“We have to fight gravity to stand upright,” says James Murphy, the director of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York, whose discipline focuses on correct alignment in order to hold poses for longer. Standing properly — and improving posture in general — can help prevent back pain, which persistently afflicts some 16 million American adults, according to data published by Georgetown University. “You might see people, as they grow older, they start to bend over, with the spine collapsing, and they’re staring at the ground while they’re walking — they can’t stand upright anymore,” Murphy says. Plant your feet about hip distance apart; the weight on each foot should feel the same. Establish equilibrium by spreading the pinkie toe as far away from the big toe as possible. “You can feel how weight might shift a little bit from the inside of your foot, to the outside, the front to the back,” says Murphy, who considers standing pose to be central in most of the classes he teaches. Next, bring your feet together so your big toes and heels touch. This action forces your muscles to engage in balancing you.
Press your heels against the floor, and work your way up, tightening the muscles. “Get some grip coming up to your knees and thighs and buttocks to have a firmness take place in your legs,” Murphy says. Once the legs are engaged, align the upper half of the body by lifting spine, rib cage and chest. Take a deep breath as you straighten your backbone. “Use the whole circumference of your chest and around your heart and your lungs — use that whole rib cage to lift up,” Murphy says, “so that you’re creating space in your trunk, including the spine and also around the organs.”
Learning to stand correctly is more than just a physical action. “We learn to stand to handle what’s going to come in life, to stand on our own two feet and face whatever comes in front of us with our head up,” Murphy says. “And when we’re depressed, when we’re down, we get pulled down.” Once you can stand with mastery, he says, “the possibilities are endless because you can go forward, you can go backward. You can go side to side, you can go upside down.”