Due to sedentary lifestyles and poor habits in daily activities, many Americans tend to have poor posture, exhibiting the traits of kyphosis, an excessively rounded upper spine, and lordosis, an excessively arched lower back. Because of its emphasis on proper posture, yoga can help reverse abnormal curves in the spine, correcting both the “hunchback” curve that occurs in postural kyphosis and the “swayback” curve that occurs in postural lordosis. And since posture has been found to affect every system in the body, yoga’s efficacy in creating optimal spinal alignment will also improve one’s overall health and well-being.
Kyphosis is often a byproduct of computer and desk type work, and it is often seen in conjunction with a jutting forward of the chin and head. Upper back bending poses will help reverse this “hunchback” curve as well as stretch the muscles on the front of the torso which often have become chronically tight in this condition. Practicing weight bearing back bends, such as crab, bridge and bow, will strengthen the back muscles to assist the holding of a corrected posture.
Lordosis is often the result of weak abdominal muscles, or due to overcompensation for other muscle-skeletal imbalances. To correct this “swayback” curve, you must learn to "tuck your tailbone under" to help flatten the low back through the engagement of the abdominal and core muscles of the body. You can explore this tilting action of the tailbone in cat tilt pose’s rounding of the low back. Other poses that round the low back engage the “tailbone tuck” to reverse the “swayback” curve and to stretch the muscles of the low back are child, rabbit, and standing angle. Building strength through poses that engage the core muscles of the abdominals and low back, such as boat, low plank and balancing table, will be most helpful.
Spine lengthening poses promote good posture and proper alignment of the vertebrae in both kyphosis and lordosis. When the spine lengthens it naturally moves towards a correct alignment of natural 3 slight curves in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. The most important yoga posture to master for creating optimal posture is Tadasana, the mountain pose. To check your alignment in Tadasana use this technique: stand with your back to the wall with your heels touching. Then adjust your hips, shoulders and back of your head so that they are only very lightly touching the wall. Without pressing any part of your body into the wall, slightly reach the low back to the wall, feeling the tailbone tuck under. You can alternatively use a mirror or have a friend check to see if your ankles, hips, shoulders and head all line up in a straight line.
Cautions and Contraindications: Kyphosis and/or lordosis that is caused by osteoporosis, severe scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, and ankylosing spondylitis may benefit from the therapeutic use of these poses, but it will be necessary to consult with a medical professional before starting a yoga practice. If the spine has developed Osteoporosis or Osteopenia, deep backbends like camel, bow and wheel can be painful and even cause injury and should be avoided or approached with great caution.
A complete list of yoga postures for kyphosis and lordosis are now available in our premium yoga therapy section.