As a certified yoga instructor, I turn to yoga to help with posture and issues like neck pain. I love yoga for its mental and physical benefits. The relaxation and clear-mindedness felt after a great yoga class is amazing. Physically, yoga strengthens and lengthens the body while opening up and creating more space in the body.
Cherry-picking a few yoga poses to help with posture, neck pain and more, I created a perfect posture pose playbook for you to use on your own at home or in your next yoga class.
Try out these six poses below to help lengthen your spine, strengthen your upper back to keep your shoulders back, align your upper spine and reduce tension in your neck.
1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
Mountain pose is one of the most basic yoga positions. In fact, it’s usually the starting position for yoga sequences.
To come into mountain pose, stand with your feet hip width distance apart.
Press down through all 10 toes, lift up your center and middle arches, and press down through your heel.
Squeeze your quads to pull your kneecaps up. Pull your naval in toward your spine. Working up the body further, bring your shoulder heads back and relax them down. Open the palms with the arms extended by your sides. Lift your chin so that it’s parallel to the floor.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you to open up your chest, and look at a gazing point in front of you or on the floor a few feet ahead.
You’re strengthening your entire body and specifically releasing the muscles in the upper back and neck while strengthening them at the same time. Hold this pose for 10 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your nose.
2. Reaching Arms Up Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana.)
Starting in the above mountain pose, slowly reach the arms out to the sides and up overhead.
Reach as high as you can with your fingertips up toward the ceiling and then release the shoulders.
By extending the arms up, you’re working the muscles of the upper back and backs of the arms as well as the core to keep your ribcage in alignment. Hold this for 10 slow, deep breaths.
3. Cat & Cow.
Coming down onto your hands and knees, open your knees as wide as your hips and place your hands flat down onto the mat as wide as your shoulders
Pull your naval in towards your spine and spread through all 10 of your fingers.
Inhale and lift your head and upper back up as you stick your butt back and allow your stomach to sag down.
Then exhale and pull your naval in toward your spine to initiate a rounding movement through your spine.
Tuck your chin toward your chest and reach your tailbone down toward the ground. This helps with spinal mobility and opening up the chest and upper back – two areas that become tight as a result of poor posture. Repeat this 10 times, breathing in to come into cat and breathing out to come into cow.
Plank pose is a great strengthening exercise to provide support for your entire body and specifically for your shoulders, arms and upper back.
From your hands and knees position, walk the knees back a few inches. Then, tuck the toes under and reach through the heels to push toward the back of the room.
Reach the crown of the head forward so you have opposites pulling against each other. Pull your naval in toward your spine and make sure your back is flat.
Press down through the hands and bring the shoulder heads away from the ears. Hold this for five slow deep breaths.
5. Locust Pose.
Lying face down on your yoga mat on your stomach, rest your arms by your sides.
Pull your naval in toward your spine, and then squeeze your shoulders blades together so that your arms and shoulder lift slightly off of the ground.
Then pretend that you’re pushing a marble forward with your nose and reach your head forward and up.
Tilt your chin down so that you’re looking down in front of you, and then bring the arms up a few more inches off of the ground.
Squeeze the arms up and squeeze the quads and glutes as you lift the legs up off of the ground, too. Breathe in for two breaths and then release. Repeat this five times.
6. Reverse Prayer with Neck Stretch.
Standing or sitting, roll the shoulders back. Then, reach the hands toward each other behind your middle back. Ideally, you’ll be able to press the hands together into a prayer position with your fingertips reaching along the spine in between your shoulder blades.
For a modification, simply reach your finger tips to touch behind your back. Whichever variation of the pose you’re in, bring the shoulders back and feel an opening across the fronts of the arms and chest.
Hold for a few breaths, and for an added neck stretch, drop your right ear toward your right shoulder and breathe. Then, switch to the left side.
Stephanie Mansour is a health and fitness expert, weight loss coach for women, a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, pilates instructor, professional life coach and has her BA in communications with an emphasis on women's studies and psychology from the University of Michigan.
Editor's note: This was originally published on Oct. 21, 2019.