Yesterday, I saw this Question in Q/A forum and so thought of this post.

When I was a kid, I was predominantly lethargic, in terms of physical activity. The only physical activity of my childhood I remember was some cycling. (Still, I have always remained lean, my present weight is merely 54 kgs :P) Till, 7th-8th standard, I didn’t even used to play in the sports period at school. In class 11th, I took physical education as the optional subject. We got 2-3 sports periods everyday and those 2 years were the only years of my school life when I played a lot. We used to play basketball then. In physical test, I was one of the few students who could do more than 30 crunches in 1-minute, 10 or more pull-ups, and had standing jump distance 2m. Besides, I could do about 30 push-ups in one go. I used to think I was at least in the above average category in physically fit students. But I was wrong. It was only recently that I realized that those crunches, push-ups, long hours of playing basketball, etc caused more harm than benefit. How? Ignorance my friend, lack of proper knowledge. No one taught us proper stretching and it’s significance, the sports period at School is no more than a formality. So, I got a kyphotic curve (rounded back) along with Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT). Plus, these have a genetic part too and improper exercise only aggravated the problem.

In the first part, we will take a look some muscle groups one by one and see how they affect our posture. Then I will share some tips I found useful in improving my posture.

Lower Body :

  • Hamstrings : Wanna feel them? Stand and try to bend forward with back and legs straight, bending from hip joint, you will feel your hamstrings. Excessive running, cycling, lots of walking etc leads to tight hamstrings. They prevent you from doing any pose involving forward bending. Majority of people have tight hamstrings because they are used in simple activities like walking. At school, no one taught us the significance of stretching your hamstrings before or after running. Further, tight hamstrings can also cause knee pain.
  • Tight groin muscles : Stand and try to do a split, the muscles in which you feel tension are your tight groin muscles.
  • Weak glutes : Do you have a flat butt? If yes, then know for sure that your glute muscles are weak. Long hours of sitting on benches in school then at home on chair for doing homework leads to this. Sitting in meditation pose, i.e, cross-legged is different thing, even now, I am sitting cross-legged on chair as I type. Glutes are extremely important muscle group for stability and good posture, but due to sedentary lifestyle most of the people have weak glutes.
  • Quadriceps : Why to leave quads, I got tight quads too. Sit in Vajrasana and lie on back (called Supta-Vajrasana), you will feel the quads stretched.

Upper Body :

  • Abs : I used to be proud of my tight abs, 4 of which were quite nicely visible amongst my friends. At school, obviously you can’t remove shirt, so we used to touch and feel each other’s abs and their cuts. It felt cool having tight abs. But all taht glitters is not gold. I had tight upper abs and weak lower abs, which resulted in reinforcing the slouching of back.
  • Core : I probably didn’t even knew this word. The core muscles are deep stabilizing muscles, they are like trunk of a tree. If we have a weak trunk, the big healthy branches are of no use. Similarly, if you have a weak core, the other muscles of body will get dis-balanced.
  • Pecs : These are the chest muscles. Lots of push-ups strengthened my upper pecs.
  • Traps : They are the muscles of upper back, between the shoulder blades. They have 3 parts -upper, middle and lower traps. If you raise your shoulders upwards or shrug them, you are using the upper traps. Most of the people develop tight upper traps and the mid-traps are often neglected.
  • Erector Spinae : These are muscles located at the side of spine responsible for keeping spine straight. I got weak due to lack of knowledge.
  • Lower back : Excessive arching of lower back can result in tightness in lower back causing lower back pain. This is also a general postural problem. Moreover, this is very common in overweight and obese people.

Overall Effect :

Tight upper abs pulled the rib cage forward and weak back muscles were unable to pull it in neutral position resulting in rounded upper back. Tight chest pulls the shoulder blades forward adding to the rounded posture. Tight thighs pull the pelvis out of neutral position and weak lower abs are unable to bring it back. The lower back muscles compensate for weak glutes and as a result you get APT. Now when the pelvis is not in neutral balanced position, it reduces the natural pressure on the digestive system. Tight upper abs also become obstacle in deep breathing as the diaphragm can’t go down. This reduction in natural pressure on digestive system affects the bowel moment and digestion, leading to more problems.

Some tips :

  • You don’t need to exercise intensely each and every day, giving a break is important, even for facilitating healthy muscle growth.
  • Foam rolling (aka Myofascial release) – I came to know about this last year. It helped me a lot in releasing tight muscle groups and improving my posture to some extent. It may be painful sometimes, but it’s good for preventing as well as releasing stiff muscles.
  • Last year, I found and watched a couple of videos by Jeremy Ethier. His videos regarding posture correction, APT and hunchback helped me a lot in understanding and improving my posture.
  • Setubandhasana, called as glute bridges in some videos, is good for strengthening weak glutes.
  • Paschimottanasana, sitting forward bending, is very good for stretching tight hamstrings. I found a video explaining it perfectly with all the minute details, you can watch it here.
  • The Cat-cows pose and the bird-dog pose are good for improving back.
  • The dead-bug exercise and plank is good for improving the core muscles.
  • Look for a video tutorial which teaches splits and do those stretches. Even if you don’t get to splits, those stretches will release the stiffness of lower body. I am doing the stretches from around a week and can feel the improvement in my muscles. I referred to this video.
  • Surya-namaskar exercises the complete body.

If you are tempted to think that how could I sit for 4 hours even after such a weak muscular system, then the answer is stubbornness and grace. It was not easy, was painful, and took months to taste that one day. And, if I can sit, then you too can.

I feel at least 50% of the people reading this will have some kind of postural problem, the most common being the slouching of back. Anywhere I go, when I look around, I find majority of people with slouched back. I hope this posts helps in identifying and improving any postural problems. The key factor is awareness, when you are aware of the problem, you will naturally be tempted to fix it.

It’s very important to exercise the body in proper manner along with required stretching. Even for doing any Sadhana, meditation, etc, you require a healthy body. This is a lesson I learnt the hard way.

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