Chakras are swirling energy wheels observed throughout the body. They are commonly associated with different mental, emotional, and physical traits originating from eastern spiritual traditions. The seven main chakras have been adopted by western culture as a pathway to connecting with your spiritual self by cultivating awareness to these concentrated energy centers.
The origin of the chakras
The idea of chakras was first developed in ancient India thousands of years ago, the earliest evidence of chakras can be found in the Vedas. The Vedas are an ancient religious text written in Sanskrit (the written language of ancient India), they are the oldest known scriptures of Hinduism and the oldest known written Sanskrit dating back to 1500-500 BCE. Evidence of chakra philosophies are found in the Upanishads (part of the Vedas) and helped to shape the spirituality of Hinduism, Buddhism and other ancient eastern religions.
The Upanishads are centered around two main spiritual forces, Brahman (ultimate reality) and Attman (soul self). Brahman exists outside of time and space and creates everything in every universe. Attman is the life force within every living being, the essence of an individual.
Attman energy (often called prana) flows through the human body along specific lines of energy called Nadis. These energy lines cross one another at certain points in the body forming wheels of energy called Chakras. “Chakra” in Sanskrit literally translates to “wheel” or “disc”, these spinning wheels of concentrated energy are where matter and consciousness meet.
Chakras are found at specific locations in the body. The number and location vary from philosophy to philosophy, some mystics suggest there are over 100 chakras in the body. Common western philosophies acknowledge seven main chakras that are located along the spine. These seven chakras are: the root chakra, the sacral chakra, the solar plexus chakra, the heart chakra, the throat chakra, the third eye chakra, and the crown chakra. Each of these chakras contains bundles of nerves and major organs as well as emotional, spiritual and psychological centers.
The contemporary western view of the seven chakras associates them with the seven colors of the rainbow. A healthy chakra is bright, vibrant and clear in color whereas an unhealthy or blocked chakra will appear to be more dim, muddy, and muted.
The seven main chakras stretch from the base of the spine to the crown of the head as follows:
The Root Chakra, Muladhara, is located at the base of the spine and is commonly seen as red. This chakra is focused on stability, security, and survival. When this chakra is open we feel safe and fearless.
The Sacral Chakra, Svadhisthana, is located in the lower abdomen above the pubic bone, and commonly appears orange. This chakra is our creativity and sexual center. This chakra brings vitality and joy through various forms of pleasure.
The Solar Plexus Chakra, Manipura, is located above the belly button and appears as yellow. This chakra is our source of personal power, assertiveness, confidence, and willpower. The solar plexus chakra empowers the rest of your body and helps you feel self-assured and independent.
The Heart Chakra, Anahata, is located in the center of the chest and is commonly seen as green. This chakra is a source of love and connection and rules our relationships, unity, and balance. The heart chakra governs friendships, romance, and spiritual connections.
The Throat Chakra, Vishuddha, is located at the base of the throat and appears blue. This chakra gives us the ability to speak our truth, it is associated with communication, self-expression, and speech. A healthy throat chakra helps us express our views, let things go, and live in the moment.
The Third Eye Chakra, Ajna, is located on the forehead just above the space between the eyes and is commonly seen as indigo. This chakra governs spiritual awakening and intuition.
The Crown Chakra, Sahasrara, is located at the top of the head and its color is violet. This chakra represents enlightenment, pure awareness, and spiritual connection. The crown chakra ultimately connects us with the divine spirit.
When all seven of your main chakras are in balance you will feel healthy spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. All is great and as it should be in the world, you’ll feel wonderful and like you can handle anything that is thrown your way.
However, it is common for one or more of your chakras to become temporarily blocked. If one chakra is blocked it is quite likely your other chakras will become out of alignment to compensate for this imbalance. The best way to identify which chakra(s) are out of balance is by bringing awareness to each one of them. Once you begin to cultivate awareness in your chakras you will be able to identify the root of the issue and begin the healing process.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our intro to mudras blog post. You’ll discover here, how hand mudras can influence the chakras! And for a bit deeper understanding of the chakras check out this chakra blog post written by Abigail Cox.
You can also learn more about the chakras by joining the Ambuja Yoga Newsletter, where you will receive our downloadable chakra guide and receive updates about upcoming retreats where you can learn more about the chakras on an experiential level. Enter your email in the sidebar… easy peasy!
Mudra is a term with many meanings. It is used to signify a hand gesture, a mystic position of the hands, a seal, or even a symbol. However, there are eye positions, body postures and breathing techniques that are also called mudras. These symbolic gestures are said to have some influence on your body’s energy or mood. For example, a person who consistently does the gesture of fearlessness, which can often be seen in the depiction of Indian deities, will lose their fearfulness over time. Gertrud Herschi, author of Mudras: Yoga in Your Hands, says, “Mudras engage certain areas of the brain and/or soul and exercise corresponding influence on them.” Essentially, mudras allow you to influence your body and mind by bending, crossing, extending or touching the fingers with other fingers.
In Hatha Yoga, there are 25 mudras. In addition to hand gestures, these also include eye and body positions and bandhas. In Kundalini yoga, the hand mudras are used during the body postures to intensify their effect.
Vajrapradama mudra is a mudra for trust.
The Origin of the Mudras
The specific origin of the mudras is a mystery. Mudras are found and used throughout the entire world. In India, mudras are an established component of all religious activities. Various mudras and arm poses are significant in the depiction of the Hindu gods. Mudras also represent distinguishing characteristics of the deities.
Mudras are also common in Indian dance. The hands, eyes and body movements act out the entire song without words, almost like a sign language.
Mudras are also practiced in Tantric rituals. They play a large role in Buddhism. In the pictorial depictions of Gautama Buddha, six mudras are present. These mudras are closely related to his teachings and his life.
How are Mudras Practiced?
Form your hands and place your fingers as they are shown in the various illustrations. The pressure of the fingers should be very light and your hands should be relaxed. Some mudras may be difficult to do at first because of the placement of the fingers. With practice, they’ll become easier. If you do the mudra as best as possible, you should still experience the effects.
Mudras can be done while seated, lying down, standing or walking. Be sure that your body position is symmetrical and centered and that you are as relaxed as possible. If you sit on a chair while doing them, your back should be straight and your feet should have good contact with the floor. You can also do them lying down on your back. It is important to remain comfortable and relaxed because any tension will hinder the inner flow of energy. If you do them while walking, make sure you move in an even, calm and rhythmic way. You can also do them standing or seated in meditation.
Meditation is the preferred way to use mudras because the effect is accelerated and intensifies. Observing the normal flow of the breath or influencing and directing the breath is a very important way of supporting the mudra. Visualizations and affirmations can also intensify the effect of the mudra.
You can practice mudras at any time and in any place. A good time to practice mudras is a few minutes before getting up and a few minutes before falling asleep, before or after meals, when you walk somewhere, while on public transportation or during breaks at work. Specifically, select one or two mudras to practice at a time.
There is some disagreement among researchers regarding the amount of time you should hold a mudra. Hirschi says, “Mudras that are used for acute complaints — such as respiratory and circulation problems, flatulence, exhaustion, or inner restlessness — should be discontinued when the appropriate effect is achieved. Other mudras can be practices for three to thirty minutes, two to four times a day.”
The effects of the mudra may occur immediately, over several days, weeks or even months. The person performing the mudra may start to feel warm while the sense of pain or unwellness fades away. Their mood might improve. But exactly the opposite might occur first. They might become tired, or start to feel cold and shiver. This is also a positive sign of the effects.
Breathing to Enhance Mudras
The effect of a mudra can be intensified with the breath. They can also be enhanced by affirmations and visualizations. Here are a few tips on how to use breath to enhance mudras:
Exhale vigorously several times at the beginning of the mudra. This is said to make room for what you want to achieve.
Always lengthen the pause after inhaling and after exhaling by several seconds. Hirschi says, “The inner powers are developed during the pauses – on every level.”
When you practice a mudra to calm yourself slow your breathing.
When you practice a mudra to refresh yourself intensify your breathing.
Breath should be slow, deep, rhythmic and flowing
The Power of the Palm
Eastern sages and doctors say that the body, mind, and soul are inherent to every fingertip, finger joint, and each individual finger and even the entire hand.
In Gertrud’s mudra book she says, “There is a direct relationship between the hands and neck since the nerve paths run through the vertebral foramina in the arms, hands, and fingers. The flexibility of the hands always affects the flexibility of the neck. Moreover, spreading the ten fingers creates the thoracic vertebrae to spread out. This increases the tidal volume of the lungs. The hands and/or fingers no longer properly stretch their fingers. This shows tension in the heart area, which often indicates the prelude to heart disease or a tendency toward osteoporosis.”
Ilse Middendorf, a leading expert in the field of respiratory therapy, has proved that a direct relationship between the individual fingers and the corresponding areas of the lungs. The index fingers and thumbs influence breathing in the upper area of the lungs, the middle finger in the middle area and the little finger in the lower lung region.
Also, the nerve paths of the hands and feet occupy a large area in the brain. This area is much bigger than that of the arms and legs.
Ayurveda practitioners believe that every illness is an imbalance in the human body and that healing can take place when the natural balance has been restored. They believe the universe is composed of Ether, Water, Fire, Earth, and Air. Therefore, human bodies are also composed of these five elements. Each finger represents an element. If there is too much or too little of one element, an imbalance occurs. The balance can be restored through mudras. The image below shows which element represents which finger.
The most common classification of the chakras in the fingers is listed below:
Pinky finger = Sacral Chakra
Ring Finger = Root Chakra
Middle Finger = Throat Chakra
Index Finger = Heart Chakra
Thumb = Solar Plexus Chakra
Acupressure is a Chinese healing method used throughout the world. Instead of using needles, like acupuncture, meridians are stimulated with the fingers. In the image below you can see the corresponding points. You simply press the point lightly with the thumb for several minutes to achieve the desired effect.
The hand reflex zones correspond to the foot reflex zones. Both of the images below show the reflex points or surfaces that are connected with the muscles and organs.
There are also places on the palm that corresponds to the meridians, the energy paths that run through the body and control its individual functions like circulation, respiration, digestion, and individual organs. Additionally, astrology and palmistry aspects can be found in the hands.
Different Types of Mudras
There are many different types of mudras including mudras to heal physical and emotional problems, mudras for recharging energy reserves, improving relationships, coming to terms with the past, solving everyday problems, building character, planning the future or connecting with the divine among many others. You can even create your own mudra with proper knowledge and experience.
Here are three examples of mudras:
1. Ganesha Mudra (The elephant, Ganesha, the deity who overcomes all obstacles)
Hold your left hand in front of your chest with the palm facing outward. Bend the fingers. Now grasp the left hand with the right hand, which has its back facing outward. Move the hands to the level of the heart, right in front of the chest. While exhaling, vigorously pull the hands apart without releasing the grip. The will tense the muscles of the upper arms and chest area. While inhaling, let go of all the tension. Repeat six times and then lovingly place both hands on the sternum in this position. Focus on the feeling in this part of your body. Then change the hand position: your right palm now faces outward. Repeat the exercise six times in this position. Afterward, remain in silence for a while.
Ganesha is the remover of obstacles. If you would like to learn more about the Ganesha mudra, hop on over to this blog post I wrote from Bali here.
2. Pran Mudra (Life mudra)
With each hand: place the tips of the thumb, ring finger and little finger together. The other fingers remain extended.
The Pran Mudra activates the root chakra in which the elemental force of a human being is found.
The Pran Mudra generally increases vitality, reduces fatigue and nervousness, and improves vision. It is also used against eye diseases. On the mental-emotion level, it increases our staying power and assertiveness, healthy self-confidence, gives us the courage to start something new, and the strength to see things through.
3. Garuda Mudra (Garuda, mystical bird)
Clasp your thumbs and place your right hand on top of the left hand, on your lower abdomen. Remain in this position for about ten breaths and then slide your hands up to your navel. Stay here for another ten breaths. Then place your hands on the pit of your stomach and remain again for ten breaths. In conclusion, place your left hand on your sternum, turn your hands in the direction of your shoulders and spread your fingers.
This mudra activates blood flow and circulation, invigorates the organs, and balances energy on both sides of the body. Whether in the pelvic or chest area, it invigorates and stimulates. It relaxes and relieves pain related to menstrual complaints, stomach upsets, and respiratory difficulties. It also helps people deal with exhaustion and mood fluctuations.
We have loads of mudras on our blog. Which ones have you experimented with? Let us know in the comments.
Autumn, founder of Ambuja Yoga, often incorporates mudras into her yoga classes and retreats. If you would like to learn more, check out one her upcoming yoga retreats. Mudras are an integral part of the Ambuja Yoga teacher trainings. If you’re ready to take the leap, we’re here for you!
Growing up in the mountainous town of Bend, Oregon Stacey spent her early years exploring unmarked paths, hidden lakes and dirt roads. Her love for storytelling and communication led her to the Journalism school at University of Oregon.
During her time at UO, she found yoga and it was love at first sight. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations she began her career at a marketing agency, where she worked with a variety of clients to develop creative campaigns and increase brand visibility.
Eventually, her love for mountains and dirt roads brought her back to Bend where she found herself in Elearning. She worked as a creative director to develop eLearning courses for thought leaders. Now, she continues to work in both eLearning and marketing as a freelance consultant. And of course, she still loves yoga and continues to strengthen her practice.
Stacey completed her 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training with Ambuja Yoga and can be found teaching yoga at Snap Fitness in Bend, Oregon.
*Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. These earnings help make the maintenance of this blog possible. You can rest assured that I only link to products I know and love.
If you’ve attended a yoga class or visited a Hindu or Buddhist temple you have likely heard the mantra OM or AUM being chanted. The Om mantra is the most sacred mantra in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In addition, Om is also said to be the primordial sound of the Universe. The Om mantra is the most elemental of vibrations and is considered the sound of the void.
According to Patanjali, Om, the original sound, is a direct expression of isvara or God. Therefore, when we chant Om it provides a direct link to the Divine and divine knowledge. Om connects us to the Divine in vibrational form and makes our prayers and mantras more effective by increasing pranic energy.
Where did the Om mantra originate?
Om, an ancient Sanskrit letter, first appeared in the Vedas between 1500 and 1200 BCE. The main teaching on Om from the Vedas, Upanishads and Yoga Sutras is to experience non-dual awareness.
How do you pronounce Om?
The common pronunciation of Om is to pronounce the mantra with the same “o” sound as in “home”. But there are actually three sounds that make up the mantra: A-U-M or “aaah”, “oooh”, “mmm”. The sound of OM/AUM begins at the back of the throat with the “aaah” sound and ends at the lips with the “mmm” sound. When chanting the mantra OM, it fills the entire mouth from back to front, which represents the entire Universe. Similarly, when chanting Om, one can feel its vibration deep within the body. At the end of chanting AUM there is a pause or a moment of silence. This pause represents the state known as Turiya, or Infinite Consciousness.
What does the Om symbol mean?
If you look at the symbol for OM you will see three curves, one semicircle, and a dot at the top. In addition, each portion of the symbol contains not only the sounds of the mantra but deeper symbolism and meaning.
The large bottom curve symbolizes the waking state, A.
The middle curve signifies the dream state, U.
The upper curve denotes the state of deep sleep, M.
The dot signifies the fourth state of consciousness, Turiya.
The semi-circle at the top represents Maya or illusion. Therefore, it is the illusion of Maya that is an obstacle to accessing our highest self.
The three sounds of the om mantra represent the various trinities:
Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (creator, preserver, destroyer)
The past, present, and future
The waking, dreaming, and dreamless states
Heaven, earth, and underworld
In David Frawley’s book, Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound, he says:
“Om is the prime mantra of the Higher Self, or Atman. It attunes us with our true nature. It is the sound of the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe, who is also the inner guru and prime teacher. It reflects both the manifest and un-manifest Brahman, sustaining the vibration of being, life, and consciousness in all worlds and all creatures.”
The mantra Om is directly linked to the sixth and seventh chakras, Ajna and Sahasrara respectively.
Sound and vibration are powerful tools for healing and transformation. Exploring the mantra OM, and the power of sound can remind us to treat our words and thoughts as sacred, creative, and divine. What we think and say, we manifest.
Nikola Tesla said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
Yoga has gained a lot of popularity worldwide because of what the majority says. Most people would say, including me that “I feel so calm and relax after the class”. For those who haven’t tried it and heard this comment, it would sound so intriguing right? Yes, it has been proved that yoga can help you relax but what does it do to your body? What goes on inside the human system? How does yoga affect the human body?
How Does Yoga Affect The Human Body?
Effects of Yoga on the Skeletal System:
The skeletal system is the hard framework that is mainly composed of the bones, associated cartilages, and joints. It plays an important role in protecting the organs inside our bodies. Imagine the human body without the skeletal system? We’d for sure look like jellyfish.
Recent studies had shown that some yoga poses had improved the health of joints by stimulating the release of synovial fluids. Synovial fluid is responsible for reducing friction between articular cartilages. It helps joints flow smoothly during movements. The synovial fluid is significant for delivering oxygen and nutrients to hyaline cartilages that don’t have any sort of oxygen. Regular yoga practice can make practitioners move around more smoothly and easily.
Even though Yoga is a weight-bearing exercise like running, weight lifting, walking, etc. It is less risky than other exercises because it creates tension on the bones and helps them lengthen and align.
According to a study conducted by California State University in Los Angeles, they said that yoga practice increased bone density in the vertebrae. Yoga’s ability to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol (known as the “stress” hormone) which in result may help retain calcium in the bones.
It is a fact that as we age, our bones start to weaken or even deteriorate and a consistent yoga practice can help improve our strength and coordination.
These are some poses that can help strengthen the bones:
Table Top and alternate lifting and extending opposite arms and legs
Effects of Yoga on the Musculoskeletal System:
Yoga helps strengthen the joints and support the muscles. The isometric poses of yoga train the smaller muscles surrounding our joints to endure longer holds for balance or coordination. Over time, with regular stretching, the muscles become more flexible. Flexible muscles are far less susceptible to damage in the future and put less strain on the body’s joints. Less stress on the joints means less damage to the joints which reduces the chance of developing osteoarthritis. Also, because the muscles are warmed and stretched during a yoga practice, yoga improves recovery of muscle tissues.
Muscles function properly because of the increased blood flow.
Yoga improves flexibility and strengthens postural muscles. Poor posture can cause a lot of injuries in the future. It can result in discomfort, pain, or degenerative disease like arthritis of the spine.
As you practice yoga, you begin to notice where you hold tension. It might be in your tongue, your eyes, or the muscles of your face and neck. If you simply tune in, you may be able to release some tension in the tongue and eyes. With bigger muscles like the quadriceps, trapezius, and buttocks, it may take years of practice to learn how to relax them.
Effects of Yoga on the Nervous System:
Alternating sympathetic and parasympathetic activation. Regular practice of yoga, slowly invites the nervous system to shift out of patterns of chronic stress back into the body’s natural rhythm of activation from sympathetic to parasympathetic.
Yoga stimulates the vagus nerve. This is the 10th cranial nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve of the body. It connects to vital organs like the heart, lungs, liver, stomach, colon, spleen and other parts of the abdomen.
Practicing yoga also increases serotonin levels. Serotonin is commonly known as the “happy” neurotransmitter, serotonin is mainly found in the brain, intestines and blood platelets.
Yoga influences the rate of thyroid hormone secretion. Yoga asana, especially Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), by increasing the protein bound iodine and rehabilitating the thyroid gland it may be effective to treat underproduction of thyroid hormones. Various stretching, twisting and compressing yoga asana provide nourishment to the cells, improve blood circulation, massage the thyroid gland and stimulate it to release thyroid hormones.
Yoga decreases cortisol hormone. According to a study conducted by Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and the Yoga Research Society, a 50-minute yoga session performed for seven days- which included postures such as Sarvangasana (Shoulder stand), Salabhasana (Locust Pose), Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Halasana (Plow Pose) – significantly reduced cortisol levels.
Practicing yoga also stimulates growth hormones. The body’s diminishing supply of growth hormone is responsible for the frailty that comes with aging. If you want to increase the level of growth hormone being secreted, consider asanas that are of moderate aerobic exercise. Studies have proved that moderate forms of exercise can increase basal levels of growth hormone in humans.
Stepping on your mat and flowing through class also ups oxytocin, the “LOVE” hormone. It plays a role in sexual reproduction, sexual arousal and is released by the hypothalamus when you have an orgasm.
Yoga also balances Dopamine “the reward” hormone. A clinical research from the J. F. K. Institute in Denmark published in Cognitive Brain Research found that Yoga Nidra– a guided meditation that produces deep relaxation- increases level of dopamine in the brain by 65 % on average.
Practicing yoga also balances melatonin “Rest-Sleep-Heal”. Researchers at Rutgers University discovered that melatonin levels for meditation practitioners were boosted by an average of 98%. Incorporating meditation into your life can be your much needed physiological re-balancing tool.
Performing pranayama or simply breathing deeply activates the prefrontal cortex and that results in an increase in cognitive function.
Yoga also increases endorphin levels. Endorphins are the “feel-good” neurotransmitters. Endorphins are the body’s internal painkillers. Endorphins are known to cause euphoria, produce a feeling of pleasure, reduce stress, increase relaxation and are highly effective in pain modulation and management.
Spending time on your yoga mat also improves GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurotransmitter secretion. GABA is a known major inhibitor neurotransmitter in the brain. This chemical can cause some common problems like: anxiety, nervousness, phobias, restlessness, and insomnia. In 2010, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found that a 12-week yoga intervention was linked with greater improvement in mood and anxiety and increased levels of GABA than a metabolically matched walking exercise.
Yoga encourages you to relax, slow your breath, and focus on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system (or the fight-or-flight response) to the parasympathetic nervous system. The latter is calming and restorative; it lowers breathing and heart rates, decreases blood pressure and increases blood flow to the intestines and reproductive organs.
Effects of Yoga on the Cardiovascular System:
Deep breathing ignites the sympathetic nervous system, causing the heartbeat to slow and reduces blood pressure. Relaxation exercises found in yoga help increase blood flow throughout the body which also improves oxygen circulation in the body.
Many yoga flows can also increase your heart rate (like Ashtanga Yoga) may lower the risk of heart attack and relieve symptoms of depression. Studies have found that yoga practice lowers the resting heart rate, increases endurance, and can improve your maximum uptake of oxygen during exercise—all reflections of improved aerobic conditioning. One study found that subjects who were taught only pranayama could do more exercise with less oxygen.
Effects of Yoga in the Respiratory System:
Deep breathing in yoga can increase lung capacity while reducing breaths per minute. It improves the supply of oxygen to the lungs.
With ‘Pranayama’ breathing exercise in yoga, you can increase your intake of oxygen up to five times. The more oxygen-rich blood that flows to the brain, heart, lungs and digestive organs will enable these organs to work better and further bolster one’s health. Moreover, deep breathing can help you to improve the flow of your lymph system thereby helping the body to get rid of toxins. And it is found to strengthen the diaphragm.
Even the use of chanting sounds such as chanting “Om” can even help soothe the sinuses.
Effects of Yoga in the Digestive System:
Yoga encourages the adrenal glands to produce less cortisol which can reduce cravings for fatty foods. Yoga lowers blood sugar and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and boosts HDL (“good”) cholesterol. This effect can reduce the risk of diabetic complications like heart attack, kidney failure and/or blindness.
Having a regular yoga practice also reduces stress, which can alleviate ulcers, IBS, and constipation, and other digestive problems. Yoga may also be a good method to help the movement of waste to move smoothly out of the body. However, there are some conditions for which using asana for exercise may not a good idea, such as severe cases of diarrhea or constipation, or for someone with an acute bout of pain related to their digestive disorders. In such cases, we recommended turning to other yoga tools, including stress management and relaxation.
Twisting poses can serve as an internal massage of the digestive tract. The massage effect ensures more blood and oxygen and strengthens the muscles of organs.
Asanas that affects the gastrointestinal tract:
Setu Bandha Sarvagasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Static poses that strengthen and stretch the abdominal area help tone the abdominal muscles that house and support the majority of the organs of digestion and may assist in the movement of material through the system. Dynamic poses that fold, stretch and twist the abdominal area can improve blood and lymph circulation, and create a squeeze and release effect on your organs.
Yoga and its many practices have numerous benefits for the human: body, mind, and soul! What’s keeping you from getting on the mat? And if you already practice, please share in the comments how yoga has influenced your life!
Rosalee Oxford is a passionate seeker of happiness and adventures. She just finished her 200 hr YTT with Ambuja Yoga as well as her 20 hr AYRx with Jen Healy. She’s on an ongoing quest to discover all the joys life has to offer and is excited to share her love for yoga with others. With this desire, when she’s not practicing yoga she’s either swimming, scuba diving, pole dancing, or chasing her brown goldendoodle around the house. Her classes are a combination of Hatha and Vinyasa flow that accommodates all skill levels."
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
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
Level 2. position 2
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.