As a professional children's dance and yoga teacher, I have been asked if yoga can help to improve posture. I know that it can! In today’s world, many people spend much of their day seated at a desk staring at a computer, then in their “off time” assume the same position looking at their phone. Muscles become “used to” whatever we do habitually. The spine has a natural curvature to it, but when we spend that much time in a hunched-over position, the chest cavity
collapses, and the upper spine rounds forward. This can lead to compressed organs
and decreased lung capacity.
People often comment on my “graceful dancer’s posture.” We dancers have straight,
erect posture because we have spent most of our lives training our bodies to stand that
way. When your body does something often enough, it becomes habitual. However the
good news is, it is never too late to change those habits! Dr Jonathan F. Bean, MD, MS,
MPH, an assistant professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at
Harvard Medical School says that "It's very important for us to be able to stretch and
open up and improve our range of motion…In addition to helping to increase body
awareness and core strength, yoga is an excellent way to build and maintain flexibility
and strengthen muscles throughout your body.” (Harding, 2016)
Yoga postures such as “heart openers” or back extensors (such as “Cobra, “Upward
Facing Dog” and ‘“Sphinx”) can help to reverse the exaggerated forward curves of the
spine to the natural, healthy curvature you were born with. In addition, yoga can
strengthen the core and back muscles to help maintain this posture.
Recent studies have shown that correcting the posture through the practice of yoga can
decrease back pain as well. For example, in one study, 100 people were randomized
into an experimental group who practiced yoga and a control group, who just
maintained their current medical plan to control their lower back pain. The researchers
found that “the yoga group had statistically significant reductions in functional disability,
pain intensity, and depression compared to standard medical care 6-months post-
intervention.” (Williams, et al, 2009.) A British study had similar results with the
researchers finding that, “Offering a 12-week yoga program to adults with chronic or
recurrent low back pain led to greater improvements in back function than did usual
care.” (Tillbrook, et al, 2011.)
Overall, the slow, controlled movements of traditional yoga classes, combined with the
focus on mindfulness and breath control have many benefits for our modern, hurried
lives. Isn’t it great to know that you can change your body for the better? In other words,
you CAN teach an a old (Downward) Dog new tricks!
Harding, Anne. "10 Ways to Have Great Posture as You Age." Health.com.
Tillbrook, HE, H. Cox, CE Hewitt, AR Kang'ombe, LH Chuang, S. Jayakody, A.
Semlyen, A. Trewhela, I. Watt, and DJ Torgerson. "Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain."
Ann Intern Med. 55.9 (1 Nov. 2011): 569-78. National Center for Biotechnology
Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 07 Feb.
Willams, K., C. Abildso, L. Steinberg, E. Doyle, B. Epstein, D. Smith, G. Hobbs, R.
Gross, G. Kelley, and L. Cooper. "Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of Iyengar
yoga therapy on chronic low back pain." Spine 34.1 (1 Sep. 2009): 2066-076. National
Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 07 Feb.
Sarah Johnston is a professional dancer, children's dance teacher, and YA Registered Yoga Teacher for children and adults. She started practicing yoga to slow down and heal from injuries sustained through hypermobility, hyperflexibility, and a career in dance.