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