When was the last time you tried to touch the ceiling, metaphorically speaking? A yoga class first comes to mind.
Yoga provides outstanding physical and mental benefits, but for those looking to stretch a few inches, the practice won’t increase your skeletal height. Nevertheless, practising yoga may help you gain strength, establish body awareness, and develop better posture. And all these benefits can help you to stand taller.
Let's take a look at a handful of yoga poses that build muscular core strength, work to elongate the spine and rinse tension from your back muscles.
Puppy Pose: Come onto all fours. Walk your hands forward, keeping your hips stacked above your knees. Keep your arms active; don’t let your elbows touch the ground. As you exhale, gently guide your chest closer to the mat, as you breathe into your back, feeling the spine lengthen in both directions.
Child’s Pose: Kneel on the floor. Take your knees out to the edges of the mat and touch your big toes together, as you lower your torso down in between your thighs. Lengthen your tailbone towards your heels, and reach your arms forward, actively pressing your palms into the mat and extending through the fingertips.
Cat-Cow: Begin in table top position with a neutral spine. As you inhale and move into Cow Pose, lift your sit bones upward, open your chest forward and allow your belly to sink. Lift your head, relax your shoulders away from your ears, and gaze straight ahead. As you exhale, come into Cat Pose while rounding your spine outward, tucking in your tailbone, and drawing your navel in and upward. Let your head relax.
Downward-Facing Dog: Start on all fours, Your hands are shoulder-width apart and fingers spreading out wide, pressing gently into your finger tips to support your wrists. Tuck your toes, press your hands and lift your hips into the air. You can paddle out your feet and enjoy the stretch in the back of your legs. See if you can create more space between your shoulders and relax your neck. Relax the muscles in your face. I love bending my knees deeply in this pose, working my navel to my things, to feel an even greater extension in the spine and create space in the back of the body.
Reclined Pigeon: Begin by laying on your back with the legs extended out and the arms alongside the body. Bend the knees and place the soles of the feet on the earth. Then make a figure four with the legs by crossing the right ankle over the top of the right knee. Flex the right toes and lift the left foot off the ground. Thread the right arm through the opening of the legs and bring the left arm to the outside of the left leg. Clasp either the left shin or hamstring with both hands. The back and head remain flat on the earth. Draw the left shin in towards the body as you press the right knee away from you. To get out of Reclined Pigeon Pose, release the clasp and bring both soles of the feet to the earth. Repeat on the opposite side.
Cobra: Lie face-down on the mat, flattening the tops of your feet with the toes pointing back. Place your hands under your shoulders, hugging your elbows close to the body. Engage your legs, pull your belly in and up. Take an inhale, begin to lift your chest off the floor. Roll your shoulder blades into the upper back. Go only to the height that you can maintain. Now lift your hands off the mat an inch, to ensure your back muscles are engaged and actively working to support you in this pose. Hold for 5-10 breaths. Exhale and lower the body down.
Locust: Begin lying on your stomach with your arms at your sides. Rest your forehead on the mat. Extend your legs straight behind you, hip-width apart. Do not roll your heels inward or outward. Instead, press your weight evenly across the tops of both feet. Inhale and raise your head, chest, arms and legs. Continue to look down to the mat to keep length in the back of your neck. Use your inner thighs to lift your legs up toward the ceiling. Keep your breath smooth and even. On an exhalation, slowly release your body to the ground. Place your right ear on the mat and relax your arms at your sides for a few breaths. Repeat the pose for the same amount of time, then rest with your left ear on the mat.
High Plank: Along with strengthening our back muscles, we also need to strengthen our abdominal muscles for ultimate posture support. Start on all fours, shoulders stacked above your wrists. Spread your fingers and press your finger pads actively into your mat. Tuck your toes and lift your knees as you gaze directly down to the floor. Engage your abdominal muscles, drawing your navel toward your spine. Keep your abdominals engaged and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging or bending. This is the neutral spine position. Ensure your shoulders are down, not creeping up toward your ears. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Release to floor.
Low or Crescent Lunge (if it feels good add in a baby backbend as pictured): From Downward Facing Dog, step your right foot forward between your hands for low lunge. You can also start on all fours to assist with stepping the foot forward. The left knee can stay on the mat for your Low Crescent Lunge, or lifted. Point the toes of both feet directly forward. Press your left heel back. Tuck your tailbone under and draw your ribcage in, similar to Warrior I. If your back knee is lifted and squeezing your leg straight causes tightness in your lower back, feel free to bend that back knee slightly to avoid over-arching. Bend into your right leg and stack your knee over your ankle. Using the strength of your core, reach your hands to the sky with palms facing each other.
Seated Spinal Twist: In a comfortable seated position, look forward as you inhale, and twist to the left as you exhale. Bring your left fingertips to the mat behind you and your right hand on the left knee to gently leverage you into the pose. Tuck your chin in and look down at your left shoulder, to keep the neck lovely and long. Inhale the head back to centre, followed by the rest of the body. Repeat on the right side.
Supine Spinal Twist: Lie on your back and hug your knees into the chest. Bring your arms out wide in line with your shoulders. Inhale to prepare, and as you exhale, guide your knees over to the right, lowering them to the ground, as you gaze to the left and encourage the left shoulder towards the earth. Inhale your head back to centre, followed by the rest of the body. Repeat on the other side.
Supported Fish: From Staff Pose, slowly lower your upper back over a block on its lowest level. Make sure the block is under your shoulder blades and isn’t touching your ribs below your shoulder blades. You should be able to feel the block when you squeeze your shoulder blades together. In this position, you can let your feet fall open, as if you were taking Savasana (Corpse Pose). From here, externally rotate your arms so your palms face up. Let your shoulders drape off the block. You can also place a block underneath your head to avoid strain in your neck. Relax your face, throat, and jaw.
Finally, the breath is pivotal to encouraging you to stand tall, as you become more aware of breathing at maximum capacity.