Yoga + Posture

How Yoga Can Improve Posture + Body Awareness

My Mom would repeatedly tell me to “stand up tall” or “sit up straight” growing up. Thinking she was being paranoid and overprotective, while also not understanding the significant role that my posture was playing in my own well-being, I chose to disregard her. I wish I had listened. Taking her advice would have helped me to build the physical stamina and emotional confidence to stand taller at an earlier age, and would have prevented many annoying episodes of recurring neck and back pain later on that were due to poor postural habits growing up. 


Your posture can reveal quite a bit about you – reflecting the state of your physical and mental health. Posture is defined as the ability to hold your body upright against the pull of gravity, like in sitting, standing and walking. Posture is dependent upon a multitude of factors, including your physical fitness, emotional states, sleep and energy levels, and the habitual patterns of movement you have developed and practiced from a young age.


Your body is your home, and your posture serves as the structured framework. Your bones provides alignment, your muscles, tendons and ligaments provide support, and your skin provides protection. Inside the home of your body you have your heart, lungs, circulatory system, internal organs, stomach, digestive tract, brain and spinal cord. 
Yoga and posture roots physical therapy in Rhode Island

 If the foundation of your home is strong, sturdy and well-balanced, it will in turn create a sound environment and allow for optimal functioning of your body’s systems as a whole.

Over time, poor posture can result in a host a different problems, leading to wear and tear on your joints, impeded blood flow to your internal organs, increased pressure on your respiratory and digestive systems, undue tension to your nervous system, negative affects on your emotions, disrupted sleep, and reduced energy levels. These cumulative effects can lead to aches, pain, and stiffness that limits mobility, reduces vitality, and sends one looking for medical help for relief. 
In order to avoid this, we tell ourselves to stand up taller and straighter. We put our best efforts forward by sticking and puffing out our chests, straining as we hold our breath in trying to maintain this posture. These efforts are short lived because inside we feel silly and unsure of how this apparently “good posture” is suppose to feel, so we quickly revert back to lazily holding our bodies in space because it is what feels comfortable and familiar. Until some sort of uncomfortable or painful issues arises, in which we promise ourselves yet again, “I’m really going to fix my posture this time.” 
It does not have to be this way forever. Understanding the foundations of posture and movement can give one the skills and tools needed to correct and prevent poor posture from wreaking havoc on your body and mind.
Your posture is primarily influenced by the alignment of your spine, or back, which extends from the base of your skull all the way down to your tailbone. The back is divided into the neck (cervical spine), mid-back (thoracic spine), lower back (lumbar spine), and the tailbone (sacrum and coccyx). You will often hear medical professionals and yoga teachers refer to your back using these terms, so becoming familiar with them is very helpful if you are regularly attending yoga classes. 
The 33 bones of the spine, known as vertebrae, are vertically stacked atop of one another, forming winding inward and outward curves that help to evenly distribute your weight. The neck and lower back curve inward (lordotic curve, also known as lordosis), while the mid back and sacrum curve outward (kyphotic curve, known as kyphosis). A jelly-like disc, known as the intervertebral disc, sits between each vertebra, which helps to absorb shock, transmit force, and reinforce the curvy structure of the spine.
The spine’s natural curves and intervertebral discs permit flexible movements of the back, including forward, backward, and side bending, and rotation. Visualizing the natural curves of the spine can make it easier to relate to how your back is positioned when you are trying to adjust your posture in sitting, standing or when moving.


Healthy posture is possible when the natural curves of the spine are maintained – this is what is meant when you are told to “stand up straight” or “move into a neutral spine.” 
When your spine and adjoining limbs are in neutral alignment, the force of gravity to the body is minimized, and therefore less muscular effort is needed to hold yourself up. Your muscles do not need to work in overdrive to keep you standing tall, and this reduces the strain to your tendons, ligaments, and nervous system.
Poor posture is largely associated with an inactive lifestyle, sedentary periods of sitting, and reduced body awareness. The muscles that support the hips, back and upper body become either tight or stretched, and lose strength due to lack of use. Lack of physical support to maintain an upright spine, compounded with long hours of sitting, can cause the spinal curves to become exaggerated, flattened or reversed.
When your spine is out of alignment, it creates poor and uneven force distribution throughout your body, and over time this can result in physical symptoms of muscular tension, joint stiffness, headaches, shortness of breath, and generalized pain. Emotionally, this results in feeling tired, stressed and feelings of unhappiness that disrupt sleep, zap energy levels, and negatively affect performance with everyday activities. 
Slouching, most often seen in sitting, is the most common example of poor posture. In a slouched position there is an excessive rounding of the upper back. This causes the weight of the head to shift forward, flattening the natural curve of the neck, and causing an increase in tension to the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back as they try to counteract and “pull” the upper body back and upright against gravity to stand tall. 
Another common example would be an excessive inward curve of the lower back, resulting in protrusion of the abdomen. This posture negatively alters the muscular balance around the hips and low back, destabilizing the lower spine, resulting in pain, pressure and instability to the low back.
The good news is that posture is correctableand improvement starts with understanding your own anatomy and cultivating a sense of body awareness in static positions and with dynamic movements. When you are aware of your body’s alignment, you are better skilled at correcting your posture. 
Healthy and well-aligned movements of the spine are the central focus with yogic postures, making yoga an extremely helpful tool in improving your posture. Practicing yoga can help you to mindfully learn how to position, stretch, extend and move your spine safely, while also increasing your muscle strength, flexibility and balance. 
Yoga helps to increase your body awareness – the sensing of your muscles at work and intuitive understanding of your body’s alignment. Learning how to naturally identify and maintain the curves of your spine with dynamic breath coordinated movements dissolves confusion and brings clarity about what good and bad posture is through the experience of moving your body in different ways. 
Take for example Mountain pose, or Tadasana, which is the most foundational standing yoga pose for improving your posture. When you first start practicing, this seemingly simple pose can prove to be quite challenging. Rather than standing “lazily” you realize how active and engaged all of your muscles are in lengthen and supporting your spine upright against gravity. With practice, this pose becomes more familiar and less tiring, and can translate to an improved mindful posture on and off the yoga mat. 
Yoga helps to counteract the ill-effects of poor posture by working towards reversing the most common side effects of inactivity. Postures and transitional movements encourage you to mindfully elongate and restore natural movements to the spine by engaging your abdominal and hip muscles, opening your chest and shoulders by extending through your mid-back, and activating the muscles along the spine. Yoga practice allows you to experience what a steady, balanced posture feels like. Repeated practice retrains the neural connections your body has with your brain, rewiring and restoring new pathways to replace poor movement patterns with improved healthier ones. It helps to make up for the lost time you spent not listening to your Mom in lazy slouched and crouched positions. 
Important postural enhancing movements of yoga include: 
  • Breathing: Breathing is a critical, and often underlooked, element of improved posture. Taking full, deep, and complete inhalations and exhalations can reduce tension, improve muscular efficiency, decompress the spine, expand the rib cage, and reverse the effects of shallow breathing associated with poor posture.
  • “Heart Opening”: Heart opening postures encourage extension through the mid-back, helping to elongate and relax the muscles of the chest, neck and shoulders, making it easier for your upper body to come upright and sit and stand taller. These postures work in counteracting the negative side effects of the slouched posture which can weaken the upper body.
  • Core strengthening: The muscles through the center of your trunk are responsible in keeping your body’s alignment well balanced. All yoga poses work on increasing these muscles by encouraging mindful activation of the abdominal and hip muscles to support and protect your spine. 
  • Back strengthening: Yoga helps to engage and strengthen the muscles that run alongside your spine. These muscles are often overstretched and underworked from too much forward bending. 
You can experience an abundance of health benefits when your spine is held in good alignment, such as reduced muscle tension, improved breathing, decreased pain, and relaxation of the nervous system. Not only will you feel better, but improved posture will also help you to experience a sense of
  1. Improved self confidence
  2. Less pain & reduced risk of injury
  3. Increased energy levels
  4. Improved stress management
  5. Improved sleep 
Yoga can help you to establish an intuitive connection with your body through movement, building the strength, flexibility, balance and awareness to improve the overall health of your spine and posture. 
Next time you are in a pose, be mindful of your spine and it’s natural curves. Breathe fully in and out of the spaces of your body. Notice how you feel. Learn from each experience. And begin to notice the small improvements of your posture over time. 
If you are unsure of what you are feeling, do not hesitate to ask or address your concerns with the instructor before, during or after class. Your teachers are there to guide you through the process of self-discovery and understanding. 
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