Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
We know that spending countless hours hunched over our computers, looking down at our cell phones, and lounging in lazy positions while watching TV isn’t conducive to proper posture. While we’re aware this can cause short-term aches and pains, slumping also primes the body to develop the excessive forward curvature of the thoracic spine colloquially known as dowager’s hump and more formally diagnosed as hyperkyphosis.
There are many other contributing factors to hyperkyphosis, including osteoporosis, disk degeneration, and regular aging. It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider to learn the type of hyperkyphosis that you have and its recommended treatments. But if you know that lifestyle factors played a role in how it formed, some yoga postures can help offset the symptoms.
Having strong back extensor muscles—including the erector spinae—has been shown to be inversely correlated with hyperkyphosis, meaning the more developed those muscles are, the easier it is to manage and reduce your kyphosis. Multiple studies on yoga as a treatment for hyperkyphosis suggests that it can be a safe way to improve your posture, reduce scapular protraction, enhance your awareness of bodily alignment, and increase your strength and flexibility. The back muscles, core, and shoulders together act in a way that’s integral for your posture.
6 yoga poses to help with hyperkyphosis or dowager’s hump
How the pose helps with hyperkyphosis: In Tadasana, you roll your shoulders back, open your chest wide, and reach through the crown of your head. Doing so directly counteracts the slouched shoulders of postural kyphosis. Years of excessively slouching can pull your vertebrae out of alignment, resulting in the rounded upper spine. To be sure that you’re standing up straight in Mountain Pose, you can stand with your back against a wall and try to rest both shoulder blades and the back of your head against the wall.
How to practice Mountain Pose:
- Stand with your big toes together and your heels slightly apart.
- On an inhalation, expand your chest and roll your shoulders back.
- Have your elbows resting by your sides, palms facing forward.
- Lift through the crown of your head so it’s stacked over your hips.
- Stay here for 10 seconds.
- On an exhalation, allow your body to return to your natural posture.
- Repeat 5 times.
How the pose helps with hyperkyphosis: Focus on your alignment in Easy Pose to practice good posture. In the pose, your torso will be similar to that of Mountain Pose except you’ll be seated instead of standing. This could be a space to meditate for as long as feels comfortable while keeping your back straight and chest wide, strengthening the ligaments and muscles of and around your paraspinal muscles.
How to practice Easy Pose:
- You can sit on a block, bolster, or folded blanket for added comfort and support.
- Begin seated in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your legs extended forward.
- Bend your knees and cross your shins so that the edges of your feet rest on the floor, with each foot below the other knee.
- Maintain a neutral position in your pelvis. You can bring support beneath your knees with rolled blankets or blocks.
- Rest your hands on each knee. On an inhalation, gently bend your elbows and press into your knees with your hands to lengthen your spine and crown as your tailbone presses down.
- Stay here for any length of time.
- To come out of the pose, release the pressure from your hands and allow your body to return to your normal seated posture.
How the pose helps with hyperkyphosis: Cobra is an active posture that strengthens your shoulders and erector spinae while stretching your abdominals to counteract excessive slouching. Your legs and glutes will also be engaged as you press the tops of your feet into the mat, and they play a role in your posture as you stand and walk.
How to practice Cobra:
- Begin on your stomach with your feet hip-width distance apart, hands by your ribs.
- Press down through the tops of your feet to activate your quadriceps and glutes.
- Press down through your hands to lift your head and chest toward the ceiling while rolling your shoulders back and down.
- Press through the tops of your quadriceps and keep your legs on the ground.
- Keep the back of your neck long, drishti (gaze) focused straight ahead, as you lift your sternum.
- Straighten your arms while keeping your shoulders down and away from your ears.
- Stay here for 10 seconds.
- To come out of the pose, gently lower your stomach and forehead back to the ground.
How the pose helps with hyperkyphosis: Locust Pose is an active posture that engages your upper back, abdominals, arms, and legs. It’s a backbend that encourages lengthening through the spine while expanding the chest. Your abdominals help keep your torso upright and stable as you sit, walk, exercise, or do daily activities, so having a strong core improves your ability to hold and maintain any proper, non-slouching position.
How to practice Locust Pose:
- Begin on your stomach with your feet together, arms by your sides, with your palms facing down.
- On an exhalation, engage your quadriceps and back muscles to lift your head, chest, arms, and legs, leading with your inner thighs.
- Roll your shoulders back as you lengthen through your spine, reaching from the crown of your head through your toes.
- Stay here for 5 to 10 seconds.
- To come out of the pose, gently release your legs, torso, and head to the ground.
How the pose helps with hyperkyphosis: We recommend modifying Fish Pose by placing a rolled blanket underneath the curvature of your lumbar spine for added comfort and support. Fish Pose brings a slight arch to the shoulders and upper back as your neck and chin stay somewhat supported in extension, which provides the much-needed opposite of the forward bending experienced in hyperkyphosis.
How to practice Fish Pose:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor in line with your hips, arms by your sides, with your palms facing up.
- Place a rolled blanket underneath your back, directly below the shoulder blades where your lumbar spine begins to curve.
- On an inhalation, press back into your heels to roll the pelvis forward.
- Draw your elbows toward the top of the blanket to open your shoulders and expand your chest.
- Rest your head with either the back of your head or your crown on the ground. Avoid putting too much pressure on your neck and head by pressing through your forearms and elbows.
- Stay here for 15 to 30 seconds.
- To come out of the pose, roll your chin toward your torso as your torso comes back down to the mat.
How the pose helps with hyperkyphosis: This variation of Camel Pose keeps your spine long and head and chin in extension. Your shoulders and torso will be reminiscent of Cobra Pose, allowing your chest to expand which releases tension across your sternum and upper back.
How to practice Camel Pose with hands on sacrum:
- Come to your knees with your legs hip-width distance apart and squeeze your thighs toward each other. Place your hands on your hips.
- On an inhalation, lower your tailbone toward your knees.
- On an inhalation, lift your sternum and roll your shoulders back as you bring your hands onto your sacrum (just below your low back) with your fingers directed down and your elbows tucked in.
- Engage your core as you lengthen through your spine, reaching your crown upward and slightly back as you tilt your chin lightly up.
- Stay here for 30 seconds.
- To come out of the pose, bring your chin to your chest and your hands to your hips. Lower your glutes to the floor.