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Did we just catch you slouching at your keyboard? Or hunched over your phone? Bad posture strikes us all. But have you ever tried yoga for better posture?
If so, you’re certainly not alone. It’s estimated that 50 to 80 percent of Americans are concerned about lapsing into bad posture. While you may be able to easily correct your less-than-idyllic alignment now by simply standing straighter, this—like many things—becomes harder with age. Over time, your shoulders have a tendency to slump, your head tilts forward. All this misalignment can lead to low back pain.
The good news: If you already practice yoga, it’s been helping in ways you aren’t even aware of each time you come to class. And if you’ve never tried yoga to improve your posture, it’s never too late to begin. Bonus: You can even do it from home.
What causes bad posture?
There isn’t any single factor that leads to bad posture. Gravity and aging each play a role. So can illness and even genetics. But for the most part, our tendency to slouch and slump occurs as a result of muscle weakness or tension related to your body being in the same position day after day.
What sitting all day does to your posture
When your shoulders are constantly hunched forward—usually the case when you’re staring at a computer—the muscles in your upper back (specifically, the latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius) get tight, making them weaker. Spending too much time huddled over your devices also causes the pectoralis minor, which is responsible for engaging your shoulder blade and scapula, to shorten, which keeps your shoulders in that forward position.
That’s not all. Sitting on your keister all day doesn’t require anything from your legs or gluteal muscles, which causes them to weaken. Your glutes, along with your core muscles, are key stabilizers for good posture, so if they’re weakened, it’s more difficult to stand up straight. Sitting for long periods of time can also shorten your hip flexors and lead to hip issues when you do try to be more active.
How yoga helps your posture
A stealth benefit of many yoga poses is that they build strength in your core—including muscles in your low back and your side body as well as your abdominals—which in turn makes it easier for you to stand tall without even trying.
While there are definitely changes you can make to your daily routine—including taking regular breaks from sitting and setting up your desk chair for optimal body alignment—certain yoga poses can help stretch, strengthen, and balance your muscles so that you can hold your head high and stand tall for years to come.
Yoga helps you be more aware and mindful of your body in relation to your surroundings. It also helps you slow down and deepen your breath, which can relax tension throughout your body—which in turn can release your shoulders from up by your ears and help your body fall back into alignment.
10 yoga poses for better posture
Almost any yoga pose can improve your posture. But these are especially effective.
Bitilasana (Cow Pose)
Arching your back in Cow Pose stretches your neck, front torso, and back, and can counteract poor posture from slumping forward most of the day.
Start on your hands and knees in Tabletop with your knees below your hips and your wrists, elbows, and shoulders in line with one another. Look at the floor. As you inhale, lift your chest forward and toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to lower toward the floor while you lift your head to look straight forward.
Cow Pose is typically alternated with Marjariasana (Cat Pose) and done in sync with your breath. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling. Release your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest. Repeat as many times as desired, using your inhale to initiate the movement.
If you’re at your desk and aren’t able to close your door and come to the floor, you can do seated Cow Pose seated. Place your hands on your thighs and arch your back, drawing your shoulder blades together, pulling your chest forward, and tilting your chin slightly back. If you like, as you exhale, take Cat Pose by rounding your back.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose does a little of everything to improve your posture. It lengthens, strengthens, and stretches your shoulders, back, legs, and more.
Start on your hands and knees in Tabletop. Curl your toes under, press into your hands, and lift your hips up and back. Keep your hands where they are while roll your inner upper arms toward the wall in front of you. Lengthen through your back, reaching your shoulders toward your hips. If your lower back feels rounded, bend your knees slightly so that you can lift your hips higher. The goal: to keep a straight line from your wrists to your shoulders to your hips vs. trying to straighten your legs.
Plank Pose is a yoga posture powerhouse for good reason—besides working your core, wrists, and arms, it strengthens the muscles along your spine.
Start in Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Shift your weight forward until your shoulders are directly over your wrists, your arms are straight, and your chest is parallel to the mat. Gaze straight down. Actively press away from the floor to keep your shoulders engaged. Broaden through your chest. Lengthen your tailbone towards your heels and reach the top of your head toward the wall in front of you to lengthen your neck. Breathe. Start by holding the pose for 15-30 seconds. If you can, and work your way up to longer periods of time.
If Plank Pose is challenging, simply lower your knees to the mat and untuck your toes. Continue to press through your hands and broaden through your chest.
This gentle backbend stretches your chest and shoulders—parts of your body that can feel tight from regular slouching or slumping forward—and also strengthens your spine.
Come onto your front side with your legs extended behind you, forehead on the mat. Rotate your thighs inward and up toward the ceiling by rolling your outer thighs out and toward the floor. Bring your forearms onto the mat beneath you and parallel to one other. Inhale and lift your chest and head away from the mat so your shoulders are above your elbows. Lengthen through your spine as if you’re bringing your chest forward toward the wall in front of you. Draw your lower belly away from the floor. Breathe. Stay for 5–10 breaths and then lower back to the floor. Repeat if you’d like.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
A slightly more intense backbend than Sphinx, Cobra Pose offers more chest opening and spine strengthening to help fix poor posture. Always move into a backbend slowly and come out the moment it feels that you’re straining your back.
From Sphinx Pose, begin to press into your forearms to lift your chest a little more. Draw your elbows toward one another and try to distribute the backbend evenly throughout your spine. Remain here for 15-30 seconds. On an exhale, release back down to the floor.
Like most forward folds, Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend stretches the back of your legs, spine, and upper body. This posture goes deeper than basic forward bends to engage your core and offers options for stretching your shoulders.
Turn to face the long side of your mat and step your feet about 3-4 feet apart, your feet parallel to each other. Press the outer edges of your feet and the area beneath your big toe firmly into the mat. Bring your hands to your hips, slowly inhale, and gradually exhale as you fold forward from your hips.
Bring your fingertips or hands to the floor or onto a block beneath your shoulders and let the top of your head release towards the floor. Spread your fingers wide and draw your elbows toward one another. Exhale and, if possible, let your body shift a little deeper into the fold. You want to feel a stretch but not a strain. Breathe. Remain here for up to a minute.
Shoulder Variation: Bring your hands into Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) behind your back by leaning your torso slightly forward and rounding your back. Then press your palms together behind your back with your thumbs resting on your sacrum, fingers pointing toward the floor. Interlace your fingers and reach your palms up toward the ceiling.
Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior I)
Warrior I lengthens and strengthens tight hip flexors that can cause a sway back and chronic lower back pain.
Face the front of your mat with your feet hip width apart. Step your left foot back about 3 to 4 feet. Turn your left foot out 45 to 30 degrees to the left. Exhale and rotate your torso to the right, trying to square your hips with the front of your mat. Press through the outer edge of your back foot. Exhale and bend your right knee. Make sure you can still see your toes and that your shin is perpendicular to the floor. Sweep your arms alongside your ears, palms facing one another or touching, and reach strongly through your arms. Keep your head in a neutral position with a forward gaze or tilt your head back and look up at your thumbs.
Many abdominal exercises work the upper abs, neglecting the lower abs that help support your lower back and pelvis. Boat Pose helps with that plus strengthens your hip flexors.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat and hip distance apart. Bring your hands behind your knees and lift through your sternum, gently tipping your upper body backward. Bring your shins parallel to the floor as you balance on your sit bones and tailbone. Make sure your back doesn’t round as you do this.
Lengthen your tailbone into the floor and lift your pubis toward your navel. Bring your arms alongside your legs and parallel to the floor. Spread the shoulder blades across your back and reach strongly out through your fingers.
If possible, slowly straighten your legs and bring your arms parallel to your legs, fingers pointing towards your toes. Stay in the pose for 10-20 seconds, working up to 1 minute or longer.
Cow Face Pose is a fantastic stretch for your shoulders, chest, and arms—each of which can get tight when you consistently slouch or slump forward. If you have tight shoulders, grab a strap, a bath towel, or a sweatshirt before trying this one.
Sit with your legs extended straight in front of you, then bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. Slide your left foot under your right knee and toward the outside of your right hip. Cross your right leg over your left, stacking your right knee on top of your left and bringing the right foot to the outside of the left hip. Place even pressure on your sitting bones. If you have difficulty sitting evenly, sit on a folded blanket.
Inhale and stretch your right arm straight out to the right, parallel to the floor. Rotate your arm so your thumb is pointing toward the wall behind you, palm facing the ceiling. With a full exhalation, sweep the arm behind your torso and tuck your forearm in the hollow of your lower back, with your right elbow against the right side of your torso. Roll your shoulder back and down, then work your forearm up your back until it’s parallel to your spine and the back of your hand is between your shoulder blades.
Inhale and stretch your left arm forward, parallel to the floor, palm facing up. With another inhalation, stretch your arm straight up toward the ceiling, palm turned back. Lift actively through your left arm, then with an exhalation, bend your elbow and reach your hand behind your head toward your right hand. Don’t forget to breathe. If possible, hook your right and left fingers. If not, grasp an end of your strap, towel, or sweatshirt in each hand and use that to gently stretch. Try to draw your left elbow toward the ceiling while simultaneously pulling your right elbow toward the floor. Gently reach the top of your head toward the ceiling to straighten and lengthen your spine. Breathe for 30-60 seconds.
Release your arms, uncross your legs, and repeat with your arms and legs reversed for the same length of time. Remember that whichever leg is on top, the same-side arm is lower.
Virasana (Hero Pose)
Hero Pose reminds you what it feels like to practice proper alignment while sitting upright—a feeling you can hopefully recall later when your posture is suffering from crouching at your desk or slumping on your couch.
Kneel on the floor with with your inner knees touching. Slide your feet apart, slightly wider than your hips, with the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Angle your big toes slightly in toward each other and press the top of each foot against the floor.
Exhale and slowly sit down between your feet. To make this pose more comfortable, you can place a block or thick book in between your feet and sit on it for support. If you feel any pain in your knees in this pose, immediately slowly come out of the and go on to another pose. Breathe for 30-60 seconds. Eventually, you might remain here for up to a few minutes.