Observe, Balance, Assess, Correct

Sage Rountree describes the four steps for using your yoga practice to help with any imbalance.

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My 2013 resolution: Stand up straight. It feels hypocritical to be a yoga teacher and have such poor posture. Happily, as a yoga teacher, I have the tools to fix it. These same steps can work for you if you’d like to use your home practice to address an imbalance, whether it’s physical or emotional.

Observe the patterns. First, I must assess the patterns that have brought me to this point: a structurally exaggerated upper-back curve compounded by functionally using my body in ways that encourage this slump forward: running trails (especially with a water belt around my waist, which causes me to lift my elbows as I lower my head to choose my footing), riding a bike, and, most insidiously, sitting at the computer. This has led to overtightness in the front of my body and overstretch in the back.

Balance strength and flexibility. To find a sweet spot of balanced posture in my upper back, I need to stretch the front of my torso and strengthen the back. The stretching must precede the strengthening, so that any strength work I do isn’t working against tightness in the front. To stretch, I’ll practice supported, passive backbends, like Matsyasana (Fish Pose) on a bolster and on a block. These are quite pleasant. Then, to strengthen, I’ll work active backbends, which aren’t so much fun. The hardest ones for me are the prone ones, and these are the ones to start with. I feel like a baby struggling and grunting through “tummy time” as I work a low Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Salabhasana (Locust Pose) and its variations, and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). But diligent practice yields results. Throughout, I get the chance to observe the shifting play of thought as I enjoy the passive backbends and have to apply myself to the active ones.

Assess and adjust. Periodically, I’ll stop and observe the patterns that affect my posture as they are playing out in my daily life. Am I slouched on the trail? Am I sliding back into my usual computer posture? When I see the patterns recur, I’ll take steps to adjust: lift my sternum, lengthen my neck, engage my upper back, and appreciate the moment of self-awareness.

Following this cycle—observing the patterns at work, acting to move toward balance, and assessing and correcting—allows us to bring the mindfulness yoga teaches into our daily lives. Apply it as you move into 2013.

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