A big misconception is that true strength is something that is visible on someone. Although guys with huge muscles may look extremely sturdy or strong, I’ve seen them fall flat on their faces right in front of me, trying to hold their entire body weight on one foot or in an arm balance or backbend. True strength doesn’t come from building up your biceps to look like watermelons; true strength comes from building the small muscles underneath, closest to your bones, which aren’t visible.
The muscles much harder to reach are the ones that enable you to have greater flexibility, strength and alignment on and off the mat. Having superior posture doesn’t come from the large muscle groups in your back and chest, although those do aid. Ultimately, improved posture comes from strengthening the small muscles along your spine and chest: the erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and pectoralis minor. These muscles help to draw the ribs down, retract the shoulder blades and open the chest. Ideally, the large muscles are relaxed when you are, while still enabling you to maintain good posture. If it feels like hard work to stand straight, the poses below will help. I have chosen these poses because they strengthen the small muscles around your chest, spine and shoulders for better posture:
1. Cobra: Lying on your belly, place your hands up by your shoulders and breath in as you peel your chest off the mat, at the same time isometrically moving your hands down your sides. Stay for a few breaths. Stop here or…
Challenging cobra variations:
A. Still on your stomach, you may try interlacing your arms behind your back and lifting your chest up
B. Taking your hands just wider than your mat with only the tips of your fingers on the ground, lift your chest on an inhale
C. Bow: Reaching your arms behind you to grab your feet or ankles, inhale up while keeping your knees together to protect the lumbar spine.
2. Bridge: Start lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet parallel to each other, hips width distance apart. Shimmy your shoulders as far under your back as you can, keeping a slight tuck in your chin to protect the cervical spine. Inhale, lifting from the hips and clasping your hands together under your back as you draw your shoulder blades closer. Stop here or…
A. Wheel: Lying on your back with knees bent, your hands come alongside your shoulders with your fingers pointed back toward your feet. Inhale; press your palms and feet into the floor while lifting your torso to create an arch in your back. *This is an extreme backbend I do not recommend taking unless you are warmed up, and or have a regular yoga practice and therefore know what you are doing.
3. Camel: Start on your knees, hip width distance apart with your toes curled under. Place the palms of your hands on your sacrum, with your shoulders back and down your spine. Start to slowly lean back with your tailbone scooped and thighs engaged. Stop here or…
Challenging Camel variations:
A. Place blocks beside your ankles or shins. While keeping the arch in your back and your neck relaxed and elongated, reach back for the blocks behind you.
B. Reach back for your heels and rest your hands there, lifting from the heart and breathing into your chest to create space. *This is also a pretty extreme backbend and should be done with caution. (Pictured below in full expression)
Try some of these while you watch TV, before you eat or before you go to bed. Even if you just try one once a day, you will start to see an immediate improvement in your posture and the way you feel.