In our everyday language we talk about being, ‘depressed’, ‘weighed down’ and ‘carrying the load of the world on our shoulders’ – all terms we use to describe the feeling of being pulled downwards by gravity when our life gets too much for us. Often our posture manifests this load we are carrying by drooping shoulders, sunken chest and a stoop of the upper body.
The stance of the stooper is said to affect our mood. So the slouch may not only be reflecting our mood but also changing it. This is backed up by a research study carried out by Dana Carney from the University of California who found that good posture increased testosterone and reduced cortisol while a slouched posture had the opposite effect – increased cortisol and decreased testosterone. Cortisol is a hormone which is associated with high levels of stress while testosterone reflects self confidence.
Another study reported in the Journal of Health Psychology concluded that
“Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress. The research is consistent with embodied cognition theories that muscular and autonomic states influence emotional responding.”
If we are not careful we may also manifest this slouched posture due to the pull of gravity as we age. Resistance to gravity along with good posture relies on maintaining an upright position with the support of our muscles. Actually the age related pull of gravity has its roots as early as our 30s. Exercise physiologists inform us that muscles begin to shrink around the age of 30 and without a big effort on our part will gradually decline as we grow older and saggier. This is why it’s a good reason to start an exercise habit while still young and just adapt it as the body ages.
Yoga asanas are a great way to beat the effects of gravity. Defying gravity with yoga is simply learning to stand, sit and move in a way that holds us up straight and strong and tall, giving space and support to all our joints. We learn correct alignment so that all the joints stack on top of another in a way that supports the whole frame of the body. We put the body in different positions so that all the major muscles in the body strengthen and release unnecessary tension. That way we can walk confidently through life with energy and strength to face whatever life serves up to us.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training