IN THE affluent suburbs outside Port Macquarie, Australia, the population, mostly retirees, leads a dynamic lifestyle.
“The ones who have good posture are energetic, friendly and sprightly. The ones with poor posture rely on mobility scooters or walkers,” observed Lasse Holopainen, Filipino-Finnish entrepreneur, teacher and cofounder of Urban Ashram Yoga.
Speaking at a posture workshop, he pointed out: “Posture is a good indicator of how your life is going to be.”
The former technocrat recalled how he spent 25 years at the desk, resulting in back injuries and surgery. In hindsight, he said good posture could have prevented his health issues.
The ideal posture, when viewed from the profile, is when the ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle are aligned. The head is erect so that the eyes gaze directly across.
Hence, the body weight is evenly distributed on the feet. As you start to walk, the balance moves slightly over the balls of the feet. The impetus of the movement comes from the legs and hips, not the knees.
“As we get older, we succumb to gravity and stress. The shoulder rounds into the front of the body. The legs start knocking in or splaying out, the arches fall, the spine starts to compress and the hips tilt forward. These become bad habits,” said Holopainen.
In addition, the use of gadgets has prompted our tendency to hunch over and stick out our head and neck just to read the screen.
A simple way to determine proper alignment is to stand against a wall. The head, shoulders and hips should be equally stacked, leaving only a part of the back away from the wall.
There is the counter pull of the navel muscles lifting upward to support the torso while the tailbone extends downward. The knees and ankle should stack on top of each other and the feet should point straight ahead.
Developing a good habit needs patience. “At first, you might pay attention for a couple of minutes. Then, after a while, you slouch. Keep reinforcing the good habit so it becomes stronger and replaces the bad one.”
Here are some yoga exercises that counteract the slouching and the tightening of the hips as a result of long hours of desk work or driving.
Seated forward fold
Sit erect against the back of the chair. Pull the belly upwards and inwards and roll the shoulders back. Spread the legs around the distance of the hips.
Set your thighs at a 90-degree angle to floor. The knees are on top of the ankles. Keep the feet flat on the floor. Exhale and bend from the hips.
Lower the chest between the legs and drop the arms to the floor. Allow the shoulders, neck and head to relax. Breathe comfortably. Extend the legs forward for more stretch on the back of the legs.
This exercise stretches the spine, and has a calming effect. Avoid if you have hypertension or eye problems.
Hip opener and easy seated twist
Begin with the correct seated posture as in the previous exercise. Fold the right leg across left knee. The right ankle should rest outside the left leg.
Flex the right foot to activate the muscles of the leg. Press the right knee down with the left hand to activate the groin.
To stretch the lower back, exhale and twist the torso to the right side. Feel the lengthening of the body as you look back. Place the right hand on the back of the chair for a counter pull, and feel the expansion of the chest. Repeat the wide, cross-legged twist on the other side.
Basic stance with arms
Stand with your big toes in contact while the heels are apart. Lift the inner ankles to prevent the arches from dropping. Your body weight should be evenly distributed throughout the feet.
Pull up the kneecaps and feel the energy moving up to the thighs, the groin, torso, neck and head.
Raise the arms overhead while keeping the shoulders from creeping up. Avoid popping up the rib cage.
Press a block or a thick book with your hands. Keep the core muscles lifted and gaze up.
Supported half-moon pose
Stand with the feet together and the back against the wall. Open the legs wide apart and spread the arms into a T-position. Turn the left foot slightly inward and spin the right leg and foot outward.
Exhale as you bend the torso to the right side and place the right hand on the right shin or on a block in front of the right leg for support.
Hold the hip with the left hand. Slowly transfer the weight to the right leg as you bend the right knee. Move the right hand forward as you transfer your weight.
Straighten the right leg while raising the left leg off the floor. Extend the leg to a 90 degree angle. Feel the hips on top of each other.
Widen the chest and collarbones and extend both arms. Keep the breathing evenly, and look down for balance.
Finish the pose by bending the right leg and control the landing of the left leg. Maintain the openness of the upper body. This pose is ideal for stabilizing the hips and knees and opening up the chest.
Urban Ashram is celebrating its fifth anniversary with five yoga classes for free until Aug. 31. Register online at www.urbanashramyoga.com/freeyoga.