This weekend, I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Ellen Heed—an extremely knowledgeable anatomy expert, bodyworker, and healer. She taught a course entitled “Functional Anatomy for Yoga”, that included the basics of what you might expect from an anatomy course, as well as much more in depth explanations of the science of how exactly yoga affects the body and modalities to heal.
After spending all weekend in class, the one thing that has really stuck with me is her discussion of posture. As yogis, we at least spend a few hours each week on the mat thinking about how we stand, but I have to admit, when class is over, more often than not I resort to some bad postural habits—including the slouched shoulders, head forward over the computer position that is all too common today. Most of the times when I’m in that position, I think, I’m just so tired! I’ll work on my posture tomorrow! However, what we don’t realize is that our habitual postural patterns actually start shaping the structures of our bones! So while at 25, my bad posture has only resulted into slightly inwardly rotated shoulders, by the time I’m 90, I might actually turn myself into a hunchback!
As Gil Heedley explains in “The Fuzz Speech” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FtSP-tkSug), our fascia (our connective tissue) is constantly growing. At night, it develops small ‘fuzz’, that will, if we don’t yawn and stretch and stay active, will begin to stick things together. And then grow more the next night, and more the next night, until 90 years go by, and your connective tissue is so strongly cemented that you actually can’t stand up straight! Going farther, how we feel—both about ourselves and the world—gets to be reflected in our bodies by this process. If we tend to be a very shy person, holding ourselves in, we might reflect that letting our neck hang low, creating that chronically crumpled look. Or if we are loud, aggressive types, we might get that ‘proud pigeon’ look, with a highly arched back and puffed up chest! Either way, our emotions tighten or shorten certain muscles, which then gets translated into the fascia, which pulls on our bones, eventually giving us the body posture we live in. While this is slightly terrifying, what was hopeful in class was the reminder that through yoga, we are empowered to change this process.
Throughout the day, I have found myself squeezing my scapula back and down my back, helping to counter-act computer shoulder syndrome. I how found myself activating my feet on all four corners, working on preventing a small bunion developing on the right side due to too walking on the inside of my foot. I have begun squeezing in my low belly and tucking my tail bone to help get rid of ‘duck butt’ (lordosis) syndrome, which can lead to some severe low back compression and pain! While I haven’t visited a doctor for any of these, armed with yoga I feel prepared to take responsibility for my own body. Throughout the weekend, Ellen told some incredible stories of healing—the amazing results of what happens when we actually tune into our bodies and pay attention. For me, this weekend helped remind me that yoga is the sense of awareness and curiosity about ourselves that extends way beyond the 90 minute class—I can practice yoga in line for the bathroom, while driving in traffic, or even right now while writing this blog. I can always take 5 seconds to stop and think about my alignment, and to put things in their place, so that years from now, they still work!