The Essential 4 Series: Various Methods for Good Posture III
Posted Oct 23 2008 6:05pm
Well hello everyone!
Happy New Year! Happy New YOU!
I know I've been away for a while. My grandma is still going strong and this is the 4th day in 2008 that I am enjoying being 33. Now that I'm getting back into the swing of things, I got a lot to do (don't I always! hehe). One thing that has been stuck in my mind for the longest time was updating this blog. I thank you for being so patient with me and I hope that we can both help each other achieve and maintain health.
Continuing from where we left off in our posture series, I want to give you some tips and explain certain things before going into how Pilates and Yoga benefit your posture.
When it comes to posture, awareness is key. You always have to be aware of what your body is doing in order to be able to properly ensure you have the best posture you can have. You have to be aware of your walking posture, your sitting posture and your standing posture. Of course, your standing posture will be the easiest thing to work on. However, if you have your wolking and sitting posture in good condition, then you are a step ahead when it comes to maintaining thatgood posture.
One thing you can do to make sure you have good posture (sitting and walking) is to try not to cross your ankles when you sit down. This is critical if you have a job where you sit for long periods of time. When you cross your ankles for long periods of time, you are actually cutting off circulation. Capillaries are very small and a lot of capillary blockage will affect overall circulation. It's like if you sleep on your arm too long...it gets numb. You have to shake it out plenty times in order to get the feeling back. Now your feet may not feel numb when you cross your ankles for long periods of time but when you get up to walk again, you have to "wake up" your feet in the same way. Doing this while walking definitely doesn't sound too great, especially if you're a woman who also wears heels.All of these small things can add up in a huge way, leading to all kinds of foot, leg, and hip issues. Posture is the key making sure you have some kind of protection when you walk, sit, or stand. Even with heels on! :)
Now let's get to the nitty gritty, shall we?
Joseph Pilates started this form of exercise in the 1920's (He brought "Pilates" to America in 1926). Very debilitated as a youth, he devised this system to help him become healthy and fit. His system of exercises were mainly to correct posture as well as mobility limitations and this system has spread worldwide. It's uncanny how similar Pilates and FM Alexander (the Alexander Technique) are, in regards to their life stories and how they came to develop their systems. Even though the path to great posture differs between the two systems, they both were inspired by the movements of animals and have the same views on how the mind-body connection is important to ensure good posture and overall health.
When people think of Pilates as an exercise, they automatically think of a whole lot of ab work. What most people do not realize, is that your abdomen is the very thing that enables your back to be well supported and your spine protected. When your abdominals are strengthened (and not just by crunches, as I will explain later), your lower back is strengthened. When your stomach can be pulled in, it's easier for you to tuck in your tailbone so that your spine has good support. A good, strong, and supported spine always contributes to great posture! According to Pilates, the abdominal region should be the "base of operations", especially when it comes to stability and control of your other body parts.
There are contraindications (something (as a symptom or condition) that makes a particular treatment or procedure inadvisable - you will hear this word a lot in the Fitness world...especially Yoga)to doing Pilates. Among them are:
people aged forty years or more (except if you're very healthy)
people with preexisting medical conditions such as heart disease
people with preexisting musculoskeletal injuries or disorders (which means that if you have sprain or torn muscles or muscle problems that are in direct correlation to your bones)
anyone who has not exercised for a long time
those who are very overweight
Being overweight is a relative term. How much is too much to do pilates? I usually advise women and men that are 25 - 30lbs. overweight NOT to do Pilates. Even if you are less than that but you have a lot of belly fat (not caused by bloating), you should hold off from doing Pilates. Pilates exercises are strenuous and very difficult for the average beginner. It can take a lot out of you.
There are many ways to do Pilates. You have these elaborate machines or you can do it on a mat or even on a balancing ball. I have never tried the machines and I never took a Pilates class (yet). I do, however, Pilates on the balancing ball. I bought a book by Ellie Herman and I use it whenever I want to see my 6 pack. Three days on the ball, doing the most basic exercises, and I get my 6 pack back! Now, just because I say that this works for me, it doesn't mean that it's going to work for you! I had go through losing 40lbs (yeah, you heard right...we'll get to that another time :D) before even thinking of doing Pilates on the balancing ball. There is so much that I had to understand about my body and apply that to maintain my fitness levels before doing anything with Pilates.
Pilates can be very tough...even for the seasoned fitness person. However, once you start and stick with it, it is an invaluable tool to make your body strong, flexible and fortified with good posture.
Let me be the first to tell you that I know a great deal about Yoga. I have been doing it for over 7 years and I am on my way to becoming a Yoga Teacher. I can write millions of blogs on Yoga but I will keep it short and sweet and within the context of Achieving and Maintaining Good Posture.
Yoga has been around for over 5000 years. There are many branches of Yoga, not just asana (poses, which is the physical aspect of Yoga). There are many different types of Hatha Yoga (in the Eastern part of the world, Hatha Yoga is the branch of Yoga that is " a preparatory stage of physical purification that renders the body fit for the practice of higher meditation." In the West, it is one of the many types of Yoga that is available to all) but there is one that is very serious about Posture (or Alignment, as they like to call it). That is Iyengar Yoga.
BKS Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar Yoga, is still alive today (he's 85 years young). He has written many books on Yoga and the reason why his Yoga is so essential to Posture and Alignment is because he feels that without proper alignment, you cannot function properly. This style of Yoga uses many props to perform asanas, to ensure you do all asanas with precision so you can achieve a state of "perfection".
This does not mean that this is the only style of Yoga that will greatly benefit your posture. All styles of Yoga will help you to attain and maintain better posture because for the most part, they all use the same basic Asanas that were created thousands of years ago. The only differences maybe the sequence of the asanas as well as variations to the Asanas themselves. New asanas are created all the time by modern day Yogis and Gurus. A good amount asanas have contraindications, but it depends on the particular asana (as opposed to Pilates, which has contraindications on the system as a whole).
One example of an asana that is guaranteed to help you with your posture is called Mountain Pose (Tada-asana is the Sanskrit name for this pose). Here is a picture of the Mountain Pose: Now looking at this, you think "this is easy! I can do this!!" LOL oh no, not so!! It's much harder to do than it looks. There are a lot of technicalities that come with this pose. For instance, your big toes and heels need to touch each other. At the same time, your other toes should be spread out so that you have good support on the ground. Then your stomach should be tightened or firm so that you can feel the tailbone tucking in. There are other things to remember while doing this pose and trust me, if your posture isn't the greatest, this pose can feel mighty uncomfortable. I think this passage sums it up the best:
I mentioned before that doing crunches is not enough to support your lower back and and protect your spine (from disk problems such as herniation). That's because crunches only work on one set of muscles in your abdominals. The abdominals are actually comprised of four paired muscles. Crunches work on the rectus abdominus, the set of muscles that give you that "six pack." Even though your stomach looks nice with a six pack, the rectus abdominus has nothing to do with supporting and stabilizing your spine. "...The most important abdominal muscles for postural integrity are the obliques." according to the latest Yoga + Joyful Living Magazine (pg. 74) That is why Pilates is so beneficial for good spine health and good posture. Even though most Yoga postures don't emphasize exercising the abs exclusively, "there are asanas that work the full set of your abdominals to stabilize and support your lumbar spine, thus preventing disk problems and other forms of back pain." (page 73) Other asanas stabilize and support other parts of your spine as well and the joints that are connected to them directly and indirectly, like your shoulder, neck, knees and hips.
The great thing about Yoga is that anyone can do it. If you have physical ailments, you can do gentle Yoga and you will still benefit. Disabled people can benefit from Yoga as well as Yoga Therapy (a growing science that I'm very interested in). Any ailment that you may have, including Cancer and other possible life threatening illnesses, can be treated with Yoga. Find a great teacher and a style that fits you and health abounds in many ways.
I hope you enjoyed this blog...I know it's been a long time coming. I'm going to let you know a little something that I didn't mention before. The Key to Yoga and Pilates is NOT the physical exercises. The key to these amazing systems is THE BREATH. Without proper breathing, Pilates and Yoga are just stretches. Breathing makes Yoga beneficial to the whole body, in many ways. Proper breathing functions when doing Pilates ensures that flexibility, strength, control and good posture are yours for the taking.
Wasn't this a great segue into the next part of the Essential 4 Series, the Breath? ;) In my next blog, I'll explain the benefits of breathing properly as well as go into more detail why breathing and good posture are such good friends.
Until then... stay strong, stay healthy, and fight dis-ease! (gosh I miss telling you guys that!)
References - Discover Pilates, TopHat Publishing (written by Michael Mann), Yoga + Joyful Living Magazine Jan/Feb 2008 Issue 99 (pgs. 73 -5), websters.com, www.pilatesandalexander.com, click on underlined text for other online references. Picture provided by www.santosha.com/asanas.Read more...