Have you heard of Forward Head Posture (or Forward Head Syndrome)? Unfortunately for many who spend hours a day working at a computer or staring at other device screens, this postural phenomenon is a pressing, and sometimes painful, reality. Colloquially it is referred to as ‘chicken neck’ because essentially your neck and head protrude forward past your shoulders instead of aligned vertically with them, like a chicken.
Typically accompanied by cascading posture problems with hunched shoulders, pelvic imbalance, and a rounded back, Forward Head Posture is a critically important habit to break for many reasons. Think about the force of gravity attracting you to the center of the earth right now, pulling on your entire weight. For every inch your neck and head crane forward out of alignment with your spine, that adds 10 extra pounds of leverage with which gravity’s force can pull. Youch!
The connective muscles, tendons, and ligaments that provide support and stabilization to your spine, neck, and shoulders have to work extra hard with bad posture and become strained, inflamed, and sore. Your upper back muscles weaken and your chest tightens up, drawing your shoulders forward even more and perpetuating the problem when you stand and potentially even when you walk.
So how can yoga help?
On the most foundational level, the mindfulness component of yoga, which makes you more mind and body aware, raises your attentiveness to posture issues and problem areas. The Cat Cow Pose which helps to stretch and lengthen the spine will give you a good indicator of whether your bad posture has resulted in stiff, achy back and neck muscles. Difficulty with drawing the shoulders back in Warrior Poses or aligning the head over the heart in Mountain Pose will make you more aware of your body’s unnatural forward pull. Self-actualizing and becoming painfully aware of each inch of your body during yoga will translate into regular posture adjustments outside of yoga.
Routine yoga practice will also take on the all important tasks of stretching, lengthening, and drawing out the spine. Hot yoga especially aids muscles with becoming more elastic and limber and helps loosen stiff joints. A boost in blood circulation to the back flushes out built up waste byproduct in the muscle tissue, and stretching warm, pliable muscles helps reorganize muscle fibers which became jumbled with prolonged bad posture.
To many people’s surprise, Forward Head Posture isn’t just the result of improper sitting and standing technique, but the sometimes imperceptible and often uncoordinated movements of the entire body from the feet to the hips. Pelvic tilt which comes from crossing your legs when sitting or generally resting weight on one leg when standing can tighten hip flexors significantly. This causes a regular hip imbalance that has a domino effect on posture, pulling on the spine and rippling up through slumped shoulders and a craned neck. Yoga helps you learn how to structurally improve hip flexor flexibility through targeted poses and techniques as well as brings any pronation or gate problems you may have to light.
Neutral pronation, or the natural inward rolling of your ankle and foot as you walk, can be disrupted by foot problems (common for runners, athletes, and dancers) including flat or tall arches, stiff plantar fascia tissue, bunions, or stress fractures. Addressing foot problems that are negatively impacting hip balance and posture might include wearing arch supports, a bunion splint, or ankle braces while completing yoga practice and targeting calf and foot stretches like with Downward Dog Pose or Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose.
Finally, the integration of deep breathing with yoga practice that helps relax muscles and release stress also supports good posture behaviors and helps reverse Forward Head Posture. Try taking a deep, long inhale when you are slouched over in your desk chair. Pretty hard, right? Bad posture places pressure around the thoracic cavity and diminishes lung capacity. The practice of deep breathing with yoga meditation and poses bleeds into a habit of recognizing your own breathing outside of the yoga studio and practicing deep breathing throughout the day. Not only does taking a round of deep breaths help you calm down and focus, but deep breathing physically cues the shoulders to rise and then fall down and back, as well as your head and neck to return to proper alignment.
In addition to back pain, pelvic tilt, and diminished breathing, bad posture like with Forward Head Syndrome can negatively affect digestion, reduce blood circulation, and even impact your heart. Yoga can play one of the most vital roles in reversing your bad posture habit and benefiting your overall health and wellbeing.
Guest Post by Joe from ViveHealth