Graceful Warrior: Stand Up and Face the X Factor

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Stand Up And Face The X-FactorNo, I’m not blogging about the reality show! The X refers to patterns of strength and weakness that most of us carry in our bodies. Modern society had full-heartedly adopted the following posture and movement pattern: Standing with all the weight in the heels (versus evenly balanced front to back) Shifting the hips forward (if your weight is in your heels and your hips don’t shift forward to counterbalance, you will fall over backwards)
All core muscles are soft and there may even be a little belly bulge, meaning the low back is probably in excess lordosis (curved).

The chest is either lifted high or excessively rounded in, which both elicit rounded forward shoulders and hands that hang down on the front side of the legs (versus the midline). The head juts forward to counterbalance the shifting weight up your body.

These images from fashion magazines and the red carpet exemplify this postural trend, most noticeably the rounded shoulders. You can also look at most junior-high to college age girls and see this hips jutting forward and terrible shoulder roll/slumping pattern. When I see it, I just cringe thinking about how much back pain they have in a few years.

I digress. Back to the X pattern, specifically what movement therapists call the Lower Cross Syndrome, which is having excessively tight (hypertonic) quadriceps muscles and low back muscles while having weak or inhibited (hypotonic) abs and hamstrings. The combination of strong/tight front of the legs and low back and weak front core and back of the legs makes for an unstable pelvis, low back pain and poor posture. This Lower Cross Syndrome translates to the Upper Cross Syndrome, which includes a strong and tight chest /front of the shoulders and neck along with a weak upper back and front of the neck.

How to improve your posture:

Start from the ground: the more you press down into your feet, the taller your spine grows. However make sure you are pressing equally throughout the four corners of your feet (inner & outer ball of the foot and inner & outer heel). When standing up straight, you should be able to look down and see all the tops of your feet; if you only see half your feet or your toes,that means your hips are forward and your weight is in your heels.

Suck it in: Shifting your weight forward out of your heels automatically turns the belly on. Also, make sure your pelvis is level. In the lower cross pattern, hips are tilted forward, meaning the tailbone needs to draw down towards the heels lengthening the tight low back. The other pattern is tailbone tucked under, meaning the pelvis is tilted backward.

Front ribs inside: the majority of our population assumes the soldiers posture when told to stand up straight – the front ribs pop out to push the shoulder back. You actually want your xyphoid process, the little notch just below your sternum where your rib cage spreads apart, to be pointing straight down, meaning the front ribs should be pulling down towards the hip bones (thus turning your ab muscles on)
Hanging shoulders: your shoulders should be completely relaxed and just hanging off the sides of your rib cage. However, the shoulders typically wind up around your neck, which is a fight or flight protective reaction. Work of consciously dropping your shoulders and drawing your shoulder blades down your back (while still keeping your ribs inside)

Balanced head: The head weighs 12 -15 lbs. If you keep your ears centered over your shoulders, your head will be level and the bonus is that you will keep that double chin at bay. The more your head juts forward, the more the muscles in the back of your neck work and the less the muscles in the front work. Flabby front muscles eventually equal a double chin.

When you get your spine and shoulders aligned, you will start to notice that as you inhale, your lungs expand out towards your inner arms (instead of only forward & up toward your chin). When you find alignment take 5-10 wide breaths with your eyes closed.

I also like to use a mirror to make sure I am standing up completely straight, not just what my mind thinks is straight. Try it the next time you find yourself in front of a full length mirror. Just remember that it takes time to create change in your movement patterns. I’ve been actively working on changing my postural habits for almost two years now, and while it’s getting better I still have a ways to go.



About Gina Shelton

We live in a dualistic world, or really a multi-istic one. As a woman, you are expected to be smart, caring, creative, and dedicated at your job, with your significant other and your family, plus you are supposed to make time for yourself in order to stay healthy and sane. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you start thinking of all the aspects of your life that you are constantly juggling.

For me, this is where yoga comes in. In the West, we mostly view yoga as a physical practice and that is definitely how I got into it. But what I’ve realized in my 10+ years of practicing yoga, is that it has become more than just something I do to stay in shape, it has changed the way I view myself and the world and consequently how I interact with others.

Over the years, yoga has helped me meal my crumbling marriage, my low back and hip pain deemed chronic by my insurance company, and is now supporting me through my next ventures: trying to start a business and a family.

My love of yoga (I knew it was for me in my very first class), led me to begin training to teach after a year. I took my time learning all I could and finally became a YOGA ALLIANCE registered teacher in 2005. Since then, I have become a certified yoga therapist through Loyola Marymount University’s Yoga Therapy program and will soon have my Yoga Alliance 500-hour teacher certification.

This blog will cover topics related to yoga poses and breath awareness that will help you to find the graceful warrior hidden inside you: Strength to manage the everyday stresses in your life as you gracefully create new habits and patterns that allow you to find comfort, health and hope in all areas of your life.

Gina Shelton is a Yoga Alliance registered teacher and Loyola Marymount University certified yoga therapist. She lives in Venice, CA with her husband and weimeraner puppy Fleur. You can read more about creating a healthy lifestyle on her blog

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