Yoga is one of the best ways to keep your spine healthy and improve your posture.
If you consistently practice these beginner yoga moves, over time they will train your body to naturally stand up straight.
The key, as with any postural training program, is to aim for frequency. It’s much better to perform these movements multiple times per week (aim for 3 days per week at minimum), or even multiple times per day, than to dedicate one single, long session. Ideally, you will go through a round of each pose every single day.
It’s all about making the commitment.
Nowadays it’s a common sight to see slouched shoulders, forward head, and a rounded back.
This is understandable when most of us live sedentary lives, wasting our bodies away sitting in front of a computer desk at work, then slumping on the couch for some Netflix at home, bending our heads forward and craning our necks to stare at our phones at every odd hour of the day.
These habits are destroying your back.
- Spinal compression
- Poor circulation
- Less energy from impaired breathing
- Easier chance of disc injury
- Perpetual back and neck pain
- Other chronic health problems
Yoga will help you relax, get in shape, feel better about yourself, and stand out in a world where good posture is increasingly rare.
The end goal is to lengthen your spine and fix alignment issues, to stand taller and flatten your stomach as a result, to develop a strong, limber, and flexible body that doesn’t struggle to stand upright with ease, and to carry yourself with peace and confidence.
Now let’s get into the stretches!
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Let’s start with an easy one.
The purpose of this movement is to teach you the proper vertical alignment of your body and how to keep a neutral standing position with your weight evenly distributed.
Stand tall as if you’re getting pulled up from the crown of your head by a string. Your ears should be above your shoulders, chest open, shoulders down and back. Keep your tailbone slightly tucked, knees slightly bent, feet together, and hands by your sides.
- Your gaze is straight.
- Your core is engaged.
- Your body is relaxed.
Practice and hold. Notice where your muscles are weak, where you struggle to maintain proper form. This will give you hints as to what’s currently wrong with your posture.
Optional: Extend your arms above your head, clasping your hands together for a vertical shoulder stretch OR behind you pulling your shoulders back to help open your chest.
A similar move is the hero pose which is kind of like the seated form of the tadasana. The posture of your upper body remains the same as described above except you sit on your heels with your knees bent.
Cat-Cow Pose (Chakravakasana & Marjariasana & Bitilasana)
This movement will relieve tension in your spine while it stretches your back and neck.
- Start in the tabletop position on your hands and knees. Your knees should be below your hips and your wrists, shoulders, and elbows forming a straight line perpendicular to the floor.
- Exhale, and round your back toward the ceiling, letting your head drop.
- Inhale and transition into the cow pose, letting your belly sink as far down toward the floor as you can while looking up.
To make this a more effective stretch, add rotation to the movement. In a clockwise direction, move your rib-cage to the left, then down into the cow pose, to the right, then up into the cat pose, evening out the movement until it’s one continuous flow. Repeat in a counter-clockwise direction too.
Downward Facing Dog
This is a classic yoga position all about strength and flexibility – both of which are requirements for maintaining correct posture. Its purpose is to increase both, by working and opening up your upper back, shoulders, chest, arms, and hamstrings.
- Begin in a plank position. Then raise your hips up and to the back, elongating your spine while pressing your chest toward the floor and keeping your legs straight. Your hamstrings and arms will stretch to produce a V-shape.
- Keep your feet about hip-width distance apart, heels off the ground or touching if you’re flexible enough.
- Keep your fingers spread wide with an even balance of weight on both. Your shoulders should be lifted up as you press down with your palms.
The key to this movement is to keep your back straight by bringing your chest as close to the floor as possible. This will produce a deep stretch along the shoulders and upper back.
To make it harder, lift one foot into the air as high as you can while keeping your leg straight and hold that position before switching legs.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
The cobra pose is one of the best chest and shoulder openers. It also does a good job of strengthening your back.
- Lie flat on your stomach, toes touching, hands shoulder level with palms facing the floor.
- Inhale and push from your palms bending your arms at the elbows to lift your chest off the ground.
- Straighten your arms further and arch your neck back into a full extension. Keep your shoulders firm and away from your ears. Press your legs and pelvis toward the floor as you bend as far up and back as you can.
- Hold for five breaths then lower and repeat. Aim to hold for up to a minute.
Another variation of this position is the sphinx pose. Same movement, except your forearms remain on the ground and you push from them instead of your hands for a lower rise off the ground.
You really want to focus on feeling the vertebra on your back in either of these movements.
Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
Also known as the extended puppy pose, this is a variation of the downward facing dog which requires less effort from your legs so you can really focus on the spine.
- Come into the tabletop position on all fours. Remember: shoulders above wrists, hips above knees. Once in the proper position, walk your hands forward.
- Exhale and motion your glutes back toward the heels. Do not let your elbows touch the ground! Your arms should remain active while you drop your forehead to the floor.
- Press your hands down while pushing hips back to lengthen the spine as much as you can.
Another option: clasp your hands behind your head and press down with your elbows to focus the stretch more on your shoulders, upper back, and arms.
The child’s pose is an alternative position that is all about relaxation. It’s known as a resting pose, usually done at the end of a yoga workout. It also works the counter-balancing muscles of the puppy pose. Sit on your heels with your arms stretched forward or reaching toward your feet as you curl up into a ball. Your stomach should be resting on your thighs and your forehead touching the ground.
This is another spine stretcher which will also strengthen your glutes and lower body muscles. It helps with hip stability which plays an underrated role in posture correction. Weak stabilizing muscles like your glutes and hips let your body sag instead of standing up straight!
- Begin by laying on your back, palms facing down, feet facing down, and your knees up. Your fingers should be touching or almost touching your heels. Y
- Inhale and lift your hips toward the sky. Press against the floor with your feet and hands. Again, focus on getting your spine a deeper stretch by lifting as high as you can.
- Exhale and come back down.
You can also clasp them together and roll your shoulders together and underneath for a deeper bend. At the end, perform a windshield wiper movement with your knees to either side while keeping the rest of your body flat and open to release any remaining tension.
Bow Pose (Dhanuras)
This is an intense back strengthening and heart opening pose. It’s especially good for fixing a hunched back and rounded shoulders.
- Like flat on your stomach then bend your knees and reach your hands back to grab your ankles.
- Inhale and lift your thighs and chest off the floor keeping your knees hip-width distance apart. Aim to lift your heels as high as you can.
- Hold the position then release back to the ground and repeat for reps.
The camel pose is a similar movement except you perform it on your knees, reaching back toward your ankles while pressing your hips and chest forward and out.
Another alternative is the locust pose (salabhasana) also known as the superman pose. Lying flat on your stomach, lift your arms, legs, and chest off the floor as high as possible and then hold. Aim to increase the amount of time you can hold this position. You will really feel this in your lower back as it becomes stronger over time.
Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
This move requires some serious flexibility in order to do properly. Slowly progress and work your way toward a full stretch.
- Begin at the mountain pose (tadasana) as first described above.
- Lift your arms straight up above your head, inhale, and then exhale as you bend forward at the hips (not the waist!) to let your head hang and reach for your toes. Fee
- Keep your legs straight or make a slight bend to get your fingers touching your toes or the ground. If you can, grab the backs of your ankles or simply cross and grab your elbows as you sway side to side or hold the position. You might hear the vertebrae at the root of your neck crunch if you squeeze your shoulder blades together in this position.
- (Optional) Add a twist by reaching one hand toward the sky and keeping one one the ground in front of you to activate the back muscles.
This move works both the stabilizing muscles (hips, hamstrings) as well as your spinal flexibility. Some rounding in the back is to be expected especially from beginners but try to maintain a long flat spine as you lower down.
The further you lean into your toes, the more the stretch will work the backs of your legs. To make it easier, do a wide-legged forward fold by increasing the distance between your legs.
Warrior I & Humble Warrior (Virabhadrasana)
These poses are classic yoga asanas that can also help work up a sweat. They require the whole package if you aim for reps and time spend holding the position: balance, coordination, flexibility, strength, and endurance.
- Begin in the downward-facing dog position, then step your left or right foot in between your hands and turn the back foot 45 degrees to the outer side.
- Bend the knee of the foot you stepped forward with until your thigh is parallel to the floor, then rise and point your fingertips toward the sky.
- Draw your shoulder blades back and keep your pelvis slightly tucked under. Keep your chest puffed out opening up your torso.
To transition into the humble warrior pose:
- Straighten both your legs and keep the position of your feet intact.
- Bring your arms behind you and clasp your elbows behind your back.
- Bend forward letting your head hang as close to the ground as you can get it.