by Katherine Hartsell, PTA
The importance of proper posture is a fairly common topic for health enthusiasts, and many patients that come to Boston Sports Medicine arrive with injuries caused or perpetuated by static and dynamic postural patterns. Derived from the Latin word placement, posture is the result of how we position ourselves in space, and because we are always occupying space, we are constantly imprinting these patterns on the neuromuscular system. Unfortunately, the pace and demands of daily life often hide developing physical patterns from our awareness, until pain or “dis-ease” surfaces. Our forward- thinking society literally and figuratively draw the head forward, leaving the rest of the body neglected, strained, and out of balance. Even for athletes and health advocates, posture can sometimes slide quite low on the priority list.
There are specific anatomical landmarks that, when properly aligned, allow for ideal length and ease in the body, and on an intellectual level, it can seem fairly simple. However, postural patterns become engrained over the course of days, months or even years, which complicates the process and challenges our quick fix mentality. Patience, dedication, and self-awareness are all instrumental in learning new postural patterns. Therefore, I am always delighted when someone expresses interest in yoga. Authentic yoga places a strong emphasis on using alignment as a roadmap into experience and encourages the slow, deliberate, and dedicated development of awareness. Students are encouraged to practice safe alignment, consistency of deep breath, and mental, physical and emotional presence. It is a sharp and refreshing contrast to how many of us spend much of our days -running mental marathons with shallow breathing and with unnoticed posture that reflects any mental stress or emotional strain. Yoga illuminates these imbalances, not only to the instructor who can skillfully promote a new pattern, but more importantly, to the student, who can embody his or her insight.
When people ask if yoga can help develop better posture, I respond that it certainly can. However, I always warn that the gains are not inherent in the poses themselves, but are found by approaching those poses with mindfulness. Without mindfulness (and a skilled instructor), yoga becomes a Petri dish for injury. With mindfulness, skillful yoga can be an excellent way to notice imbalance and cultivate healthier patterns. Gained insight can not only improve posture on the yoga mat, but also posture at the gym, in running shoes, at the work desk and even on the couch. Awareness is a powerful tool! As you practice yoga and practice improving posture, please do remember it is called a practice – there is no perfecting, fixing, failing, or arriving. It is all just a balance.
Katherine Hartsell is a Physical Therapy Assistant at Boston Sports Medicine