• Baxter Bell, MD

The Promise of Good Posture


Yoga for better posture and reduced pain

How’s your posture these days? Have you caught a glimpse of yourself in a store window lately and been surprised by what you saw? Are you experiencing some nagging discomfort in your neck or back recently without a clear change in your activities?


The topic of good and bad, or healthy and unhealthy posture is one frequently written about in newsletters and blogs from renowned health centers such as the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard Medical to lay publication such as Forbes and USA Today. There is ongoing research on the connection between posture and chronic pain, the application of specific exercises to improve posture and reduce physical pain. Many of these sources point out numerous negative impacts on our health that can arise from poor postural habits:

  • Neck and shoulder strain

  • Back pain

  • Joint damage and arthritis

  • Poor balance

  • Headaches

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Stress Incontinence

  • Constipation

  • Heartburn

  • Negative mood

  • Poor energy levels

I don’t know about you, but this is a rather surprising long list of issues, and ones I’d prefer to avoid or eliminate if I already have them! Fortunately, the recommendations for improving posture will be familiar to most of us, even though they may not presently be part of our daily health routines. They include the following:

  • Setting a goal to have a healthy upright posture when sitting and standing

  • Increase your awareness of your posture throughout the day (first step in changing your habits)

  • If you have a sedentary job or lifestyle presently, get up and take a short movement break every 30-60 minutes

  • Establish a regular movement practice that stresses healthy posture, improving strength of the core (including the pelvic floor) and spine, and improving flexibility

  • Make ergonomic changes to your workspace that encourage better sitting posture

And although yoga is not the only practice that can have a positive impact on posture (others include Tai Chi and regular exercise regimens that focus on posture), it is uniquely suited to address some of the goals listed above. From my first yoga class almost 30 years ago, I was immediately asked to bring attention to my posture in Mountain Pose and encouraged to establish healthy posture. This awareness of healthy alignment was and is encouraged in every pose, including the seated postures that may have more bearing for those who have to sit for work each day.


Yoga improves posture which helps reduce pain in the body

A well-rounded yoga practice includes postures that target the goals of improving strength of the core, pelvic floor and spine, and improving overall flexibility. Pranayama, the breath practices of yoga, brings awareness to how we are breathing and provides a path to improving many aspects of our respiratory health over time. And research has demonstrated that regular yoga practice can even address the negative health issues listed above such as arthritis, poor balance, headaches, neck, shoulder and back pain, mood issues and poor energy.


So, the path to improved posture is now right in front of you. You have a roadmap to make your mom’s admonition to “stand up straight” from your childhood into a healthy reality from now on!


[If you are still not sure where to start, consider joining my weekly Yoga for Back Health Classes online, getting a copy of my book Yoga for Healthy Aging, or reaching out for an individual yoga therapy session on zoom or in person (email me at baxter@baxterbell.com for more details)]

 

Resources:


Cleveland Clinic article:

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/health-effects-of-poor-posture/


Harvard News Letter:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/3-surprising-risks-of-poor-posture


Forbes Health:

https://www.forbes.com/health/body/how-to-fix-bad-posture/


Studies on negative health impacts of poor posture:


Effective Assessments of a Short-Duration Poor Posture on Upper Limb Muscle Fatigue before Physical Exercise


Postural Awareness and chronic pain (NCBI)


2016 study on college age students and exercise program to improve posture and lessen pain (NCBI)