Visual Yoga Blog: Healthier Spine with the Smart-Ass Asana

If you’ve ever thrown out your back, you might think it was the stupid, thoughtless thing you were doing at the moment, but it probably wasn’t.



Not that you and I don’t do stupid, thoughtless things, but in this case the source of the problem was probably all the sitting we did… and that moment was the straw that slipped the camel’s disk, so to speak.

Our bodies weren’t designed for the kind of sitting abuse we put them through, day in, day out.

Oh, yes, bodies are remarkably adaptable and can sit on bad chairs, poorly-designed chairs, or even chairs that were well-designed but not designed specifically for our body.

Bodies just can’t sit in chairs for hours without tightening, weakening or otherwise affecting the muscles that work overtime to compensate for bad posture.

Want to need less yoga? Take out the bad posture in between yoga classes. In fact, beyond stress relief, what yoga ultimately aims to teach us is not how to do circus-worthy poses, even if they’re fun. What yoga aims to teach us is an awareness of how the body feels when it’s right and aligned… and when it isn’t.

So when we stand leaning over the kitchen sink, we might notice that this position (Dishwashasana) feels a lot better if we bend the knees and draw our shoulders back. No yoga teacher needed to tell you this; just pay attention to how something feels in daily living and then adjust.

In other words, it’s not enough to practice asanas; you have to think about body posture outside of yoga class.

Standing is better than sitting; but it’s safe to assume none of us are going to give up sitting. If you want to be kind to your body and live to an old age without complaining about aging not being for sissies, then it comes down to two things to do now: sitting more intelligently and doing something regularly to release lumbar tension.



Take a look at the picture on the left. It looks like a perfectly good sitting posture, yes? But sit in this position for hours a day, year-in, year-out, and you may find all manner of issues with your lumbar spine, mid-back, or whichever other point in your spine is your weakest link.

Now take a look at this other picture. Same chair, but a yoga block has been put under the proverbial buttocks. I’m not saying you should always sit on a hard surface like a yoga block (a pillow or a bolster of some kind will do the trick), but anytime you sit so your ass is higher than your knees, you are practicing smartasana.



Look at the two pictures illustrating the difference: first, notice the rounded back, collapsed shoulders and chest, and hence closed-in diaphragm and shallower breathing.


Then notice that the second position is just as comfortable, but the alignment is subtly, but radically, different. Also notice how much higher the hips are relative to the knees. And notice that while more upright, the second position carries no stiffness. Play around with your hip-raising options till you find that optimum relaxed uprightness balance.

This applies as much to your chair at work as your recliner at home. Also your airline seat, your car seat, and any other surface that your buns happen to grace in the course of a day.

Now: still working out the effect of cumulative years of unconscious sitting posture? Can’t make it to yoga class tonight? No problem.

Sit sideways against a wall.




Swing your legs up the wall.



Close your eyes. Breathe slowly. Meditate or daydream if you want. Stay for 10 minutes.

That’s it. When your back is relaxed, go to bed. You’ll feel better in the morning.

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