Standing Tall

Do you know how  you Stand?

My guess is probably not very many of us have thought about it, let alone actually practiced standing.

Before my very first dance in junior high, my father made me put on my new shoes (first “heels!”) and practice walking up and down the hall with the phonebook on my head.  (for the younger reader, people used to have to look up phone numbers in this HUGE, heavy, paperback book that magically appeared on doorsteps yearly.)   Not sure how many other parents made their 13-year-old daughter do that, but that’s my dad for you.  My father said, “I don’t want my daughter to walk like a monkey.” Apparently, I needed work with MORE than just standing.

(Posture Photo at Right courtesy of http://www.ergonomics-info.com/posture-pictures.html)



Standing is Hard Work

The way we stand is a sum of many parts. It is the combination of years fighting gravity, what we do in our spare time, (how about all of that exercise people?--and no, this is NOT a post about not exercising)  or even what we do for a living.  Of course, it also is impacted by life events like trauma physically or emotionally. The way we stand is also a direct result of the  way we are shaped naturally.

Unless you spent time in the military, were in dancing, or some other body movement activity growing up, you probably didn’t spend much time thinking about standing (after, you know, you mastered the art of it somewhere between 8 and 14 months old.)

As a mother of two young children, how I stand has become a bit of a focal point.  Carrying an over 20 pound adorable butterball is hard work!  You many not have a chubby baby to carry around, but maybe you do have to carry or lift things every day for your job or your family. 

The way we stand can greatly impact our quality of life.

Americans are now more sedentary than ever. We went from being an agrarian society, where people work from sun up to sun down to a society spent in the seated position. Sitting has been called the “new” smoking. When we sit for long periods of time, certain muscles that hold us up right start to atrophy and some start to shorten. This leads to an imbalance in the way we stand which can create a myriad of issues from low back pain to even headaches.

If you add in child bearing, sports injuries, or other trauma, you can see how this can have a compounding effect on our bodies.


Learning to Stand Tall

So how do we fix this? First of all, stop what you’re doing and stand up straight. If you have a friend nearby have him/her shut down social media for a second and take a picture of you  standing.  Try to get a profile view as well. Some people may round through the shoulders and some people may extend out through the bottom.  Some people may do both. If you are looking at the front one shoulder may be higher than the other, your chin may go off center, one hip maybe forward from the other or higher. These are all signs of life, so congratulations!  You’re still living, but also signs that you have work to do to strengthen your body to help stay in an upright position.



Here are a few pointers on standing.

Let us start from the ground and work our way up. 

With your feet separated directly underneath your hips, press down firmly and evenly into the whole foot. This means not too much weight underneath the big toe.  Likewise, you do not want to put too much weight in the heel or in the outside of the foot. You want weight spread evenly throughout the foot.

Now here’s a thought, try to isolate the muscles in the bottom of your feet and lift up the arch. What just happened to your knees? I hope they softened.

The next thing we will think about is engaging the fronts of your legs above the knee, the quadriceps. This will help to keep you from locking your knees, and it will help to engage your backside, there’s a reason why it’s called maximus—it’s a big muscle! You want to be sure, especially if you tend to have a posterior that sticks out, or sways back, that you have the glutes engaged and that you are pressing the tail bone down.  Another way to think about it is that you are pressing the front of the pelvis slightly towards the rib cage.  You will find this engages the abdominal muscles (these are the muscles that tend to atrophy with too much time sitting.) Engagement in the lower abdominal muscles will help to take pressure out of the low back and will help to get you to stand a little taller... bonus points!!

For those of you that attended our Core Values Workshop, (yes, we will do this event again!) you learned that engaging the Transverse Abdominal muscles could take off as much as 40% of the pressure from the low back.  (Boat Pose anyone?)

The next thing you want to think about is bringing your shoulders down from your ears and pressing them back.  This will help to engage the shoulder muscles. At the same time bring your chest up –I like to pretend someone has a string in the center of my breastbone and it is pulling towards the ceiling. This should have you standing up a little taller.

Finally let’s talk about your head.  The top of your head should be reaching for the ceiling.  That means, not your forehead and also not the back of your head, the top part of your head reaches high, like you were trying to gain that extra quarter inch on a height chart.  This should bring your chin back to center and have you standing up tall.

Practice Standing

I don’t know about you, but suddenly standing seems like a lot of work, right? It is work, because we have forgotten how to hold ourselves up right. With time and practice, it should become second nature, and more comfortable. You will, and you can build the necessary strength in the transverse abdominal muscle group to help hold this position for longer periods of time. We have a ​video on how to perform boat pose already posted on our YouTube page (yogaeastchatt is our handle). More videos will be coming very soon!

I hope just taking the time to talk about standing proud has been helpful to you—whether in gaining the confidence that comes with good posture or gaining a bit more freedom from pain.  Our goal at Yoga East is always to help you feel better, to educate you, and to make you feel welcome.  Welcome to​ your yoga home.