Posture is at the heart of the Yoga and Pilates classes I plan. Why? Because it is so hard to avoid poor posture as we spend more and more of our lives sitting down. Over the next few weeks in class we are going to look at little deeper at posture and how practises such as Yoga and Pilates can help you improve your posture which in turn can help you to feel better - posture has a huge effect on our health and wellbeing!
Sitting for long periods of time tightens the muscles on the front of the body - think hip flexors, quadriceps and pectoralis (chest muscles). This can result in the shoulders rounding forward and pelvis tilting forward. When this happens your abdominal muscles and gluteal muscles don't engage as they should. These are stabilising muscles of the spine that aren't working properly and that means poor posture, risk of injury, pain, fatigue, not breathing to the lungs full capacity.. the list goes on.
When I plan my yoga classes I keep posture firmly in mind, considering how to stretch out what is tight and strengthen what is weak. Often if flexibility is reduced we can work on correcting it by stretching the muscles that are tight and strengthening the opposing muscles. Lets take round shoulders as an example. Short pec muscles, caused by sitting and activities such as driving and typing, draw the shoulders forward which stretch the upper back, giving the appearance of rounded shoulders. This can lead to upper back and shoulder pain. So we need to practise postures that pull the shoulders back to stretch the chest and strengthen the upper back. The yoga postures below are examples that achieve the desired chest opening, back strengthening effect we are looking for. Don't be put off if you can't do these postures, just by working towards them you will begin to open up your chest and strengthen your back.
Next lets consider the lower body, especially the hip flexors. Because of the flexion at the hip joint when we sit, the hip flexors are shortened, if we don't stretch them out after sitting, over time they remain shortened and pull the pelvis forward into an anterior pelvic tilt. This eventually limits our mobility and causes lower back pain. Lunges are the go to yoga pose to release and then stretch out the hip flexors, a lunge with the knee down will begin to release the hip and a standing lunge is great to stretch the hip whilst strengthening the hamstrings.
Lets talk a bit more about the hamstrings, because so many of us feel our hamstrings are very tight. Sitting causes this too. Where as the hip flexors are shortened when we sit, the hamstrings are stretched. When the pelvis sits in that anterior pelvic tilt we talked about, meaning its tipping forward, the hamstrings are constantly being stretched. So they tighten, because they don't want to stretch anymore. If hamstring flexibility is something you feel challenged by, lets compare the hamstrings to an elastic band for a moment. If the band is thin and over stretched, it will be weak, likely to snap - it certainly won't want to stretch any further. But if the band was thicker and stronger it would be more inclined to stretch. This is why considering both stretch and strength is so important.
Next we need to think about stabilising the core, this is pretty important as what I mean by this is strengthening the muscles that protect your spine. Going back to the position of the pelvis, remember how we said the forward tilt caused by sitting causes the abdominal muscles to stop engaging? So it is really important to strengthen both the front and back core muscles. People often think of the six pack muscles when we discuss core strength, but the core muscles surround the spine - front and back and sides. Plank pose is perfect for core strength within our yoga practise. Remember, if plank pose feel challenging (because it is challenging!) we can begin with the knees down and work up to full plank over time. For more comprehensive core strengthening, Pilates is my go to practise, it's precise, controlled movements target all the right muscles.
Next up, I would like to talk about the glutes. Again, these muscles can become overstretched from sitting, which will cause them to not engage when we walk, instead your piriformis muscles engage. When the Piriformis muscle becomes too tight sciatica can occur because it puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. And this can lead to some pretty severe pain. This is why in nearly every class I teach I offer stretches to target the piriformis muscles. A figure of four stretch is the simplest option and pigeon is a more advanced option. And of course we want to strengthen the glutes too and encourage them to start firing up. We can do this by releasing the hips to reduce the pull on the glutes, then we can work on glute strength with exercises such as glute bridges.
Then there is one last stretch to consider, that I incorporate into as many classes as I can, as I feel it is often an overlooked part of the body that we would rarely think to stretch. I am talking about the feet. The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue that runs from the heel to the toes. This fascia and other muscles in the foot become shortened from sitting. This creates a tightness can cause pain and pull on the leg muscles. My go to stretch in a yoga class is to simply tuck the toes for the last few breaths of child's pose or to kneel with the toes tucked. If knee flexibility is an issue you can run the sole of the foot on a tennis ball, this will massage and release the plantar fascia.
Hopefully this has helped you to have a little more insight into the effects of bad posture and what we can do to correct it. Perhaps as well if you already attend classes with me this will help you to understand a little more about the 'go to' postures we regularly revisit in class. And if you haven't attended a class as yet, hopefully this was a little introduction in to how the classes can help you to correct the effects of sitting - something often unavoidable in out modern lives.
I shall be sharing more posts about posture over the coming weeks over on Facebook and Instagram.
With love, Steph x