If we were to mimic a person taking a deep breath of fresh air, we would likely lift our chests and hold our heads up high. A gentle backbend like this helps keep us balanced and breathing well.
Kyphotic (hunched) postures are common as we age
It is common for our posture to become more kyphotic as we age. It could be due to years of responsibilities like caring for children, working at a desk, or engaging in hobbies like reading or knitting. Oftentimes, this results in the shortening of the front side of the body. In addition, the head is held forward in relation to the spine, which becomes more flexed. This is quite the opposite of the posture we would hold when taking in a deep, refreshing breath.
While a rounded posture can certainly feel good for cozy time, it can also compress and inflame our spine. Then, swelling in the affected areas can calcify. Thereby making what was once a malleable and dynamic body part more rigid and bone-like. Our body, being a willing participant in our posture, does what it can to keep us in our preferred alignment. Without variety, or at least opposites, of spinal positions, we tend to get rather stuck in the one(s) we do most often.
Interestingly, this affects not only our ability to breathe well, but our balance, too. The areas of stress that our posture imposes on our muscles affects how we perceive and respond to our body’s position in space. According to the American Posture Institute, “The flexed posturing that often develops in elderly persons may place their center of gravity closer to their limit of stability.” (Sinaki et al., 2005)
If you find yourself near the limit of your stability, it’s possible that rounded posture is not helping matters. Introducing a “helpful opposite” to that posture, such as a gentle backbend, can refresh your body. And can also improve your senses while reducing your risk of falls.
Balancing our tendency to hunch over
Yoga postures mimic our natural movement instincts to help maintain or restore the healthy functioning of our systems. In a typical Yoga class, we move our spine in all directions, from backbends to forward folds, twists and side bends to general lengthening. While it feels great to do them all on a regular basis, any one of them can be like a “helpful opposite” to our daily posture habits.
In the video below, I share a wonderful counter-position to flexed posture: a safe, supported, gentle backbend in a variation of Bridge Pose.