Do you ever wonder how some people can just walk into a room and make everyone else notice? A commanding, confident presence is both sexy and attention-worthy, but too often we walk around with our shoulders hunched forward as an unconscious (or conscious) way of sheltering ourselves from external influences. To make matters worse, so many of us sit slumped over a keyboard all day.
After I started practicing yoga, people started saying, “I don’t know what it is, but there is something different about you.” It could have been happiness, inner peace, who knows, but then at a family gathering, an aunt who teaches ballet said, “It’s your posture; you look different because your posture is much better.” I had no idea that I had been lacking in the posture department prior to my yoga practice, but ever since, I have gotten many compliments on it.
Granted, the idea of “posture” isn’t sexy—but you will look hotter than ever if you improve the way you carry yourself! As if that’s not enough, you’ll also appear thinner and more confident, and you’ll feel more energized.
Here are some great yoga poses to help you open your shoulders, reverse “desk hunch back,” lengthen your spine, flatten your belly without dieting, and give you that "je ne said quoi" that keeps people wondering.
Bound Extended Side Angle Pose: From down dog, step your right foot between your hands, spin your back heel down, and come into your warrior two. Then release your right hand down to the ground just inside your right foot and reach your left arm to the ceiling. Allow your left arm to fall behind your back (it is nice to take a half bind along the way, taking a hold of your right thigh with your left hand and leaning back a bit). Then take your right arm underneath your right thigh to clasp your left hand or wrist (a strap is a great modification here). Lean back and gently lengthen your left arm toward your tailbone and slightly back. Stay here for five deep breaths.
Kneeling Shoulder Opener: While kneeling, reach your right arm to the ceiling; bend your right elbow, allowing your right hand to fall between your shoulder blades. Take your left hand to your right elbow and allow the weight of the hand to deepen the shoulder opening (no forcing it!). You can stay here for five deep breaths, leaning back slightly, or, if the clasp is easy for you, take your left arm down, bend the elbow, and reach your left hand up the center of your back, taking hold of the right hand. Stay here for five deep breaths, leaning back slightly into your arms and taking care that the right arm isn’t putting any pressure on your neck.
Sphinx Pose: Lying facedown on the ground, take your elbows underneath your shoulders and pull your chest forward as you engage your shoulders down and together. Stay for five deep breaths, breathing length between each vertebra on your back from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
Bow Pose: Lying facedown on the ground, bend your knees and take hold of your ankles. Press your feet into your hands, keeping your knees hip-distance apart, and lift your chest off the ground. Stay here for five deep breaths. (If this is uncomfortable, locust post is a great alternative.)
Bridge Pose: Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the ground hip-distance apart with your arms on either side of you, reaching toward your heels. Pressing into your feet (especially into the big toe mound), lengthen through your tailbone and lift your hips. Interlace your hands together underneath you, and if it feels good, wiggle your shoulders closer together one shoulder at a time. Stay here for five deep breaths. A restorative bridge pose propped up on blocks (one under your sacrum and another supporting your head) is another great one.
Wheel Pose: Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the ground hip-distance apart. Bending your elbows, take your hands to either side of your head, fingers facing your shoulders, hands shoulder-distance apart. Pressing into your feet and hands equally, lift your hips and lengthen your arms. Keep pressing into your feet (especially through the big toe mound) and reaching your chest away from your feet as you stay here for five deep breaths. Be sure to tuck your chin to your chest before you slowly come down.
Tree Pose: Standing tall with soft knees, bend your left knee and open from your hip out to the left. Keeping your hip open, place your left foot inside of the right thigh or shin, or place the ball of your left foot on the ground with your heel on the inside of your right calf. Inhale as you reach your arms high and take your palms together, then exhale and bring your hands to the center of your chest. Engage your shoulder blades down and together. Stay here for five deep breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Handstand: In Sanskrit, the term for “handstand” translates to upside-down tree! This is the ultimate pose for proper posture, as it is impossible to balance without it. Handstand engages your core and lines up your entire body. This pose is best done at a wall until you feel comfortable away from the wall. From a forward fold, press your palms firmly into the ground, about a foot and a half in front of your feet, shoulder-distance apart. Then lift your left leg to the ceiling behind you, come high onto the ball of your right foot, and, using your left leg to lift you, transfer your weight onto your hands or take little hops off your right foot until you are upside down or against the wall. Engage your shoulder blades down and together, reach through your feet, and breath, feeling your spine lengthen from your tailbone through your head. Stay here for five deep breaths, or work your way up to that!