Woman practices yoga for posture

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How Yoga Can Support Better Posture—and 6 Poses to Try

Because we all need to sit up a little straighter.

By Elizabeth MillardApril 11, 2024


If you've ever spent a day slouched over your laptop or lounging on your couch during a multi-episode streaming binge, you've likely experienced some muscle stiffness and even temporary joint discomfort when you stand up. Those effects typically dissipate after a few hours. However, if you’re frequently in a hunched position, those aches can linger—and even contribute to the development of poor posture over time. 

Poor posture affects much more than just your spinal health and muscle recovery, according to Neel Anand, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and director of the Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles.

"Maintaining posture is crucial for everyday life," he says. "Bad posture is one of the top causes of chronic aching backs, but there's also a ripple effect in numerous ways." 

How Important Is Good Posture?

Chronic lower back pain isn't just annoying, it can be debilitating. In fact, the World Health Organization notes that this condition is the leading cause of disability globally. Good posture can help reduce the risk of back pain, Anand says, and it can have these other benefits as well:

1. Better Digestion 

According to Harvard Medical School, slouching can put pressure on your abdomen, causing stomach acid to travel upward, and increasing your risk of heartburn; improving your posture can help alleviate these issues.

2. Improved Respiratory Function

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that participants who spent an hour hunched over their smartphones had reduced function in their lungs, compared to those who spent an hour in a seated position of their choice. 

3. Brighter Mood

Can good posture have an effect on your mental health? Potentially. One 2017 randomized controlled trial noted that a more upright posture was beneficial for reducing depressive symptoms, as well as increasing mental focus in participants.

Posture isn't often emphasized as a source of overall good health, but given these research results, maybe it should be.

The Causes of Poor Posture

So, yes, your posture matters. To start to work toward developing better posture, you need to look at the factors that may be contributing to your misalignment. For that, it's helpful to understand some biomechanics related to your back, Anand says.

"The spine has three natural curves: a forward curve at the neck, a backward curve at the upper back, and a forward curve at the lower back," he adds. "Good posture, with the spine aligned straight over the pelvis, helps maintain these natural curves, while a hunched posture can pull the muscles and add additional stress to certain areas."

For example, with poor posture, your upper back muscles will be particularly tight, and as the lower back and core muscles try to overcompensate for the tightness, chronic back pain may ensue.

"If you’re like most people, it becomes second nature to walk around with bad posture or sit hunched over at a desk, and some people don’t even realize they are doing it," Anand says. "When you slouch, the muscles and ligaments in the back strain and work double-time to keep you balanced. The first step in correcting this is to simply concentrate on sitting up straight and pulling your shoulders back and down when sitting, standing, or walking."

Can Yoga Help Your Posture?

Correcting your posture can feel odd at first because proper alignment isn't necessarily a position our bodies have become unaccustomed to holding, Anand adds. However, by practicing over time, maintaining healthy posture can eventually become second nature. One of the potential keys to getting there? Adding more yoga into your weekly routine.

That's because yoga can help strengthen your core muscles, which wrap around your abdominals into your back—making it easier for you to achieve a neutral position when standing and sitting. Yoga also helps release tension in the muscles throughout your body, particularly in your neck and shoulders, which is helpful for building better posture. 

Keep in mind that a few yoga sessions won't magically undo the negative effects of all that slouching. Good posture is about creating good habits throughout the day, Anand says. That said, yoga can help you build more body awareness, making it easier for you to (literally) sit up a little straighter.  

6 Yoga Poses to Improve Your Posture

Many poses can be helpful in enhancing your posture, since yoga emphasizes finding the right alignment and relaxing your shoulders. Here are a few to get started:

Woman practices Downward-Facing Dog, a yoga pose for better posture

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

There's a reason that Downward-Facing Dog is a staple in yoga classes; this pose strengthens and stretches your entire body, from your wrists to your ankles, helping you build better alignment.

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. 

  2. Stretch your legs back to come into Plank Pose briefly, then lift your hips upward while pressing into your hands. Your body should resemble an inverted V. 

  3. Keep your head in a neutral position, with your ears in line with your biceps.

  4. Bend your knees slightly to keep tension out of your lower back, and focus on maintaining equal pressure between your hands and feet.

  5. Hold for three to five breaths.

Woman practices Boat Pose, a yoga pose for better posture

Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)

Increasing your core strength is crucial for better posture. This pose allows you to have ample support by staying on the ground, so you can isolate your core more effectively.

  1. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet about hip-width distance apart. 

  2. Focus on bringing your shoulder blades toward one another and down your back, which will give you greater expansion in your chest.

  3. From here, tip backward a few inches while keeping your shoulders relaxed. Lift your feet up from the mat.

  4. Position your shins parallel to the floor, balancing on your tailbone.

  5. Lift your arms up alongside your body with your palms facing in toward your thighs. Make sure you're not rounding your back.

  6. Hold for three to five breaths.

Man in Sphinx Pose, yoga for better posture

Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana)

This is a gentle backbend that stretches your lower back, shoulders, and neck without putting too much strain on those areas. 

  1. Come onto your belly with your legs extended behind you. Place your forehead on the mat. 

  2. Slowly bring your arms in toward your body and in front of you. Your elbows should be bent and in line with your shoulders.

  3. Lift your chest and head away from the mat so that you're in a backbend with your forearms acting as support.

  4. Hold for three to five breaths.

Woman moves through Cat-Cow

Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) and Cow Pose (Bitilasana)

These two poses can alleviate tension in your lower back, helping improve your posture as a result.

  1. Start in a tabletop position with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.

  2. Take a slow inhale, and on the exhale, round your spine and drop your head toward the floor to come into Cat Pose. 

  3. Inhale and lift your head, chest, and tailbone toward the ceiling as you arch your back for Cow Pose.

  4. Continue to flow between these two poses for a few breath cycles.

Woman does a high plank, a deep core exercise

Plank Pose

It’s no secret: Plank Pose works your core. Move between this posture and Downward-Facing Dog to work on your alignment and strength. 

  1. Start in a tabletop position, with your knees under your hips and your hands flat on the floor directly underneath your shoulders.

  2. Lift your knees off the floor and extend your legs out behind you. 

  3. Like a plank of wood, your body should be in one straight line.

  4. It's easy to move out of alignment in this pose as you start to get tired; pay attention to whether your hips start dropping toward the mat or rising up, and adjust accordingly. 

  5. Hold the pose for three to five breaths. For a challenge, try to increase the time you stay in the posture.


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