The past century has seen a radical change in the way we stand. Up until the 1920s most people in the United States stood like this (Fig. 1). Their support bones-the spine, pelvis, and legs-are on the same axis. The legs are vertical, as is the spine, so the body weight is upright and balanced. I describe people with this posture as "balanced."

In the '20s the flappers ushered in a change. Their posture looked like this (Fig. 2). As you can see, the pelvis shifted forward.

As a result of this shift, here's what the majority of us look like today (Fig. 3). The legs are no longer vertical but slanted, the tops of the legs have shifted forward over the front of the feet. And because the legs are slanted forward, the back has to compensate by leaning backward in the lower spine, and forward in the thoracic spine. The body weight is toward the back, forcing our muscles to resist the pull of gravity. The American Medical Association reports that 80 percent of the population experiences at least one episode of debilitating lower back pain, and I think this new posture is the underlying reason for most back problems.
 

The problem with the contemporary posture is that the pelvis, which is the center of the body, has shifted off center, and when the center of anything is off, every other part is affected negatively. For the body, this means that joints are misaligned and muscles are either too long or too short. I describe these modern misalignments as being "out of balance."

Posture is a cultural phenomenon-it is learned. All children on the earth are balanced until around the age of three-after that they take on the posture of the adults around them. Today it is difficult to find a native-born six-year-old in the United States who is in balance, and most adults in industrialized countries are out of balance. On the other hand, most people in developing countries are still in balance. Their joints align at the center of the bones and their muscles are therefore at their natural lengths. And because these people are in anatomical balance, they share postures and movement patterns that I think are natural to the species.

Hatha yoga assumes balance and many yoga teachers from India today are in balance-for example, B.K.S Iyengar and the late Swami Rama. And since they are in anatomical balance naturally, their joints are not stressed nor do they have muscular imbalances. They begin asana from an entirely different place than we do. Look at the picture of Swami Rama (Fig. 4). The quickest way to compare his balanced alignment to our out-of-balance alignment is to turn the photo upside down and notice how he hangs straight down from the ceiling while the person in Fig. 3 does not.

Next: "As you can see, I was woefully out of balance." 1 2 3 4 5