The Best Yoga for Better Posture

Does yoga improve posture? The answer is yes! Yoga is great for overall back care and spinal health. The best yoga for better posture includes a full range of motions: forward folding (spinal flexion), backbends (spinal extension), twisting, shoulder opening, hip flexors and hamstring lengthening, and retraining the body to move in better, healthier ways. It is also important to strengthen muscles that have become weakened and/or overstretched.

Posture issues and back pain are often caused by poor biomechanics and muscular imbalances due to habitual patterns of movement (or lack of movement), imbalances of strength and flexibility, injury, and sometimes genetic predisposition.

In this blog post, I will be focusing mostly on gentle yoga stretches for good posture. These good posture exercises help release tension and tightness in the muscles that often become tight, shortened or overstretched when we spend much of our time standing, sitting, or walking with poor posture.

 

1.) Yoga For A Stiff Back: Cat Cow

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Cow Pose

Cat-Cow is one of the best exercises to improve posture. I include cat-cows in every single yoga class I teach. Why? Because it stretches the postural muscles, encourages the healthy movement of the pelvis and requires the core to gently engage. Cat-cow also helps release tension in the neck and shoulders.

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Cat Pose

To practice Cat-Cow, come into a tabletop position on hands and knees with your knees directly underneath your hips and your hands directly underneath your shoulders. To start, find length through your spine, draw your lower belly in and up to support your lower back and lengthen your tailbone straight back behind you. Take a few rounds of breath here and experience the length of your spine and the subtle engagement of your core.

Use an inhale breath to lift your tailbone up towards the sky, draw your belly down, pull your chest forward between your upper arms and finally turn your gaze forward and slightly up while you maintain your core engagement. This will draw your spine into a gentle backbend. You want to think of articulating through each vertebra. On your exhale breath, tuck your tailbone under, pull your navel to your spine as you round your back; Continue to round your back, puff up the space between your shoulder blades, and draw your gaze toward your knees.

Continue this movement for 10-12 rounds of breath.

 

2.) Yoga for Rounded Shoulders: Supported Supta Baddha Konasana

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Reclined Cobbler’s Pose

Reclined cobbler’s pose is one of my favorite yoga poses because it is deeply restorative, reestablishes the lumbar curve, opens the chest, and softens the muscles of the groin and inner thighs. The forward head, shoulders rounded forward, spine rounded forward posture is quite prevalent in today’s society. This forward head, “C” shaped posture is reinforced in our workplaces (computer hunch), our cars, and our homes (super soft couches that you sink into).

When we allow our shoulders to round forward, the muscles in of our chest get tight, weak and shortened, the muscles between the shoulder blades become weak and overstretched, and the muscles of our neck and upper shoulders become tight and prone to strain. If you notice your shoulders rounding forward during your workday, take a minute and do some shoulder rolls.

To practice supta baddha konasana, or reclined cobbler’s pose, you will want a bolster (or a couple of pillows or a rolled blanket), a blanket or folded towel, and two yoga blocks (or cushions of the same size).

Place your bolster or rolled blanket lengthwise behind you and take your folded blanket or towel at the far end of your bolster (this will support your head and neck).

Take a seat with your sacrum at the short end of your bolster, carefully lower yourself down onto your bolster, support your head with the blanket/towel (optional), and bring the soles of your feet to touch as if you were coming into butterfly pose, your knees drop out to the side like the pages of a book. If you feel like you need support for your legs, slide your blocks or extra cushions underneath your thighs/knees. Settle into the posture and allow your entire body to relax. Hold 4-7 minutes.

 

3.) Yoga For a Flattened Lumbar Spine: Supported Bridge Pose

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Supported Bridge Pose

Supported Bridge Pose benefits your lower back by re-establishing the lumbar curve. The lumbar curve is often flattened in those who sit for the majority of the day. Some individuals will have a deep lumbar curve typical of what you would see in gymnasts. A deep lumbar curve compromises the integrity of the vertebrae and discs of the lower back.

For supported bridge pose you will want to have a bolster, block or a firm pillow.

Lay down on your back and bring your feet as close to your bum as you can with your feet and knees both hips-width distance. Stretch your fingertips down toward your heels. From this pose, press into your feet and lift your hips, belly, and chest up toward the ceiling on an inhale. On an exhale breath reverse the motion. Begin at the top and roll your spine down one vertebra at a time. Repeat 3-7 times. The active version of bridge pose strengthens the glutes, back, abdomen and legs.

On your last active bridge pose slide your bolster, block, or pillow underneath your sacrum, so your hips and lower back are supported. Keep your legs bent for a few minutes. If the posture still feels okay after a few minutes you can play with lengthening your legs long along the floor. This will lengthen your hip flexors, but please be mindful of your lower back. If you experience any lower back pain then bend your knees and bring your feet back down to the earth.

Hold the pose for 5 minutes.

 

4.) Two Exercises for Better Posture and Health of The Lower Back & Pelvis: Low Lunge & Half Splits

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Low lunge, or anjaneyasana, is a foundational yoga pose. When linked with Half Splits or Ardha Hanumanasana, it is a great yoga exercise to improve posture because it opens the quadriceps, hip flexors, and hamstrings. Low lunge with the torso upright also trains the paraspinal muscles (the muscles that run along your spine on either side) and abdominal muscles to hold the torso stable.

You might like to have two yoga blocks to practice the low lunge and half splits

Come into a standing forward fold with your feet hips-width distance at the top of your yoga mat. Bend your knees enough to bring your hands down to your mat. Step your right foot towards the back edge of your mat and bring your right knee down. Make sure that your left knee is directly above your left ankle. To begin, bring your torso upright and if you feel stable take your arms up overhead.

Bring your awareness to your lower back and notice if you’re collapsing; if you are, your lumbar curve will be deeper and your belly will have softened forward. If this is you, draw your lower belly in and up. You can think of lifting your pubic bone up toward your ribs, which will teach you to use your core muscles to support your lumbar spine. Hold this posture five to ten rounds of breath and then release your hands to the ground (or onto your blocks).

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Half Splits or Ardha Hanumanasana

For half splits you will wiggle your left foot an inch or two forward and then shift your hips back, so your right hip stacks over your left hip. With your left leg extended long out in front of you flex your foot and dray your toes back toward your shin. This posture lengthens your hamstrings. Hold this pose 5-10 rounds of breath.

When the hamstrings become shortened they pull on the pelvis via the sit bones (ischial tuberosities) and this pulling posteriorly tilts the pelvis and flattens the curve of the lower back.

 

5.) Supine pelvic tilts

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Anterior pelvic tilt.

Supine pelvic tilts are incredibly helpful when it comes to rehabbing low back injuries and teach the muscles of the abdomen, pelvic floor, and inner thighs to engage.

You will want one yoga block to practice supine pelvic tilts.

Lay down on your back like you’re setting up for bridge pose (see exercise #3). Put your feet close to your bum to start. Place your block between your thighs on its narrowest setting.

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Posterior pelvic tilt.

Level 1. Keep your feet on the mat. Bring your hands to your lower abdomen and pubic bone, so you can feel the movement. Inhale a full deep breath and as you exhale curl your tailbone up off the mat and draw your navel toward your spine. Your lumbar spine will press into the mat beneath you. As you inhale, reverse the tilt: tailbone down, belly lifts and there is a space underneath your lower back. Make sure to squeeze into your block during this exercise. Repeat 10-20 times.

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Level 2, position 1

Level 2. This is more of a core strengthener than a pelvic tilt, but it’s equally important. Stay on your back, keep your block between your thighs, bring your shins to parallel with the floor. From here, superglue your lower back to the mat and lower your heels down to tap the mat on an inhale. As you exhale, lift your legs back up to the starting posture. Repeat 10-20 times.

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Level 2. position 2

6.) Yoga For Better Posture: Release Tension in Your Back With Simple Supine Twist

simple twist yoga for better posture

Simple Supine Twist not only helps release tension in your lower back, it also helps reduce stress and improve relaxation. It’s also really easy and you can even do it in bed.

To practice simple supine twist, make your way onto your back. Draw your knees to your chest and give them a little hug in. Then release your arms out to the side, so they go straight out from your shoulders. Release your knees to the right and turn your gaze toward your left shoulder if it feels okay on your neck. Hold for a couple of minutes and switch sides.

 

7.) Improve Your Posture With A Chest & Shoulder Opener: Downward Facing Dog Using A Wall, Table Or Chair

best-exercises-for-posture-downward-facing-dogDownward Facing Dog at a wall or table is a gentler version of the traditional yoga posture. It helps those who have tighter/shorter hamstrings, tighter lower back or tighter shoulders get the benefits of the posture. Downward Facing Dog stretches the hamstrings, back, and shoulders. The posture also helps people find a long spine and core engagement.

To practice Downward Facing Dog on the wall, face the wall and bring the palms of your hands to shoulder width distance on the wall in front of you. Walk your feet back until your back becomes straight. You might need to slide the hands down a bit. You will create an upside down “L” shape with your body. Your spine is lengthened long and your navel draws in to support your lower back. Hold the posture for 10 rounds of breath.

 

8.) Reduce Your Swayback: Child’s Pose

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Child’s pose is wonderful for those who have tight lower backs. There are two versions of child’s pose: one that works deeper into the hips with the knees wide, and one that works deeper flexion into the spine with the knees together.

You don’t need any props to practice child’s pose. Come down into a tabletop position, bring your knees to touch and your big toes to touch and press your hips back toward your heels. Rest your forehead on the mat or on a yoga block or pillow if your head doesn’t reach the floor. Hold for 2-4 minutes.

I hope you find this blog post helpful. If you would like to learn more about strengthening poses specifically related to the postural muscles, read my post on back strengthening yoga poses. If you have lower back pain, please take a look at my four-part series on back pain, where I discuss restorative yoga for better posture as well as active yoga postures to help strengthen your core and back.

A Mudra for Trust: Vajrapradama Mudra

hand mudra for trust

Vajrapradama mudra has been resonating with me deeply. Each time I practice vajrapradama a whole bunch of emotions well up from within. I’m currently in a bit of a life and business transition and there are many unknowns. It’s sometimes hard for me to admit that I don’t know what the next step is or that I don’t know if I’m doing things right. I’m not going to lie… I’ve been experiencing a lot of fear recently and my self-confidence has been lagging. I don’t consider myself to be that fearful when it comes to big leaps of faith or pushing up to my edges, but unfortunately I’ve also built a wall around my heart; a wall that I’ve been mindfully dismantling piece by piece. And it’s not always pretty!

I practice the mudra for unshakeable trust in my heart meditations, in my asana classes and even when I have something important and/or heartfelt to say. Sometimes vajrapradama feels like the only thing tethering my mind to my heart and right now I need it. Vajrapradama mudra builds unshakeable trust, courage, and self confidence… we can always use more of these three qualities.

In Sanskrit vajra means diamond and thunderbolt. The diamond represents indestructibility and the thunderbolt represents unstoppable force. When you have unshakeable trust in your True Self (the one that is aligned with the divine) you become a force to be reckoned with and obstacles are overcome with ease.

I’ve also found Ganesha mudra helpful lately. Ganesha mudra is the hand mudra for confidence, courage, compassion and openness. Are you noticing a theme here?

How to Practice Vajrapradama Mudra

Practicing vajrapradama, the mudra for trust, is very simple: interlace your fingers, keep your palms open and rest your hands on your heart. Close your eyes and feel your breath and your heartbeat beneath your hands. You can use this mudra as often as you would like. Like I said, I’m currently using it all the time.

Positive Affirmations for Vajrapradama Mudra

I recommend using a positive affirmation that resonates with you. Here are some examples:

  • I am open to receiving divine guidance. I trust that I am exactly where I need to be right now.
  • “I open my heart to the Universe.  I trust the wisdom of a power greater than my own and accept its healing.” From SpiritVoyage.com
  • “I am a creation of the greatest omnipotence, whose strength and power lovingly support me at all times.” From Gertrud Hirschi’s Mudras Yoga in Your Hands.
  • “I am confident because I trust in myself. I am fully supported.” From Anita Goa.

Quiet Sitting: Nine Different Types of Meditation

There are many, many different types of meditation practices. When you google “types of meditation” the results can be pretty overwhelming, especially when you’re not sure what you’re looking for or what you like. This is a paired down list of popular meditation types. The most popular type of meditation in recent history is mindfulness meditation with it’s many health benefits.

Nine Meditation Types For Beginners

Mindfulness Meditation

Since mindfulness meditation is the most popular meditation practice today I’ve put it in the number one spot. You’ve probably heard of it before, but may not know what it is or how it is different from other meditation practices. Mindfulness meditation is simply paying attention to the present moment and being aware of all the sensations, thoughts, etc. that arise without judgement or attachment. Here is a cool video from Jon Kabat Zinn about how a mindfulness meditation practice lights up different parts of the brain and here is a link to get you started with a mindfulness practice.

 

2. Transcendental Meditationmeditation types beginners

Transcendental meditation doesn’t seem to be as popular today as it was in the past, but there is still a substantial community worldwide. Transcendental meditation was made popular by the Beatles who learned the technique from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Transcendental meditation (TM) has it’s roots in religion and involves mantra (sound) repetition for 15-20 minutes twice daily. Transcendental meditation teachers are required to undergo a certified training before they can teach and share the practice and students are initiated into the practice.

Much research has been done on the technique, but the research has been poorly conducted and unfortunately is of little scientific value. But honestly, any form of meditation is likely to create positive changes in your life, so why not try TM.

3. Mantra & Japa

Similar to Transcendental Meditation, mantra and japa meditation involve the repetition of a mantra, sound or divine name. This type of meditation practice is often practiced with a mala. A mala is a necklace, similar to a rosary, with 108 beads on it. The mantra is repeated 108 times either softly spoken or internally repeated. This type of ancient meditation practice is used in many different religious traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

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A handmade green sandalwood meditation mala.

4. Guided Meditation: Chakras, Third Eye, Breath, Journey & More

Guided meditations are wonderful for those who need a bit more guidance and whose minds tend to wander off. Guided meditations can focus on visuals, energetics, sounds, the breath, emotional states and much more. There are many apps you can use on your phone or ipad. Choose your length of practice, the teacher, the focus and get started.

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5. Trataka Meditation (also spelled tratak)

Trataka is a form of meditation where one focuses the eyes on one point. Very commonly trataka is performed while gazing at a candle flame. Eventually you may want to close the eyes. When the eyes are closed envision the candle flame in all of it’s detail. Hold this vision of the flame as long as you can and when it dissipates you may end your meditation practice. Slowly open your eyes. Don’t look directly at the flame again right after your meditation. You may need eye drops if the eyes feel dry or strained.

6. Focused Attention- Zazen, Breath, Mantra, etc.

In focused attention meditation the mind is focused on one thing; that one thing could be the breath, sensation in the body, a mantra, an object, etc. The attention is held on this one thing. As thoughts come up, and they will, the mind’s focus is guided back to it’s original point of focus.

7. Metta- Loving Kindness

Metta, or loving kindness, meditation is a practice of sending love to oneself, a good friend, a neutral person, a difficult person, all four of them equally and then eventually to the entire universe. This exercise is excellent for cultivating compassion. Here is a Loving Kindness Meditation with Jack Kornfield.

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Loving kindness meditation is kind of like a hug for the soul.

8. Vipassana

Vipassana often begins with awareness on the breath and then moves to a practice that includes noting external stimuli without becoming attached to the source of the stimuli. An example could be if you hear a motorcycle drive by label it “hearing”, not motorcycle or if you notice a sour taste in your mouth instead of labeling it sour note it as “taste”. Noting the sense that recognized the external stimuli. It is very common to attend vipassana retreats where one has the opportunity to delve deep into a meditation practice.

9. Yoga Nidra

I hesitate to include yoga nidra on this list because I don’t necessarily consider it a meditation practice. Yoga nidra is “yogic sleep” and it is a way to access the unconscious and subconscious mind. It is a guided practice, similar to that of a guided meditation. Yoga nidra induces a state of deep relaxation and yoga nidra has a multitude of benefits. Here are 8 Benefits of Yoga Nidra.

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Not sure where to start? Google your local community and see what’s available. You might be surprised to find local meditation groups and meditation teachers that would be more than happy to take you under their wing. Another option is to go on a yoga and meditation retreat. On retreat you’ll often go over the basics of meditation and gradually increase time throughout the week and you’ll have an opportunity to talk to others and share experiences.

Good luck on your meditation practice. Feel free to shoot me a private message if you have any questions via our contact form.

Love and Light,

Autumn

Varuna Mudra For Congestion

It is cold and flu season in Bali and I unfortunately picked it up. I’m nearing the end of the first week of my cold and I’ve finally started to pull out the big guns. I’ve realized that my normal routine is not quite going to cut it. In addition to ginger, echinacea, and Panadol I’ve been focusing on using neti, mudras and restorative yoga. This week I have been incorporating Varuna Mudra into my practice to clear up the congestion in my sinuses and chest.

I’m typically one to go-go-go, so I have difficulty slowing down. I’ve been practicing more yang style yoga and have gotten myself a bit out of balance, so I’m not surprised that I got the “Bali flu”. It is often when I find myself out of balance or when I stop paying attention that I get ill (which luckily isn’t very often). Usually I catch myself before I get sick and step back, slow down, and take a breather, but not this time. I love teaching restorative yoga because I know how beneficial it is, but I’ve been struggling with my own restorative practice. This week I’ve been trying to dial it back in and refocus on my own wellbeing and self-care.

Well, this article is supposed to be about mudras, so lets bring it back to Varuna Mudra.

Varuna is the Hindu god of water and the celestial ocean. Varuna is also the god that upholds the moral law.

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Practice Varuna Mudra

To practice Varuna Mudra take the pinky finger of your right hand and bring it to the pad of your right thumb. Then wrap your right thumb over the top of your little finger. Take your left hand and wrap it gently around the right hand and bring your left thumb over the top of the right thumb. Hold this mudra for 30-40 minutes.

Benefits of Varuna Mudra

Varuna mudra is used to combat congestion… physically, emotionally and psychologically. Congestion and excess mucus in the sinus, stomach and lungs is often caused by some type of irritant. I feel like it’s probably safe to say that emotional or psychological congestion can be caused by an irritant too… According to Gertrud Hirschi congestion may also be related to “overstimulated nerves, inner tensions and unrest, triggered by overstraining, being pressed by time, being aggravated or experiencing fear.” Living a perpetually stressed out life makes us more susceptible to colds and mucus congestion.

I also use jala neti when suffering from congestion as well…. once again bringing in that water element of Varuna to fight the build-up of mucus and flush it out! Fighting water with water!

According to Ayurveda mucus is also related to a build up of kapha. If you suffer from excess mucus you may want to take a look at your diet in addition to general lifestyle trends.

Affirmations for Varuna Mudra

I go with the flow. I am adaptable and easily accept change.
I let go of what no longer serves me.