Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bad posture

I have bad posture. Specifically, my mid and upper back tends to slouch, especially when I'm sitting or when I'm thinking or concentrating hard on something. It also tends to happen when I'm listening hard and trying to understand what people are saying; for instance, I've caught myself slouching when I'm standing at the front of the classroom, listening to what a particular student has to say about a particular issue, and trying to understand where he or she is coming from.

In any case, the fact that I have bad posture is not news to me; over the years, several people have pointed this out to me, in the hope that I will do something to correct it. And no, I did not take up yoga in order to correct or improve my posture; I just started practicing yoga because, well, I started practicing yoga.

Yesterday, I was hanging out with a friend who is a massage therapist, and he also brought my posture issue to my attention. In addition to observing my slouching, he also noted that slouching is often associated with low self-esteem, and may also cause or contribute to digestive or respiratory problems (because the rib cage is basically compressing the lungs, diaphragm, and digestive organs). We discussed this for a few minutes. Then, on the spur of the moment, I decided to show him the video that I have on Youtube of me doing primary series. In case you haven't seen it, here it is:

After watching the video for a few minutes, my friend said, "Impressive... and what's interesting is, you actually have perfect posture when you are doing yoga!" Hmm... so I have perfect posture when I am doing yoga, but am a slouch most of the rest of the time. I asked him, "Based on your experience as a massage therapist/body worker, what do you suggest I should do to improve my posture in daily life?" He replied, "Find out what the emotional issues are that are causing you to slouch." He then quoted this writer (can't remember the name right now; any of you know who this is?) who has this theory that every muscular-skeletal imbalance (including posture issues) can ultimately be traced to some kind of failure to let go of some deeply-entrenched emotion or other. 

My friend then proceeded to feel along my back, and located tight spots in my left mid-back (which is associated with guilt, according to him) and upper back (which is associated with not feeling comfortable with devoting time to oneself). In addition, he also suggested that while my yoga practice is beneficial in that it puts me in a place everyday where I have to work to lengthen my muscles, it would also be a good idea to find some time everyday to release all my muscles ("Simply allow the muscles to fall away from the bones", was how he described it). A good way to do this is to lie flat on one's back, and, well, visualize the muscles falling away from the bones. 

Well, it looks like I have my work cut out for me here. Anybody out there have similar experiences working with improving your posture? If you do (or even if you don't), I'll love to hear from you.   


  1. I have slouching issues almost exactly as you describe, yet I do first through third series, mostly with ease. There's definitely an aspect of concentration (which also happens to be the sixth limb) relating to it.

    My first incentive to practice ashtanga however was to address stifled breathing. There's another homespun psychosomatic theory that says difficult inhalation reflects fear of life, difficult exhalation reflects fear of death.

    1. Interesting, Anonymous. Now I can't decide whether I fear life or death more! Well, I think you also have a point here: I am starting to see this whole slouching issue as an opportunity to bring more concentration into the rest of my life.

  2. There are many easy exercises to correct the body postures. The one which is shown in this video is very helpful. Try to be positive and don't feel bad about your body posture because then it may only make it worse.

    Mark Duin
    Motivational Speaker

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words, Mark. I will check out the video very soon :-)

  3. Besides the psychological issue, I thought I have bad posture simply because of laziness (not recruiting the proper muscle groups to hold my upper spine straight. My dad, some of his relatives, my sister and her son also have the same slouch, so it's partially genetic (and/or nurture.. we subconsciously pick up our parents' manners).

    I would personally loooooooove to get regular massages. I do hold a lot of tension in my body and would benefit so much from it. That is one thing I miss the most from back home: my incredible massage therapist friends.

    1. I think nurture/the social environment may have something to do with it. My friend also wondered whether it has something to do with being Asian... You know, the whole being-humble-and-respectful-of-people-around-you mindset. It is possible to take this a little too far, and end up putting yourself down/slouching in order to appear non-threatening. Not that we should use being Asian as an excuse for anything, but it's an interesting hypothesis, nonetheless.

      Hmm... don't they have Swedish-trained massage therapists in Copenhagen? (I do know that Copenhagen is not in Sweden, but it is in the same general part of the world, isn't it?)

    2. It's hard to know who is good and who just passed the board exams. I went to 2 therapists back home who did the exact technique on me (might have learned from the same teacher). The first one felt like useless poking. The second time I was like, "So THIS was what the first massage therapist wanted to achieve but failed miserably!"

  4. hi nobel! believe it or not, i just scrolled through your whole blog archive the past 2 days (didn't read everything, just what caught my eye) and i really like your blog a LOT :)

    i am what i call a baby-ashtangi (started practice about 7 months ago) so i soak up everything i come across the internet that's got something to do with ashtanga. i love the way you mix an academical with a comical approach in your blog posts and your geek-ness is so likeable :)

    i also love your deep video interviews with kino. i have never met her before but she is such an inspiration for me.

    i already have a tumblr where i post (among nice pictures) about my journey with ashtanga yoga but not as in depth as one would on such a 'real' blog like yours or claudia's..... do you think i would benefit from opening a 'real' blog about ashtanga?

    because i'd love to get to cyber-know some of you and also discuss a lot but without an account you don't get to know who i am :)

    1. Hi Tanja,
      thanks for taking the time to scroll through my entire archive! I should do that myself one day, as I am already forgetting much of what I have written over the past couple of years.

      Yes, Ms. MacGregor is awesome :-) I just visited your tumblr. Very nice! I like your pictures, especially the self-portraits. So you live across the pond?

      I think you should definitely start a "real" blog about Ashtanga. It's a good way to explore and think about Ashtanga-related stuff. I'll definitely put you on my blog roll. Moreover, it seems that the Ashtanga blogosphere has become a little lonely lately; many people just don't seem to be posting as often as they used to. So it'd really be nice to have one more voice out there.

    2. hey nobel, it's done!

      i also have my first post up but the blog itself is still very raw :)

    3. Nice blog, Tanja! I just read a few of your entries in that one long post. I like that one (2.20.13) about being an exercise junkie. I will read more entries when I have some more time. I hope you make it to Mysore soon. I hope to make it there myself someday soon.

      P.S. For some reason, blogger is not allowing me to add your blog to my blog roll. Not sure why this is happening.... Maybe I will try again later.

    4. thanks! well, that is weird... hmmm... tell me if it worked, in the meantime i'll try to find out if it's got something to do with my settings

  5. Nobel, while I don't have bad posture, I constantly have knots in my upper back, particularly the rhomboid major muscles due to rock climbing. On the advise of Magnolia Zuniga, I have backed off the intensity of my climbing as it has and does impact my yoga. I use a device that you can purchase on Amazon called, "The backnobber 2". It works wonders. It's a self-massage device that allows you to enjoy your own trigger point therapy. I highly advise it if you find knots and muscle tension that need to be released.

    1. Thanks Lu. I'll check out the backnobber 2. Btw, I just visited your blog. Nice pictures!

  6. Some scattered thoughts on this topic, as it is late here, and I am tired:

    Standing straight is actually the action which requires the least effort of energy.

    You do not slouch during doing yoga, because then your attention is on yourself, focused on the movements of your body, therefore you are directing your body efficiently.

    I have similar issues. The areas where humans most often and consistently hold energy for different reasons are the lower back, the neck, and the solar plexus, which is associated which the yellow energy center.

    In my case, my sometimes slouching postures is caused by an contraction in the solar plexus. I can sense this clearly, when I catch myself in a bad posture and breathing deeply. There is tension there, and I can consciously breath into it, then I am standing straight again.

    From a psychological standpoint, it could be associated with several issues. "Not wanting to be seen", is something that comes to my mind, for example.


    1. Thanks for contributing to this discussion, Ra. What you write here speaks to me a lot, especially the part about "not wanting to be seen."

      I have a question: What exactly is the yellow energy center, and what does yellow represent?

  7. Hey!

    I do simply refer to the chakra system, but as I am a physician and trying not to repel people by using terms with religious connotations, I prefer "energy centers" instead of "chakras".

    As I can actually see them (if I am in a relaxed state) I can say they are very real, and also very powerful. It is similar to physiology, you do not need to believe in it, or know something about it, still, physiological processes are in play throughout every moment of our existence. The same holds true for the energy centers of the human body.

    The yellow center is located where the diaphragm attaches to the spine. It is related to the workings of the stomach, gall bladder, liver, small intestine, pancreas, breathing (diaphragm), and what is very important also, it is the energy center which creates feelings.

    In relation to expressions such as stress and anxiety, the yellow center is affected easily.

    I can imagine a situation where you are teaching in a classroom, and feeling a subtle anxiety, a feeling generated by the yellow center. The emotional communication may simply be "I am not comfortable in this position now." But as you attempting to suppress this feeling, instead of acknowledging it, you are instructing your yellow center to shut down, which creates a contraction of the frontside of your body.

    As you have mentioned that you are slouching while sitting, I do not consider sitting on chairs as a natural activity for the human body. Sitting straight on chairs sometimes even feels funny, in a manner of speaking. I do slouch very much on chairs and I don´t care. When I sit on the floor, reading books or playing my guitar, I can sit straight easily.

    Using chairs for sitting is like using crutches for walking. Children can sit on the floor for hours, playing, without getting uncomfortable, most adults are not comfortable at all on the floor anymore.