Stand taller and stronger with this simple sequence.
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Americans have a posture problem. Whether you’re hunched over a computer, phone, book, or even a plate of food, we spend too many of our waking hours in the same position: shoulders rolled forward and neck sloping toward the ground.
This not only affects us physically, but also mentally. “Healthy postural alignment is vital to the functioning of our whole body and mind,” says Terecita “Ti” Blair, the 2017 SilverSneakers Instructor of the Year. “Standing tall can have an effect similar to forcing yourself to smile. By looking up, we are meeting the world with our eyes,” she says. “Good posture can also aid in breathing more efficiently, which can help a number of systems function more smoothly in the body.”
The following yoga poses can help improve posture and, as a result, reduce muscle aches, fatigue, and the strain that often comes from sitting for long periods. These movements also help strengthen the muscles in the back of the body and open up the muscles in the front of the body, providing postural support and creating more room for deeper breathing.
Try to do these poses three to five times per week, if not daily. You’ll start with mountain pose, which helps you find grounding, and then return to it between each move to ensure you’re stable on your feet.
Ready to get started? Here’s your step-by-step guide. As always, safety is key. The yoga poses here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about safe exercise. And if you’re a beginner, be sure to check out the tips to make each move easier.
1. Mountain Pose
The foundation of all yoga poses, mountain helps you find grounding. “Feeling your body in space is the single most important thing we can do,” Blair says. “From there, we can build on mountain to mimic activities of daily life.”
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Roll your shoulders up, back, and down. Stand tall, feeling your feet rooted into the ground, and breathe deeply for three to five breaths.
Make it easier: Do the pose sitting tall in a chair.
Make it harder: Lift your arms straight up to the sky, or lift your heels to challenge your balance.
2. Chest Expansion with Hands to Shoulders
This pose helps open up tight shoulders and chest muscles so you can breathe more easily.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet, knees, and hips facing forward, arms at your sides with palms facing forward. Inhale, lifting your arms out to the sides with your palms facing up toward the sky. Your body will form a T shape.
Exhale, keeping your chin parallel with the floor and bending at the elbows to bring your fingertips to touch the tops of your shoulders. As you do this, move your shoulder blades down and together, and continue to lift your chest. Pause, then return to mountain pose. Repeat for three to five breaths.
Make it easier: On your exhale, keep your arms out to the sides in a T shape, expanding your chest without bending your elbows.
Make it harder: Make this a moving meditation. Inhale arms out to a T shape, exhale to touch your shoulders, inhale your arms back out to a T shape, and exhale back down to mountain pose. That’s one round. Do three to five rounds, moving with your breath.
3. Lunge Pose
This pose strengthens the core, thighs, butt, and ankles—all the muscles that keep us going up and down stairs. It also stretches your hip flexors.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet, knees, and hips facing forward. Step back with your right foot, placing your toes on the ground and keeping your heel lifted.
From this staggered stance, bend your front (left) knee to slowly lower your body as far as comfortable. Your back leg should remain nearly straight. Place your hands on your hips, draw your lower belly in, lift your chest, and breathe here for three to five breaths. Return to mountain pose, and repeat on the other side.
Make it easier: Bend your back knee until it nearly touches the floor.
Make it harder: Reach your arms forward, up to the sky, or bent out to your sides at 90 degrees like a cactus. This will add a balance challenge.
4. Standing Camel
This pose strengthens your upper back and opens your chest.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet, knees, and hips facing forward. Make fists with your hands, and gently place them on your lower back, about the height of the waistband of your pants. Draw your elbows together, keeping your wrists in line with your forearms. Pull your belly in toward your spine, and lift your chest, keeping your hips level and steady.
Make it easier: Do seated camel. Sitting tall, reach your arms behind you and grasp the back of a chair for a supported stretch.
Make it harder: Continue to lift your chest toward your chin as you keep your chin lifted away from your chest, finding length in the front of your body from belly button to collarbone.
5. Airplane Arms
This pose helps open your chest while strengthening postural muscles in your upper and middle back.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet, knees, and hips facing forward. Keeping a neutral spine and allowing your knees to bend a little, hinge forward slightly at your hips. Pull your belly in toward your spine, and draw your arms behind you, straightening them with your palms facing the floor. Keep your gaze slightly in front of you on the floor. Breathe here for three to five breaths.
Make it easier: Sit in a chair with your feet planted on the ground, and draw your arms behind you.
Make it harder: Bend your knees more to sit deeper into chair pose.
6. Standing Spinal Balance
Strengthen the entire back of your body with this pose.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet, knees, and hips facing forward. Step your right foot back, placing your toes on the floor and flexing your foot. Lift your left arm up with your palm facing in. Imagine making a long line from your left fingertips to your right heel.
Inhale, lifting your right leg behind you with foot flexed and moving your left arm back slightly. Exhale, returning to the starting position. Repeat for three to five breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
Make it easier: Hold onto the back of a chair with your lower hand for support.
Make it harder: Tip your torso forward slightly to challenge your balance.
7. Reaching for the Stars (Torso Twist)
By mimicking the action of reaching into your cupboards, this pose works the postural muscles of your spine.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet, knees, and hips facing forward. Keeping your hips, knees, and feet facing forward, inhale and reach both arms up to the left as if reaching for an item on a high shelf. Exhale and bring that item across the center of your body and behind your right hip, twisting gently from your belly button to the top of your head but keeping hips facing forward.
Return to mountain pose. Repeat for three to five breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
Make it easier: Do this movement as you sit tall in a chair.
Make it harder: As you reach up for the imaginary item, come up onto your tiptoes. Lower onto your heels as you exhale and twist.