta Padangustasana 1 and Warrior 3—same shape, totally different experience! The details you learn by practicing Supta Padangustasana 1 with the support of the floor can greatly inform you while in the same shape but balancing on one leg in Warrior 3!
As you strengthen weak areas and mobilize stuck ones, you will come back to a richer, deeper neutral posture in Tadasana. It can be fun to be challenged in new ranges of motion and to find more balance in your body. Balance feels great! Although just as in life we probably spend more time out of balance in our yoga classes than in, but embracing that is part of the yogic journey.
I can’t close this section without a mention of the connection between the deep diaphragmatic breathing we often practice in yoga classes and good posture. When we sit in slumped positions it impedes our breathing mechanics and we cannot take a full breath. The respiratory diaphragm is restricted, the lungs don’t have space to fully expand, and tight chest muscles inhibit full expansion of the rib cage. Not only will good posture help you breathe more fully, practicing deep breathing will help you strengthen and mobilize the muscles of respiration and improve your posture—don’t forget to make sure you keep your shoulders and base of your neck relaxed as you breathe. As a bonus you will improve physiological functioning, reduce the ill effects of stress and enhance your mood.
If you’re experiencing pain it may be beneficial to visit a medical professional who can diagnose the issues you are having and offer therapeutic exercises and things to avoid in your movement practices. Professional assessments of your ranges of motion with specifics about where you need to mobilize or stabilize is wonderful information to share with your yoga teacher.
Part I: Ergonomics
Part II: Posture
Part III: Salabhasana Variations
Part IV: Self-Massage with Yoga Tune Up Balls
Part V: Therapeutic Corrective Exercises
Part VI: Take Breaks