How often did you hear as a child growing up, “Stand up. Pull your shoulders back!” Put your shoulders back. That’s how we were told to correct our posture. It’s the posture of the fluffy-hatted guards outside Buckingham Palace, it’s the posture of ballerinas and princes, of anyone carrying a gun. But it is actually only half the picture.
Try an experiment. Stand up and pull your shoulders back.
What just happened? Are you actually standing straighter, or are your shoulders just forced a bit backwards and, if you’re a woman, your boobs are sticking out in a rather awkward manner.
If you stand straight and pull back your shoulders to correct your posture, one thing is sure to happen. Your shoulders will go backwards! But your posture will remain exactly as before. This is because good posture has little to nothing to do with shoulders moving back, but everything to do with how we hold our backs. In yoga, there is a lot of emphasis on strengthening the back muscles, and good posture is the result of using this strength wisely.
Try the experiment again. This time forget the shoulders. Imagine they don’t even exist. Instead, lift up from an area around the mid-back and continue this lifting motion all the way up through the upper back. What you’ll find is, as you lift up your back, your shoulders will just naturally roll back a little as a result, and you will feel as if you have grown an inch or two.
You can also do this against a wall. Bring the heels so they touch the wall at the bottom. Feel the buttocks, the mid and upper back (but not the lumbar area), the shoulders and the back of the head against the wall. Raise your back and increase your height a little. Lift the upper back so the tops of the shoulders roll back enough so that you can feel the contact with the wall. Now step away from the wall while maintaining this posture. It might feel a little odd at first. Walk around the room for a bit like this, and then return to the wall and re-align. Do this three times.
There you have it, the posture of a Buckingham Palace guard, without the drill sergeant!