A regular yoga practice will quickly reveal imbalances in the body and help you correct them. Postural imbalances eventually lead to muscular imbalances as muscles grow and adjust to your body's movements. You may be carrying imbalances that are the result of postural tendencies you adopted during childhood. You can adjust both posture and muscles over time through the help of mindful movements that realign and balance the body's structure. Strengthening the weaker muscles while lengthening the tighter muscles can help you to develop balance.
The Anatomy of Posture
The spine has three natural curves. Awareness of these natural curves can help you to maintain the integrity of your spine whether you're standing, sitting practicing a variety of yoga postures or pushing a cart full of groceries. The spine curves forward in the neck and low back and curves back in the upper and midback. Yoga teacher and physical therapist Julie Gudmestad notes that a wide variety of abnormal curves can develop, including a flat neck or low back, a hunched upper back or an extreme sway in the low back. Additionally, postural abnormalities may develop from one side to the other across the spine.
Standing Up Straight
Most of the day people, even seasoned yoga practitioners, tend not to be aware of posture. Yoga increases awareness so more time is spent developing better posture throughout the day. Standing in Tadasana, or Mountain pose, is an effective way to practice optimal postural alignment. You can practice Tadasana in a yoga class or in line at the movie theater. When standing, your ears should be aligned over your shoulders, your shoulders over your hips, hips over knees, knees over ankles. This positioning of the body works with the force of gravity to best support the curves of the spine. When one part of this posture is out of alignment, it creates imbalances in other areas. Gudmestad points out that a forward head will cause the muscles of the upper back and neck to tire from the stress of holding up the head's weight.
Everyday sitting habits can create muscular imbalances. Many people who spend a lot of time sitting also spend a lot of time with the head and arms forward. Gudmestad describes how slumping causes the muscles of the front body to become short and tight while the muscles of the back body become weak and overstretched. Supported backbends stretch out the muscles of the chest and abdominals. Prone backbends, or backbends that are executed from lying on the stomach, strengthen the muscles that run along the spine. This is particularly true of postures that do not use the strength of the arms to lift the chest off the ground. Salabhasana, or Locust pose, is an effective posture to strengthen the muscles of the back.
If you tend to stand with your weight mostly on one leg or you carry a heavy purse on one arm, the muscles of one side of the body will tend to collapse and tighten while the opposite side will weaken and become over lengthened. Yoga postures can build balance through the entire length of the spine from right to left. Flowing between Marjaryasana, or Cat pose, and Bitilasana, or Cow pose, with coordinated breath builds awareness of spinal movement. The additional movement of lifting and extending opposite arm and leg in the cow position demands the muscles on right and left sides of the spine work together to balance. A milder variation of this movement can be practiced lying prone on the floor.