Every time I see someone with a hunched spine, it makes me pull myself up straight and tall. While some hunched spines are the result of osteoporosis and the inability of the spine to support the head, many are preventable. They are the result of lack of tone in the postural muscles which hold us straight and tall.
According to exercise physiologists muscles begin to shrink around the age of 30, and without a big effort on our part will gradually decline as we grow older. This is why it’s a good reason to start an exercise habit while still young and just adapt it as the body ages.
Untoned postural muscles can be the result of lack of strengthening but alarmingly can also be caused by our mental outlook.
In our everyday language we talk about being, ‘oppressed’, ‘depressed’, ‘weighed down’, ‘floored’ 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 good news is that according to a study reported in the Journal of Health Psychology
“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.”
This research is consistent with prevailing theories that muscular and autonomic states influence our emotions.
Standing or sitting straight and tall not only affects our mood but also helps to prevent degeneration in our joints, especially the neck and back.
Yoga asanas performed mindfully are a great way to learn to stand, sit and move in a way that holds us up straight, 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