Through the practice of yoga we become more aware of how we hold our bodies—how we stand, how we walk, and how we move about. This awareness takes, well, practice. In yoga class we work on lengthening the spine with a stable, engaged core while lifting and opening the heart with broad shoulders, all of this stemming from a strong foundation in the feet (standing) or hips (seated).
Yet most of us have spent a lifetime (half a lifetime?) sitting in the “forward slump” with back rounded, shoulders forward, neck strained. Think about how you sit when at your desk. Or while driving. You may even stand with a forward slump, especially if you have a tendency to cross your arms over the chest.
With age the forward slump is accelerated by the mere force of gravity, as well as by deterioration in muscle tone, bone density, and cartilage in the spine. Yoga helps us reverse and prevent this forward slump in so many ways. Most importantly, yoga helps us to cultivate body awareness. We start to notice when we are sitting with poor posture. And we notice when our stance is not supportive. We also begin to notice it in other people, which acts as a mirror to prompt us to correct our own posture.
Yoga also helps us develop the attributes of good posture mentioned above: We learn to find our ground with a steady stance, whether seated or standing. From that strong base we learn to lengthen the spine and open the heart (with an inhale!) as we broaden the shoulders and relax them away from the ears (on exhale). We do this in just about every posture, and after a while we begin to do this off the mat.
With these adjustments to our awareness and to our physical placement, we become more comfortable in our body and mind—the true hallmark of good posture. And while it may sound like work, it actually happens rather organically, unfolding over time. Sure, the yoga practice is sometimes work, but when you step back and watch your practice unfold over time, the practice weaves together a tapestry that is all-encompassing, much greater than the sum of its parts. One day you simply realize that you are able to naturally maintain good posture without effort. Thus, the tapestry unfolds.