Posture Perfect: Yoga Poses to Help You Stand Tall
Ever catch a glimpse of yourself in a store window and feel horrified at how hunched your posture is? Or perhaps you saw a picture of yourself following a family gathering. Many daily activities—driving in a car, working at a computer, checking our phones, sitting at a desk, watching TV—can contribute to rounding of the upper back and poor posture.
Compounding this rounding is the fact that when stressed, we also tend to hold tension in our neck, shoulders and jaw. This tension comes from our body’s stress response or fight-or-flight mechanism.
Stress Response and Posture
When stressed or anxious, our body responds by speeding up our heart rate, increasing respiration and contracting muscles, such as your jaw, in preparation to fight, run away or defend ourselves. Because life is full of stress, we wind up with our shoulders constantly elevated, tense or hunched.
Fortunately, our yoga practice can come to the rescue. Through self-awareness we can be more mindful of our posture and of how we physically respond to stress. Then, through deep, slow breathing practices coupled with conscious movements, we learn to release accumulated tension in the neck, jaw and shoulders. Finally, by engaging in targeted movements, we can strengthen the postural muscles of the neck and upper spine.
Ready to give it a try? Here are a four poses for releasing upper back tension and improving your posture:
Start by sitting tall in a chair with your hands resting on your thighs. Next, take a deep breath as you roll your shoulders back and lift your heart to the sky.
As you exhale, allow the back to round forward, dropping your chin towards your chest. Move between these two positions 3-6 more times.
These next three poses can be done seated or standing.
Interlace your hands behind your back, drawing the shoulders back and down as the knuckles reach towards your heels. Stay here 3-4 breaths, softening the shoulders.
Then, on an inhale, lift your arms up away from your back and fold forward, bringing your chest towards your thighs. Keep your knees soft and slightly bent. If you can, stay here for 2-3 breaths.
To come up, lengthen your spine and inhale back to standing. Release your hands and gently roll your shoulders forward and back a few times to release any upper back tension.
Birdwing Neck and Shoulder Stretch
Reach your left arm behind your body so the palm is facing outward. Use your right hand to hold your left wrist, anchoring it by your right hip.
Then, lengthen your spine, exhale your head to the left, bringing your chin in line with your left shoulder. Hold this position for 3-4 breaths before inhaling the head back to center.
Next, turn your head so your chin is again aligned over your right shoulder. On an exhale, drop your chin towards your right shoulder. Then slowly lift it on an inhale toward the ceiling, as if you were nodding your head ‘yes.’ Repeat this movement 2-3 more times.
Then, finish by inhaling your head to center. Release your arms and pause. Observe any sensations in your neck and shoulders. Be sure to repeat on the left.
This is similar to the warm-ups baseball pitchers do.
Start by Inhaling your arms out to the sides at shoulder height with your palms facing the floor.
As you then exhale, reach the arms forward, allowing them to cross at the elbows in front of your chest. Keep the elbows soft as you swing your arms forward and back, switching which arm is on top each time.
After 3-5 repetitions, return the arms to your sides. Take a breath, lengthening your spine again. Roll your shoulders backwards several times and take a deep, cleansing breath.
I hope you’ll use these poses as a break from computer work, after a long car ride or, in fact, any time you notice your posture is less than perfect. Trust me– they’ll help you feel better and stand taller. Be well!