After reading my article on body alignment my brother asked me if I had any suggestions that might help him with his posture and chronic back pain. Before looking at any specific yoga exercises, my first suggestion would be for my brother to spend a day consciously exploring his posture and developing a real sense of his body. So often we are caught up in our day to day chores, our jobs, our family responsibilities etc.; we forget about our bodies. We rely on them to function efficiently and effectively, but we often neglect them for long periods without any kind of attention.
In this exercise it is useful to think about our bodies not only as a whole, but also in terms of our bodies many parts. For instance what are we doing to our joints? How do we use our muscles? Can we think of ways in which we could improve the use of our body?
Take your body on an awareness journey throughout your day.
As you wake up note how you have slept. Does your body awaken in the same position on a daily basis? Is your bed comfortable? How are your pillows and covers arranged? I tend to sleep with my arms curled up and this has led to some issues with my ulnar nerve. I have consciously had to adjust the position of my arms when sleeping.
At breakfast, and indeed any meal-time, do you sit at a table or do you slouch on your sofa slurping your coffee and eating your toast (like I do)? As you eat is your body relaxed or are you locked and tense with the forthcoming stresses of the day? Pay attention - is your body trying to tell you something?
At any point in your day are you driving? Again note how you are using your body. Have you positioned your seat to help support a good posture? Do you sit on your wallet which is tucked into your back pocket causing your pelvis to be slightly raised on one side? What's the position of your arms in relation to your steering wheel? My sister noted that I have a tendency to drive my automatic car with my left hand, whilst my right elbow rests leaning out of the car window. It's a habit that I barely notice, but on long car journeys I am clearly giving my shoulders and arms very different experiences. Over time these experiences will impact on my body - at first they may seem subtle, but over time they can become more deep-rooted.
At work are you working on a computer? Are you a hairdresser cutting hair with your dominant hand? Are you having to lift heavy items? When I was a care worker in a residential home we were given very specific training on lifting techniques, however this training might not always seem relevant in other professions, so we are not aware of how to correctly lift the box of deliveries that are arriving at our shop or how we stack the plates as we wait tables in a restaurant. As you go through your day, consider how you are treating your body and through your awareness begin to think about how you could work on making those subtle improvements.
I noted that whilst I was in the supermarket I literally hunched myself over my trolley; I now try and stand more upright. At work I always carried my heavy bag on my left shoulder; I now try to even the load - I carry it into work on my left shoulder and out of work on my right shoulder! By simply tuning into your body, you can make a huge difference to some of your body's imbalances. Whilst in a queue at the bank I would slump, putting more weight onto one leg. Nowadays I try and use the opportunity of a queue to make a conscious effort to think about my body alignment.
By getting to the core of the problem you can really start to help your body on it's journey to recovery. By trying to address the pain without understanding the core of the problem, you may alleviate the issue using a short term therapy or medical intervention, but the problem will not go away as you repeat the patterns of weakening your posture over and over again.