Muscle

How I changed my posture & reduced my pain

Folks, I had to share this.

You know how we tend to believe it's inevitable to get more hunched with age?

It's not true.

The only reason we hunch more as we age is that we've had more years to practice bad habits. I was very motivated, back in 2009, to change my habits because I was in a lot of pain. Like, could barely walk pain. In fact, it seems blindingly obvious now, looking at the picture below, that thrusting my ribs forward and not using my posterior muscles at ALL was exacerbating, if not causing, the problem.

Yes, I am not ashamed to admit that the ass in the 2009 picture was a droopy one. No muscle use there, and it jiggled when I walked. It doesn't now. Those muscles are too busy propelling me forward.

Now, in a perfect situation, all my joints would be lined up vertically. I am still not there - my ribs and pelvis are still thrust, among other things , but oh my, the progress.

posture

You can see in the 2009 picture that I had clearly subscribed to the idea that pushing my ribs forward & lifting my chest was good posture. It's a myth.

In fact, there are loads of unuseful myths about posture out there.

I'll be teaching a workshop early next year on how I made (and continue to make) these changes but here are the basics:

  • I made time every day to rest. Not in bed, but on the yoga mat. Like this, and this.
  • I began to use my posterior muscles in a functional way. Yes, squats, done right.
  • I started to relax my psoas muscles. It is, in my opinion, the muscle that needs to be changed first when working on posture.
  • I worked on my shoulder and upper back mobility. A locked upper back and tight shoulders make it almost impossible to stand upright & use the muscles in the back of your body properly.

If you have pain, or think your posture could do with some work (hint, everyone's could) I encourage you to try some of these for yourself. Regular practice will create small changes quickly, and over time, big changes like the ones you see above.

Prenatal Yoga

This is a post from Janene.

 

I had a conversation with my fellow mm..yoga teachers recently about the special teaching adaptions required for pregnant students. During my own pregnancy I taught yoga up until a week before the due date, but I knew intimately what I could and couldn’t do safely (both formal learning and of course life experience) and what my body could handle. I was also very conscious about what worked and didn’t with my evolving shape.

Image via

Here are my top ten points to keep in mind for any woman who is pregnant or knows someone who is:

  1. In yoga and in daily life, remember everything is just a guide. You might read books, hear stories, or have people telling you about their experience. These are helpful, but what is right for others may or may not be right for you. For example, that whole 140 beats per minutes (bpm) exercise limit, can only be a guide, because if you normally had a higher heart rate, then even walking could tip you over 140bpm. A better guide: can you can comfortably hold a conversation while exercising? Listen, but make your own decisions.
  2. Only lie on your belly as long as it feels ok – depending on how fast you show will guide you, but it’s still a personal choice. Once your belly is too large, use hand and knees as your modification to practice.
  3. As you get bigger, lie on your left side for relaxation – why, well this is because the body is pumping more blood around and your body is under strain just due to this. As you grow larger it becomes harder for the body to do this so when you lie on your left side you are relieving pressure on the inferior vena cava which runs along your right side, thus helping return blood to the heart. And it’s also really nice.
  4. Lying on your back - yes or no? – now I found that working in a pose on my back for a short time was ok, but if it was an extended practice your options are –i) use a cushion under your buttocks to lift the hips higher than your heart ii) work in an alternate position or different pose iii) lie on your side. If you feel a tingle then you’ve done enough. The official stance is don’t do this after Trimester 1 but see point 1.
  5. Don’t squat high after 34 weeks – this is because you want to start to relax the muscles around the hips and pelvis in preparation for birth
  6. Don’t work your core after first trimester – this one is the most contentious. Yes you do need to relax your belly muscles to help the muscles stretch to accommodate the increasing belly, BUT, there is a difference between actively working and strengthening the muscles for that 6 pack and keeping the muscles engaged to help support your baby. I always encourage mums to be to keep gentle engagement through the abs to support the baby’s weight, and to help keep posture. The back can get very overworked if the tummy muscles are not active, and this can lead to complications later. Point 1 again.
  7. Work your pelvic floor until around 34 weeks – your pelvic floor helps keep the baby supported in a little hammock, so strengthen this area to help keep that load supported. Only stop when you have to. This was my life saver. (Nadine's note: read this too. Super important for HOW to work your pelvic floor)
  8. Now the one I wish I had known – don’t stretch to that point where you go ‘cool look at what I can do’. Why? This stretch is only possible because you have hormones racing around your body relaxing your muscles. Yes they are stretching, but it’s not in your normal range of movement and this means you are really making the area stretched unstable and unsafe. This can lead to evil problems eg back pain, pelvic instability etc. Nasty.
  9. Breath deeply, keep relaxing and go with the flow - the body is under great stress so remember, be kind. No harm every came from resting did it. And, if you feel short of breath then it’s likely your blood volume.
  10. Your pregnancy is unique to you, right here, right now. Just because a woman is pregnant doesn't mean that they will have issues, BUT pregnancy will exploit known and unknown weaknesses in your body, known or not.   

Neen headshot

About the author: Janene Watt crams a lot into her days. She's a working mumma who teaches yoga on the side. 

Step into your power zone.

Chandni Kapur has been practicing yoga with me (Nadine) for a year and a half. In this article, she shares her love for tadasana (mountain pose). Here she is, reaching for the sky, in tree pose (vrksasana).

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“Stretch your hands and feet toward the sky… reach for the stars”

The words of my then yoga teacher when I first learnt Tadasana some 15 years ago still ring a bell. Too easy, I thought at the time. What an easy way to exercise — stretch …stretch… and stretch some more.

As time passed by and I caught up the do's and don’ts of everyday life, Tadasana was no longer important. It was just one of those easy stretches that didn’t feel valuable enough to do because I was after the more rigorous stuff that would cut my belly fat, make it vapourise!

Until last month.

 

I’ve rediscovered the magical power of Tadasana.

 

The ever so simple, full body stretch and I’ll tell you why you should let it support you.

A considerable few years of neck, shoulder, back and knee pain and all other sorts of body aches that a 36 year old shouldn’t even know about, have left my body fully misaligned. It mainly meant I was trapped in a vicious cycle of being unable to stretch and exercise. And not helpful that I’m flat-footed, overweight, and have no arches to support my feet and take the weight off my knees and back.

Over the past 1.5 years, Nadine has been helping me (patiently) revive each muscle back into action. It’s been a frustrating journey until earlier this year when I decided to take her advice and be more compassionate to myself. So I listened to every word she said, every muscle movement she explained to me, and started to learn to respond to what my body was telling me.

I needed support. Big time!

I decided to wipe clean all my assumptions and scepticism and just follow what felt good for my body. This meant that I was squeezing my buttocks because I needed those muscles to support my back better. And while I started with some scepticism, it’s now a habitual practice and happens quite unconsciously!

With consistent practice and a more compassionate outlook, I spent one month learning how to raise my feet gradually just a few inches above the ground and enter Tadasana. I vividly remember the early days – staring out to the Westgate Freeway to keep my mind focussed (terrified internally that my knees won’t bear the weight.) As I practiced I felt better, more still and more at ease. Often forgetting I had knees and legs - so fully focussed on the idea of surrendering to the asana.

The next step was crucial – the arches. I had to get those working to take the pressure off my spine and knees.

So, nervously, I followed the instructions and demonstrations. As Nadine patiently kept showing me how to create the arch in my feet, I realised this is such a new concept for my body that I can’t comprehend such a simple thing. It was a humbling moment. The turning point for me was when Nadine broke the instruction down to small tactile cues.

So I focused on the two most important aspects - Toes screwed into the ground and heels dug into the floor. I suspended my intellect.

No fear, no judgement, no analysis.

Just do those two steps and voila I could feel the muscles along my legs and into the buttocks tighten up like a warrior ready for battle.

That’s not just a literary expression, Tadasana has allowed me to create a calm stillness in my body that feels right, feels aligned and feels in control.

While I’m still in awe of the physical stability it gives me, I’m super excited about the clarity it creates.

It’s my best time to visualise, to focus on my intentions and often to let them emerge as I stand empowered. It’s been my answer to my fear of pain and a fantastic support – fully aligned.

Try it – it’s a step into your own power zone.

Good Posture

What is good posture? It’s a confusing question, and there seem to be all sorts of odd ideas about it, even in the yoga world. This excellent article, quoting Esther Gokhale’s book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back,  lays some of the most common myths to rest:

MYTH 1 If you want to correct poor posture, straighten up. Forcing a straight body position does nothing to address the reason for poor posture and can cause muscle tension and distortion of the spine. In time, the discomfort and fatigue cause many to slouch again.

MYTH 2 Keeping your chin up and chest out constitutes great posture. Pushing the chest out and tilting the head back creates muscle tension and exaggerates the cervical and lumbar curves, potentially hindering circulation to these areas and pinching nerve roots.

MYTH 3 Good posture requires mental and physical effort. The body strives to heal itself and when posture is good you look and feel better. As new movement patterns are established, they become a habit, increasingly instinctive and natural.

MYTH 4 It is too late to change my posture. It is never too late to improve your posture. The body is resilient and was designed to move, so it adapts well to most activities. Studies reveal that even people in their 80s and 90s can improve their posture, giving them more mobility, independence, health and quality of life.

If you are unaccustomed to being active, work towards conditioning the body gradually. Although muscular strength is vital for support and stability of the spinal column, relaxation is also important. When muscles are overworked, the risk of injury increases, so allow time for rest and recovery.

MYTH 5 You should always breathe through the belly. ”Breathing through the belly has been regarded by some experts as the only way we should breathe,” Gokhale says. ”In fact, different kinds of breathing are needed for different kinds of movement. Belly breathing is appropriate when you have an elevated need for oxygen (as when you are running) or breath control (as when you are playing the saxophone).

”Otherwise, when at rest, inhalations should primarily expand the chest cavity and lengthen the back, only slightly moving the belly. Movement of the chest and back helps in maintaining normal rib cage size and shape, and fosters healthy circulation.”

MYTH 6 Good posture derives from being fit and active. Gokhale says: ”This would be like driving around with a crooked axle, hoping that the driving alone will straighten it out.” If a person has poor posture, underlying issues must be addressed. Increasing activity does not guarantee a solution and can cause injuries instead of improvement. It is far better to focus on good posture in its own right, or alongside increased activity. Once you have good posture, you will get much more out of your activity.

 

x

Nadine