Posture, alignment and recovering from injury

Postural awareness is a key element in yoga but it is also an intrinsic part of the process of resolving pain and recovering from injury. Dawn Meredith-Davies explains how.

Sandra Carson, Utthita Trikonasana

By taking the various elements of yoga and the understandings from a holistic physiotherapy approach, we can go on a journey to understand the interconnectedness of our life and our body. We can benefit from these powerful tools and practices that yoga offers us, combine it with this knowledge and create all-round health in our unfolding lives. In the first of this series, Dawn focuses on how postural awareness can help us to shift pain...

Posture

Body awareness, or 'postural' awareness is a key element of yoga. Postural awareness arises from how we move into a pose, how we release into a pose and of course how much we notice our body and how it feels in any given posture, on any given day.

Our posture informs so many interconnected systems in our body - from how we move in space, to how we access our breath and even how we feel. However, from a 'physiotherapy' perspective (meaning: from the perspective of recovering from injury, or resolving a pain), postural awareness is an intrinsic part of the process of resolving the pain, recovering from the injury, allowing damaged tissue to heal and regaining freedom of movement and wellness again.

In fact it's imperative to address posture* to help shift pain, because pain always goes hand in hand with a stuckness in the movement system. Alleviate the stuckness and the pain will dissipate.

*Or more accurately, our moving posture or movement patterns, because "posture" really refers to a static frame and we're very rarely that...even during class!

It's imperative to address posture to help shift pain, because pain always goes hand in hand with a stuckness in the movement system. Alleviate the stuckness, and the pain will dissipate.

But the flip side of that is why the stuckness was there in the first place...

Habitual movement patterns

Do you always carry your bag on the same shoulder? Or cross your leg on the same side?! Or wrap your shoulders around your ears while you're at work...?!? All of these 'habits' or postural patterns repeated over and over add up to become the path of least resistance for us, movement-wise. And often it becomes a one-sided path. Our 'connective tissue' (the silk-like web that wraps around all of our muscles, underneath them, over the top of them and between all of them) adapts and reinforces the repeated patterning. Low and behold soon enough that tissue becomes shortened, slightly - barely noticeably, unless you're practised in observing these things – and the body then starts to 'prefer' this patterning.

There are deeper, more ingrained reasons why we carry out these repeated patterns in the first instance... and in addition, these habitual physical patterns aren't the only reason for the 'stuckness'.

Alignment

How making a change can shift the pain that you're experiencing…

Whenever we move, we shift energy. That energy has to be dissipated through our tissues. Each and every time we place our foot on the floor, for example, old Newton (Isaac!) informs us that we receive an equal and opposite 'reaction force' up from the ground. We have to transmit that force through our tissues. Through our muscles, through our bones, though our ligaments, tendons and joints.

When our joints are aligned 'optimally' -  when our vertebrae sit fabulously on top of one another (and not pulled out of kilter by tense, taught muscles), or when we have length through our neck, when our scapulae (shoulder blades) hug our rib cage appropriately and when shoulders reside away from our ears! - the forces flow through effortlessly through the tissue as they're supposed to. There's no resistance, just easy, free movement. These are our optimal movement patterns and this is what yoga can help us achieve.

When our tissues and joints are not happily aligned, the forces of movement will 'shunt' up into the joint or the joint's shock absorber (discs or menisci or other), or load into muscle over and over again. Repeat, repeat, repeat the stuck, shunting effect and sooner or later, overload will occur, or perhaps some seemingly trivial event will cause the 'straw on the camel's back' effect of tipping the stuckness over the edge and into a place that we experience as pain. Asking us to change our ways - sometimes begging us to do so!

Of course, not all 'off’ perfectly-aligned movement always results in pain - of course not! We're quite phenomenally adept at accommodating all of our imperfections. In particular if we keep our activities within the parameters that our body is used to, it won't tip us over the edge into a place of pain. 

That said, when pain arises it really only shows up what's underneath the surface in any case.

Recovery from injury

Yoga teaches us to relate to our body, it teaches us to come back to that awareness of our body in our everyday lives - not just during class. Over time it teaches us to carry ourselves differently.

Yoga teaches us to relate to our body, it teaches us to come back to that awareness of our body in our everyday lives and over time it teaches us to carry ourselves differently. 

It teaches us to catch ourselves slumping in our chair, or repeatedly standing out of balance over one hip, or in those moments when we’re so sucked into our computer / tablet / phone screen that our head (sitting on top of our neck!) is totally removed from our body...scrunching that neck, causing tension, causing disconnect. 

Yoga teaches us to regain self-awareness and to realign ourselves in these moments. Because in aligning ourselves, not only do we reconnect our head to our body (quite literally during those computer moments!) but we also make a change that will allow tension to be released.

Of course, not everyone has a 'perfect posture'. No one, in fact, has perfect posture and neither should we admonish ourselves for it. We all have our idiosyncrasies and therefore we're all slightly asymmetrically, out of kilter, marginally lopsided...all of us! We are probably supposed to be as well. Otherwise what else would we have to work on?!?

Our own distinctive postures - with subtly different movement patterns and unique ways of being in the world - all of these ways are perfectly ok. But sometimes, bringing our awareness back to creating little shifts, striving to incorporate our yogic awareness into our living - literally aiming to live our yoga on a daily basis - will encourage us to carry ourselves in slightly different ways, helping us to shift our aches, our pains or our discomfort...

Put this into practise...

Click here to try our alignment-focused yoga classes.

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