Posture Perfect: 4 Yoga Poses to Help You Stand Taller
Ever catch a glimpse of yourself in a store window and feel horrified at how hunched your posture is? Or perhaps you saw a photograph from a family gathering and didn’t recognize that little old lady or man as you?
Gravity, aging and many daily activities—such as driving a car, working at a computer, checking your cell phones, and 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 yourself. Because life is full of stress, you wind up with your shoulders constantly elevated, tense or hunched.
Fortunately, your yoga practice can come to the rescue. Through self-awareness, you can be more mindful of your posture and of how you physically react to stress. Then, through slow, calming breath practices coupled with conscious movements, you can learn to release accumulated tension in the neck, jaw and shoulders. Finally, by engaging in targeted movements, you can strengthen the postural muscles of the neck and upper spine.
Ready to give it a try?
Here are a four poses perfect for releasing upper back tension and improving posture:
Cat-Cow increases the flexibility of the neck, shoulders and upper back. It’s a good way to warm up the upper back and spine.
Start by sitting in a chair with your spine long and hands resting on your thighs. 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.
When the shoulders are chronically rounded, the muscles of the upper chest become shortened and tight. Yoga Mudra helps to opens up this area along with the upper back. (note: 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 for three to four breaths, softening the shoulders.
Next, inhale your arms up away from your back and fold forward, bringing your chest towards your thighs. Keep your knees soft and slightly bent and relax your neck. Stay here for two to three breaths.
To come up, lengthen your spine and inhale back to standing. Release your hands and gently roll the shoulders forward and back a few times to release any upper back tension.
Birdwing Neck and Shoulder Stretch
This next pose helps to release tension in the trapezius muscle (aka the traps). This triangular-shaped muscle extends from the base of the skull to the mid-upper back and helps move the head, neck, shoulders and arms.
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.
Lengthen your spine on an inhale, then turn 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 parallel to your right shoulder. Exhale your chin slightly towards your right shoulder. Then slowly inhale it towards the ceiling. Repeat as if you were nodding your head ‘yes’ three to four more times.
Finish by brining your head back to center. Release your arms and shake or roll out both shoulders. Pause to observe any sensations in your neck and upper back. 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.
original 5/25/20; updated 7/24/23