Good posture is more than merely standing up straight so you can look good. It is a key part of your long-term health. Ensuring that you have a good posture—whether you are standing, seated or moving—can prevent pain, injuries, and other health problems.
“Posture” is how you hold your body. There are two types:
- Dynamic posture: how you hold yourself when you are moving (walking, running or bending over, etc.)
- Static posture: how you hold yourself when you are still (sitting, standing or sleeping)
Yoga poses (asana), which are sometimes called “postures,” can help you improve and maintain both types of posture. Yoga can noticeably improve your posture, making you look taller, thinner, and more confident. Many postural problems are caused by excessive amounts of time spent sitting.
The key to good posture is the position of your spine
Your spine has three natural curves: at your neck, mid back, and lower back. Correct posture should maintain but not increase these curves. Your head should be above your shoulders, and the top of your shoulder should be over the hips.
Mom wasn’t kidding around; poor posture is detrimental for your health. Slouching can erode your spine, cause muscle pain and decrease flexibility and joint movement. It also makes both digestion and breathing more difficult.
General ways to improve your posture
- Be mindful of your posture. Notice how you are positioned during everyday activities such as washing dishes, walking or sitting at your desk.
- Stay active. Certain types of exercises can be especially helpful. They include yoga (see pose recommendations below), tai chi, Pilates and other classes that focus on body awareness. Aim to strengthen your core (muscles around your low back, abdomen, and pelvis).
- Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight causes issues for your abdominal muscles, pelvis, spine, and low-back muscles. All these can hurt your posture.
- Wear comfortable shoes. High heels can throw off your balance, which puts more stress on your muscles and harms your posture.
- Don’t be sedentary. Switch sitting positions often. Take brief walks around your garden or around the block. Gently stretch your muscles every so often to help relieve tension.
With practice, you can improve your posture, and you will both look and feel better.
Yoga poses for better posture
While pretty much any yoga asana will help improve your posture, we’ve chosen 9 that are particularly ideal. These yoga poses can counteract your tendency to slouch, as well as increase body awareness and core strength.
1. Mountain Pose
Though it looks simple, when done correctly Mountain Pose is actually complex. It teaches you to sense when your body is in vertical alignment.
It takes practice and correction to be able to do this on your own. Initially, some people overcompensate by pushing the shoulders too far back and sticking out the chest. This is counterproductive. Instead, the goal is to find a neutral, symmetrical position.
Stand up straight and tall. Keep your shoulders back, and pull your belly in. Spread the weight evenly through your feet, spreading the toes and finding the centerline. Lift the crown of the head toward the sky, and let your arms be relaxed at your sides. Stand in Mountain Pose and take 8 long, deep breaths. Then, take 8 more breaths, moving your arms overhead with each slow inhale and back down by your sides with each exhale.
2. Chair Pose
From Mountain Pose, move into Chair Pose by bending the knees and lifting the arms overhead. Make sure your knees are over your ankles. Adjust the pelvic tilt, finding the midpoint between over-arching and under-arching. Activate your core, and breathe deeply as your body warms up from using the quadriceps muscles and glutes.
A great, simple slow flow is to move as slowly and mindfully as possible from Mountain to Chair Pose. Inhaling in Mountain; exhaling in chair,
3. Cow Face Arms
Cow Face arms can be done any time, even while at your desk! It’s a fantastic stretch for the chest and shoulders that counteracts slouching.
If sitting in a chair or standing, ground down through both feet. If sitting on the floor, find any comfortable seated position. Lift the right arm up, then bend your elbow and reach your right fingers down your back. Wrap the left arm behind your back with the left fingers reaching up towards the right fingers. Move the hands close to each other; if they touch, great. If not, great! Grab a yoga strap (or a belt or scarf) between the two hands.
Draw the elbows back and lift the chest. Breathe deeply. Hold for 5 to 7 breaths and mindfully switch sides, lifting the left arm overhead and wrapping the right arm around and back.
4. Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog is one of the first poses we learn in yoga, and it’s a powerful one. This fantastic pose strengthens the arms, shoulders and core and opens the hamstrings, back, chest and shoulders.
From the hands and knees, press the hips up and back, and press your chest towards your legs. Heels are hip-width distance apart and reaching down toward the mat. Fingers are spread wide with weight distributed as evenly as possibly through the hands. Relax your head and neck, shoulders away from the ears, and send your gaze towards your navel. Hold the pose for five full breaths or longer.
5. Plank Pose
Plank is a wonderful way to work on core. From Downward Dog, lower your pelvis so that you create a straight line from the head to the heels. Take care to make sure that your pelvis is neither sticking up nor drooping down. Engage your belly, drawing your navel toward your spine and tucking the tailbone. Spread your fingers wide, pressing the palms into the ground. Start with 20–30 seconds and work up to holding the plank for a minute or more. This pose will keep you standing tall.
6. Standing Forward Bend Variation
This variation on the traditional Standing Forward Bend involves interlacing the hands behind the back. It’s a great shoulder opener that counteracts slumped shoulders. To get as much openness in the chest as possible, join your hands behind your back and scrunch your shoulders up toward your ears. Then let the shoulder blades slide down your back as you draw your arms straight.
With an exhale, slowly come into a forward bend over your legs while keeping your hands joined. Use a strap if needed. Roll your shoulders toward the middle of your back and extend your arms overhead.
7. Bridge Pose
This gentle backbend opens the chest and shoulders, two areas that are often constricted when we have poor posture. It strengthens the back, giving your spine more support. For a less intense version, you can try a supported bridge with a block or bolster placed underneath your low back instead.
Laying on your back, palms face down at your sides, bring the soles of your feet to the mat with your knees bent. The feet should be close to the fingers and hips-width distance apart. On an inhale, lift the hips while pressing down through the feet, arms and hands. Exhale, and slowly lower back down. Repeat this up-and-down movement several times.
Then, hold the Bridge Pose for several breaths. Optionally, interlace your hands behind your back and roll the shoulders underneath to get into a deeper backbend. Breathe here for another 4 breaths before releasing on the exhale, one vertebrae at a time
8. Cobra Pose
Cobra Pose strengthens the arms and low back while opening the chest, upper back and shoulders. Laying on the belly, place your hands beneath the shoulders. Spread the fingers wide and press down evenly to lift the head, neck and chest off the mat. Hold your elbows in close to the rib cage and slightly tuck the chin to avoid straining the neck. Hold for 4 breaths for two or three rounds.
9. Cat and Cow Poses
Cat-cow stretches help you discover the natural curvature of your spine. By moving the spine from flexion (Cat Pose) into extension (Cow Pose), you can more easily find the neutral position. Let the movements originate from your tailbone and ripple up your spine so that your head is the last part to move.
To cultivate superb posture, first, build awareness by assessing your current posture and lifestyle. Second, create a yoga sequence for your specific postural issue by incorporating any or all of the poses from the above list into your practice. Last but not least, take your newfound awareness of your posture issues and apply it throughout your daily life, whether sitting, standing, or moving.