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Perfect Posture is a Myth—Here’s Why

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Defining the ideal posture for each pose is not possible.

There is no such thing as perfect posture! Seek a posture that works, not one that is aesthetically pleasing.

As an overall concept, posture is not easy to define. It can refer to the alignment of the body’s parts, the average orientation of body parts over time, a particular position of the body, or the angular relations of the body parts. One definition considers “good posture” to be the place where there is a compromise between minimizing stress on the joints while also minimizing the work done by the muscles. What is missing in all these definitions is the reality of time and motion.

We rarely hold the body still for very long, so posture needs to include a dynamic dimension. However, in our yoga practice, we often maintain one posture for a minute or more before releasing and moving into another static position. For each pose there is a prescribed position, but defining the ideal posture for each pose is not possible. There is no static ideal that fits every body.

See also Practice These Yoga Exercises to Keep Your Knees Healthy

While standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) would appear to present the “perfect posture,” 30 percent more muscular energy is expended than when we are standing erect but relaxed.

The Tadasana Posture

Consider someone standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) as seen from the back. Notice the symmetry of the left and right sides; this is the supposedly ideal posture, which would include a neutral, erect spine, equal lengths for the left and right legs and for the left and right arms, and equal heights for each hip and each shoulder. The line of gravity, which is the line where there is an equal amount of weight on either side, falls from the center of the back of the head, along the spine and between the legs and feet, dividing the body into two equal, symmetric halves. In a frontal view, the line of gravity runs from between the eyes, the middle of the nose and chin, through the xiphoid process, the belly button and between the two feet. No one is perfectly symmetric, and many people have a side-to-side curve to their spine, a condition called scoliosis.

While standing in Mountain Pose would appear to present the “perfect posture,” when the posture is rigid, as in a military “at attention” posture, 30 percent more muscular energy is expended than when we are standing erect but relaxed. 

From this we can question the value of mimicking in our yoga practice a strict, martial position of the body. In any case, individual variations in weight distribution throughout the body will require variations away from this idealized standard Mountain Pose posture; if the hips are heavier, if the breasts are larger, if the belly is bigger, if the head has a constant thrust forward, if the knees have painful arthritis, if the center of the ankles is forward of the heels, or for any of many other variations, the rest of the body will have to move away from the idealized line of gravity to maintain balance. The line of gravity has to shift to accommodate the reality of the body. All this is made even more complicated if the body is moving—and everyone sways a little or a lot when they stand, so the line of gravity is constantly moving and our nervous system and muscles are constantly adapting.

Common sense tells us that perfect posture will lead to healthier bodies, less pain, and ease of movement. Certainly if your posture is extremely different than the idealized version, pathology and problems can arise, but in general there is no proven link between the degree to which your posture fits the ideal posture and musculoskeletal disorders. This is worth saying another way: There is no such thing as perfect posture! Seek a posture that works, not one that is aesthetically pleasing.

To be sure, while there is no one posture that works for every body, or for one body all the time, there are many postures that can cause problems! In cases where a “bad” posture negatively affects function, it is often because the posture was statically held for many hours day after day, usually in a work-related environment. Changing habitual posture is very difficult, requiring a lot of training and time. If the cause of poor posture is muscular, it may be correctable with training. If the cause is skeletal, changes are very rare; yoga and other manual and physical therapies will not change the shapes of our bones. This is not to imply that no one can benefit from improving their posture—it simply acknowledges that to do so is difficult and rarely reduces pain. 

Rather than compare our posture to an aesthetic ideal, it is better to work toward a functional posture, which varies moment to moment and movement by movement. Posture, like alignment, should be in the service of movement, not the other way around. We don’t move to get into the perfect posture; the posture or alignment we seek should be the one that allows us to move with minimal effort.

I have attempted to define good posture. Now let me define poor posture: any habitual pattern of holding the body that places it under constant and unnecessary stress. (Unnecessary stress is any stress that over time becomes unhealthy.) In other words, any position that is awkward and uncomfortable is probably poor posture. Change it. But don’t seek an ideal posture, because if held for a long time, any posture becomes unhealthy.

See also Anatomy 201: Why Balancing Your Pelvis Is Key to Good Posture

The body is dynamic, changing—and our postures should also be dynamic.

The myth of “the static ideal”

The “ideal” Mountain Pose alignment is sought by many yoga students and prescribed by many yoga teachers—and it is a phantasm. Mountain Pose is a brief but static posture, one we pass through on the way to another posture, not a pose to be held for several minutes on end. In armed forces training, soldiers are drilled to stand on guard in this position for many hours, not because this is a healthy posture to maintain, but to build discipline, endurance, and subservience. Those are not the goals of most 21st-century yogis.

The body is designed to move. Motion is the lotion of life! To pretend that there is one, and only one, correct posture that should or could be maintained for long periods is simply wrong. Paul Grilley termed this “the myth of the static ideal.” Imagine having to walk around all day maintaining a firm, erect Mountain Pose posture: the chest always lifted, the arms glued to your side, shoulders drawn down and back, your gaze constantly horizontal, your head immobilized. This would be neither comfortable nor efficient. The head is designed to move, the arms to swing, the spine to flex. The body is dynamic, changing—and our postures should also be dynamic.

There is no predetermined, ideal form for Mountain Pose or any other yoga asana. There may be postures that definitely do not work for you; poor posture may have consequences. But what is poor posture for you may not be a problem for someone else. There may be a posture that will work best for you, given your unique biology and biography, and given the time of day, what else you have been doing that day, what your intentions are, and how long you need to remain in the position. But whatever this ideal posture is, it will not be your optimal position for very long. We need to move. Even when we sleep, we move around.

There is a flaw in many ergonomic designs that focus solely on comfort, and in the idea that we must have “proper posture” to remain healthy: these designs and ideas ignore the reality that people need to move. For example, searching for a chair design that is comfortable for every body and for all time is a fool’s quest; human shapes are far too varied for one chair design to suit everyone. Even more problematic is that most chairs are designed to restrict movement, especially movement we consider improper. Slouching is verboten, and chairs can be designed to discourage it. We can be very comfortable in a nice, expensive, ergonomic chair for five minutes, maybe 10, but after 20 minutes in even the world’s best chair, we will be aching to move. If that expensive chair does not allow movement, suffering ensues.

The practice deliberately takes the student outside her comfort zone, but the postures are not idealized as being perfect.

Fidgeting is Fine

In meditation classes, moving is called fidgeting. Fidgeting is frowned upon in schools, in the workplace, and in yoga studios. This attitude ignores the body’s need to move. This does not mean that sitting still for a period cannot be valuable; from a mindfulness, mediation, or discipline-building perspective, there may well be good intentions that require stillness, but these intentions will not include optimizing physical comfort. It is perfectly okay to challenge yourself to stay in an uncomfortable posture for five minutes or even longer in order to develop awareness and presence (as long as the discomfort doesn’t devolve into pain), but don’t claim that the chosen position is the ideal posture. The posture is simply a tool to achieve your intention. Indeed, the style of yoga known as yin yoga requires that the postures be maintained for many minutes. The practice deliberately takes the student outside her comfort zone, but the postures are not idealized as being perfect—they are simply tools to generate a healthy stress in the body’s tissues.

An ideal sitting position is not one with the spine ramrod straight, nor is it related to a precise amount of lumbar curve, or the height of the seat above the floor, or the position of the feet on the floor. The ideal sitting position is dynamic. For a while, we may sit up tall with the lumbar in slight extension, feet flat on the floor, but after five minutes, the ideal position may be to slouch for a little while, allowing some flexion to the spine, and then change again, perhaps to sitting cross-legged. (Slouching for hours at a time may not be healthy for most people, but slouching for a few minutes may be very healthy, depending upon the previous stresses on the spine.) Whether you’re standing, sitting or in any other orientation, your ideal posture is always changing.

See also Anatomy of the Spine: What You Need to Know About Your Spinal Curves

This article is excerpted from Your Spine, Your Yoga—Developing Stability and Mobility for your Spine by Bernie Clark.



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One Yoga Teacher's 3 Lessons We Could All Learn About Making Money

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Yoga and abundance don’t always feel like they belong together. One yoga teacher shares the lessons she learned about accepting wealth and tearing down financial barriers that weren’t serving her.

As I watched the snow fall into the hot tub at the retreat center I was visiting, nestled in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, I found myself thinking, How did I get this luxury?! Taking four days off to indulge at a hot springs in the mountains while learning from my yoga mentor seemed like a far cry from my start as a yoga teacher. Being underpaid was a regular occurrence when I first started teaching. Struggling to buy groceries, trips to the gas station hoping that I didn’t go over the twenty dollars I had in my wallet, and not being able to afford health care (gulp) were discomforts I grew strangely accustomed to.

I was extremely passionate about teaching yoga and I loved doing it, but my bank account did not match my passion as an instructor. As much as I would like to blame corporations, point my finger at capitalism, and gnash my teeth at the unfair nature of my soulful work being so undervalued, the truth is that my value as a teacher was already at a deficit before I even stepped foot into a yoga studio.

See also 10 Business Secrets to Starting a Successful Yoga Career

When I followed the thread that led me to being a “poor yoga teacher,” I could trace it all the way back to the old sayings that were instilled in my absorbent young brain as a child: “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “You have to work hard for money.” Or the most insidious, “Good people don’t need money.”

These seeds grew in my subconscious at a slow and steady rate. Over time, they became my reality, and as my yoga career developed, so did my belief that money meant struggle.

See also A 5-Minute Meditation To Relieve Financial Stress

I said “yes” to unpaid yoga gigs. I constantly bustled across town from one teaching job to the next. And I watched as my own practice fell to the wayside because teaching at a high volume was siphoning all my time and energy.

Finally I hit a bottom. I was fed up with scraping by, and I knew something had to change. I realized that if I wanted abundance, I needed to make a choice. That choice was to start shifting my perspective around money so that that I could not only heal my relationship with money, but also welcome prosperity into my life.

See also A Katonah Yoga Sequence To Live A More Abundant Life

There were three critical things that shifted the tide for me, and I know they can help any teacher looking to give themselves a raise.

1. Realize that spirituality means abundance

When you go into class and speak the word “abundance,” can you honestly say that you are feeling it in all areas of your life? Chaining yourself to the idea that being spiritual means financially struggling can disrupt the abundance that is waiting for you. When you accept that financial abundance and spirituality can have a thriving working relationship, it will reflect in your spirit—and your bank account! Take it from visionary Maya Angelou, who said, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive”.

See also The Yoga of Money: Take Wisdom from the Mat to Your Finances

2. Get crystal clear on your teaching intention

For some people, teaching a full load of 15 classes a week can strain your health and your capacity to serve. As in any other business, it can take time to build a network and establish a presence in the yoga space. Figure out a teaching strategy that will fulfill you and help maintain your sanity—not detract from it. Do you see yourself teaching full time? Does having a full-time job while teaching two to three classes sound fulfilling? Get clear on what is right for YOU. The way I figured this out was by getting support from a business coach and community I trusted so that I could navigate how to market myself and speak effectively about my services.

See also Live + Practice From the Heart: Identify True Intention

3. Seek great mentorship

One of the most pivotal steps you can take to open to financial abundance is to seek guidance from other successful yogis. Learning from others who gained wisdom and experience from walking a path before me allowed me to understand the paths available to me. Just like your daily local teacher, learning from someone who knows the ropes is so much easier than trying to figure it out yourself. I also sought guidance from business mentors and like minded women who were committed to living on purpose that could teach me how to offer my gifts, live my purpose, and get the structure I needed to financially sustain myself. Look for local clubs, meetups, and other networking opportunities in which you’ll be able to make valuable connections in the community.

See also A Yoga Teacher’s Guide to Social Networking

Just like yoga, stretching your financial container can cause some discomfort. Just like the journey of yoga, the path to feeling ease and grace with our money values starts from within. With a clear vision and the right tools and support, knowing and claiming your worth as a yoga teacher is totally possible!



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5 Lessons I’ve Learned Teaching Yoga to Senior Citizens

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After one yogi took her 200-hour yoga teacher training, she decided to volunteer at a senior citizen home instead of finding a paid job teaching yoga. Here’s how it’s changed her practice—and her outlook on life.

Since I started working with these senior citizens, I’ve learned some invaluable lessons about teaching yoga—and about life itself.

Three years ago, I was walking in Santa Monica and noticed a senior center and for some reason, I felt compelled to walk inside. Maybe it was because I’d just finished my 200-hour yoga teacher training with Annie Carpenter, who urged all of us new teachers to volunteer before trying to find a paying job. Maybe it was because shortly after that teacher training, I spent some time with my grandmother just before she passed away.

I wasn’t looking to volunteer, but my intuition urged me to walk into that senior center and ask the woman sitting behind the front desk if there might be an interest in having me teach the center’s residents yoga. The woman’s eyes lit up. She said they’d love to have me volunteer, and for the last three years, I’ve taught yoga and meditation to a group of seniors at Sunrise Senior Living Center every Monday morning. Since I started working with these senior citizens, I’ve learned some invaluable lessons about teaching yoga—and about life itself.

See also 5 Signs You Have a Yoga Teacher Who Empowers You

Lesson No. 1: The smallest movements can sometimes feel like the most advanced.

I work mostly with seniors who have memory impairments, and most are bound to wheelchairs—so we don’t do traditional yoga. I lead my students through seated yoga, which means we sit and breathe and then we do some minimal movements. Sometimes my students fall asleep. Other times I can tell their minds wander off. But I always try my best to keep them present in the moment, because even just a few moments of presence can have a profound impact.

Lesson No. 2: Life is fleeting.

Teaching my amazing senior students has taught me that age isn’t going to get away from any of us. We are all going to be older and slower one day, and when we get there, we may not like the fact that we’re older and slower. Spending time with my students is an important reminder to enjoy my life now, and it’s helped me recommit to my yoga and meditation practices over and over again, since those are the practices that help me get present.

The reality is that we’re all aging. People don’t like to talk about it, but it’s the truth. At the ripe age of 40, I feel some creaks and can’t do things I did at 30. Teaching my senior students has taught me to be more gentle with myself as I get older, so I’m able to practice as long as possible. Tiffany Russo, my SmartFLOW teacher here in Los Angeles, says you want to practice today so you can practice into your 90s. When I teach these seniors, it’s a reminder that I really can practice for the long haul. My students love being in their bodies and gently moving with the breath, and they’re a beautiful mirror of how I will hopefully be practicing one day.

See also 19 Yoga Teaching Tips Senior Teachers Want to Give Newbies

Lesson No. 3: Everyone has a story.

The seniors in my classes have incredible pasts. One was a well-known cardiologist at UCLA; another was a famous architect in North Dakota. I’ve taught former social workers and dental hygienists, teachers and musicians. All too often, we disregard our elders and focus instead on our peers. Yet what I’ve learned is that my students once had thriving careers and interesting lives and experiences that teach me so much. It’s an honor to help bring them to a place that helps them feel truly seen, which I’ve come to realize is all that any of us really crave.

See also How to Create a Solid Yoga Practice At Any Age

Lesson No. 4: Sticking to the basics can feel like the most advanced practice.

I try to have my students focus on following their breath while doing some sort of movement. When they inhale and raise their left hand, I show them how to move their arm in a way so they feel internal and external rotation and ask how it feels in their shoulders. We’ll do that five to 10 times with the breath on one side, then move to the other. When I do this with them, it helps me feel embodied in a way that I may not access when I’m practicing on my own.

See also Why is Yoga Needed in All Communities?

What I’m learning is that the basic movements are actually the key to helping students get truly present. I’m reminded of one moment early on, when I started practicing meditation with the group. I started out instructing them to keep their eyes open while I showed them colored paper, and asked them to imagine the colors on the in and out breaths. I brought in mala beads from my Five Star Hippie collection and taught them use the beads to repeat simple mantras as they meditated. Then, around three weeks in, I asked them to place one hand on their heart and one hand on their belly, and then to close their eyes—something that feels especially scary for many of my seniors, who struggle with memory problems. I asked them to just relax, keep their eyes closed, and to follow their breath.

Watching them in this moment—two dozen seniors in the room, all in wheel chairs, and everyone in complete silence—took my breath away. They were the most present they could be, which in turn created this overwhelming feeling of presence and joy in the room. I still get the chills thinking about it. To see something so basic have such a profound effect was the epitome of yoga to me.

See also How to Be a Yoga Leader in Your Community

Lesson No. 5: Connections through yoga can be made any time, and at any age.

I started with two students and now I teach two dozen students every Monday morning. Yoga brings community together—no matter what age, race, or gender. It’s been a beautiful thing to see my students get a little bit stronger every week, and a little more able to drop in and get present after every meditation session. And what’s most amazing is how these students have become a cherished part of my life. 

About the author

Janine Forte was born and raised in New York, where she comes from a lineage of jewelers. She started out designing fine jewelry in 2007 and then segued into the world of fashion jewelry with a focus on eco-friendly materials. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she designs and creates in a studio by the beach. Her company, Five Star Hippie®, is an eco-friendly, spirit-inspired jewelry collection and each piece bestows a positive message that is meant to illuminate your body, mind, and soul. You can follow Five Star Hippie on Instagram and Facebook.



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The Business of Yoga: Follow This Advice for Social Media Success

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Eight tips that’ll help you knock it out of the park when it comes to Instagram, Facebook, and more.

Posing in a San Diego alley, yoga and breathwork instructor Ava Johanna quips on Instagram: “Will the Instagram Yogi Gods shun me for not being on a picture-perfect beach?”

We’re sure she’s absolved; her Handstand in the photo is impressive. But, she raises a good point: When it comes to appeasing the Instagram gods—a.k.a. the all-important algorithms responsible for prominently placing you in followers’ feeds—what works? Nailing this is important because social media done right can help yoga teachers make a name for themselves and engage with their students, all while announcing class schedules and demonstrating techniques.

See also 10 Inspiring Instagram Quotes We Couldn’t Wait to Re-Post This Week

For Ava Johanna, who has amassed nearly 28,000 followers on Instagram, harnessing social media goes beyond pretty photos posed on beaches. She’s authentic with her followers, sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses into her own life. There’s the ups, like her recent bachelorette party in Tulum. And, the downs, like a post in which she shares what it was like to be homeless as a teenager.

“While imagery is always important, vulnerability has been the greatest asset in connecting with my followers and growing a following on Instagram,” she tells us. “I share the good, the bad, and the ugly in an effort to remove the veil of the ‘highlight reel’ that social media can often create.”

See also 7 Things I Learned From Doing One of Those Social Media Yoga Challenges I Always Thought Were Obnoxious

Ava Johanna also shares yoga tutorials and videos, re-visits yoga philosophies through captions, and has an overall goal of empowering students outside the studio. Essentially, she says, her IG feed is a just one more way she can show up for her followers.

Looking to grow your own social media following? Here, we’ve got tips from Ava Johanna, other yoga instructors killing it on Instagram, and digital strategists to help you become successful on social media.

View the original article to see embedded media.

Tip No. 1: Post a few times a week.

First things first, there’s no magic formula that works for everyone on social media because you’ll develop your own brand and audience, says Valentina Pérez, who works in an influencer marketing agency, oftentimes with wellness and lifestyle brands. But, you should be posting at least three to four times per week, says Pérez, who has also built a large following via her online presence as Break Con Valen. “People want to see new content all the time, so being present is extremely important on social media,” she says.

See also 6 Most Inspiring Yogis on Instagram This Week

Tip No. 2: Remember to interact with your audience.

The goal is to craft a great post that generates discussions and prompts questions. Then, be sure to answer those questions and respond to comments, Pérez says. Not only will your audience appreciate it, but it also helps the algorithms work in your favor, she explains. Simply put: The more you interact with your followers, the more you’ll show up in people’s feeds.

Tip No. 3: Create a consistent color scheme.

Have you ever looked at an influencer’s Instagram feed and noticed how cohesive the color scheme looks? This is definitely intentional. Ava Johanna suggests using apps like Lightroom to create a preset (which is Adobe’s version of a filter) that you consistently apply to your photos. Doing so will help you develop a consistent aesthetic and color scheme that makes your grid look beautifully curated.

See also Tips from Social Media’s Top Yogis on How to Handle Haters and Trolls

Tip No. 4: Buy a tripod for your smartphone.

You can find some for less than $20 on Amazon, says Ava Johanna. That way, you aren’t dependent on having a photographer. “Set your phone on video,” she says. “Then, record a video and flow through different postures. Watch it back and pause in different poses so you can screenshot photos.” She also likes to make videos of the yoga flows she teaches in class so followers around the world can practice along.

Tip No. 5: Be real.

The most important piece of advice we heard is that you’ve got to keep it real with your audience. Kino MacGregor, an international yoga teacher and author who has garnered 1.1 million Instagram followers, says it’s crucial to not just do things for “likes” or get caught up in gimmicks. Rather, be real, she says: “The thing that you think is too real to share—share that,” says MacGregor, who writes often about her own struggles with body acceptance on Instagram.

See also 11 Best Yoga Podcasts Every Yogi Needs to Download Right Now

Tip No. 6: Add value to social media feeds.

In addition to connecting with your audience by being your true self and being relatable, it also helps to create content that’s shareable, says Erin Motz, the co-founder of Bad Yogi, which offers online yoga classes. Posting something that’s educational and super-cool to know can engage your audience. For example, in her highlighted videos on Instagram, Motz answers questions from her audience, shares stretches for runners, and points out a common mistake people make doing the Cobra Pose. Bad Yogi’s largest social media following is on Facebook, with 122,000 followers, but the most engaged audience is on Instagram, with 45,000 followers. It took her three years to build up those audiences.

Tip No. 7: It’s OK to ask for shares.

Your best bet is to be direct with your audience, says business consultant Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré. “You want shares? You want links? You want people to read your latest post because it’s the best thing you’ve written this year? Then it’s OK to ask, just not all the time,” DeMeré says. You’ll be amazed at how many people are willing to show their appreciation of your work by sharing it—but the key is to ask nicely.

See also Don’t Do It for the Gram: 18 Dangerous Instagram Yoga Photos

Tip No. 8: Avoid stock art.

You know the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words?” It can also be worth a thousand page views, if you choose wisely, says DeMeré. So, don’t settle for stock photography. So many businesses do this, says DeMeré, which means you won’t be able to catch people’s attention. You’ll gain far more shares if you use your own images in a how-to post or to help illustrate a story.



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