How often do those around you complain of a sore back? Look at the way they stand or sit. The pain is more than likely the result of poor posture. Good posture is when all the joints in the body line up, stacked appropriately one on top of the other and there is equal distribution of muscle strength. In this ideal condition the joints all join forces to bear the weight of the body evenly so there is the least amount of wear and tear as we carry out our daily lives.
Common sites of poor posture are the feet turned in or out and arches fallen; sway back from weak abdominal muscles; rounded shoulders from lack of strength in the back muscles; and head carried forward from a sunken chest. A person can manifest all these poor postural habits or just one or two. Poor posture will eventually cause pain in some area of the body usually the knees, hips, spine or neck.
When the spine is not stacked properly, some groups of muscles will be too tight while others will be slack and not provide enough support. The tight squeezing of one set of muscles can cause painful constriction of the nerve endings which exit and enter through the spine. Often the experience of pins & needles in the hands or feet are the nerve endings in the spine reacting to blockages either in constricted muscles or jammed spinal joints. A correctly aligned spine will enable the nourishing fluids surrounding our nerves to freely travel up to the brain and back, it will allow the nerves to enter and exit unconstricted and minimise the compression of the discs.
Good posture affects the efficiency of our breathing. When the chest is lifted and open, breathing can be deep and unconstricted but when the head is carried forward the chest caves in and limits our oxygen intake. This condition encourages faster, more shallow breathing which not only hampers the oxygen supply to all our cells but can also have subtle negative effects on our emotions and ability to cope with stress.
Energy circulates through the body via subtle nerve channels (nadis/meridians). When the body is relaxed sufficiently and there is no stiffness or muscular pressure blocking the chi, then the chi can flow unhindered. Hard muscles block the flow of energy. When your posture is good the body is supported and the energy channels are open and the subtle energy (chi or prana) can flow throughout the body unhindered. If you are not correctly standing or sitting there will be tension somewhere.
Apart from skeletal or muscle problems we are born with or injuries we sustain, posture can usually be corrected, or at the very least improved simply by developing good habits of holding ourselves and stretching out the tight areas and strengthening the weak areas.
Good posture starts with the weight being evenly and firmly held in the base of the body. When standing (as in the Mountain Pose) our base is our feet and when sitting our base is the sitting bones (ischial tuberosities). From the base of a standing position we stack the knees directly in line with the centre of the ankles and from the ankles we should be able to run a straight line through the hips and shoulders finishing at the tips of the ears. As you ground your weight down evenly into your base you feel light, open and released in the upper body. There should be a feeling of lifting up through the front of the body and grounding down through the back of the body.
Practice standing and sitting like this and you will be amazed at how good it feels once the muscles have become used to the new ways of holding you. A well balanced yoga practice will strengthen all your postural muscles, balance muscles on both sides of the body, encourage awareness of how you are carrying yourself and help you develop good postural habits.