Poor posture and a misaligned spine can lead to a number of medical conditions, including lower back pain and sciatica. Poor skeletal alignment places stress on adjoining muscles, which then affects other body parts as well as the back. Conscientious body positioning while sitting and standing can help to prevent spinal misalignment, while exercises designed to strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine help to keep the back erect.
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The physical postures, stretching and breathing incorporated in yoga practices can benefit the skeletal alignment of the body and result in better posture. According to Spine Universe, Hatha Yoga, the most common form of yoga practiced in the West, requires a number of muscle-contracting exercises that instill joint flexibility that promotes skeletal alignment. Circulation increases during the yoga routines, stimulating metabolism and healing. Muscles and nerves relax during yoga exercises, which make spinal alignment easier to maintain.
Pilates is another form of exercise that promotes healthy bone alignment and stretches and strengthens supporting back muscles. The body mechanics employed by Pilates workouts encourages proper posture. Balance and coordination are key elements of Pilates that develop a conscientious approach to posture and spinal alignment. Breathing and targeted movements promote flexibility and reduce the fatigue and stress the spine undergoes throughout the day during physical activities. Additionally, Pilates typically focuses on developing a strong core, the basis for spinal stability.
You can incorporate any number of core-strengthening exercises into your daily workouts to strengthen your abdominal, oblique and back muscles that will more fully support proper skeletal alignment. According to the North American Spine Society, crunches are best performed lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lay your arms out straight beside your body and then lift your head and shoulders as you tighten your abs. Repeat 10 to 15 times to tighten core muscles. Variations include doing the crunches on a stability ball, which incorporates even more core strengthening muscle movements. Crunches are only one of many core-strengthening exercises. You can add variety by doing the Plank, Russian twists and Supermans to name a few. Check out the American Council on Exercise exercise library for more options.
Stretching is vital to keep muscles flexible and maintain proper posture. Side and back stretches are especially beneficial after you've been sitting for a long period of time and feel your spine becoming misaligned. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and place your hands at the top of your buttocks on each side. Slowly stretch backward and hold the pose for a count of 10. Shift your hips forward slightly to maintain your balance. From the same standing position, place your right hand on your right hip with elbow bent and raise your left arm above your head as you bend toward the left. Hold and slowly return to erect position. Repeat on the other side to stretch your side muscles that function as primary back supports.