From the base of the neck to the pelvis, the vertebrae of a healthy spine are contoured into a natural S formation. This natural curvature absorbs mechanical shock, protecting the spinal cord and the rest of the musculoskeletal system from the jolts and impacts of daily life.
However, the spine's natural curvature can become distorted over time as gravity, arthritis and certain genetic tendencies take their toll. And when the spine falls out of alignment, other parts of the body such as the pelvis and thorax will most likely follow. All in all, it's a recipe for impaired mobility.
Yoga is a supreme method for putting the spine and the rest of the body back into proper alignment by elongating over-tight muscles that pull too much one way and by strengthening weakened muscles that compromise alignment.
Reversing the Forward Slump
Are your shoulders rounded forward and is your upper body chronically crumpled into a forward slump? You've probably got at least a touch of kyphosis -- which is when the middle region of the spine curves backward excessively. It's a totally modern problem, caused by long hours spent seated and leaning forward, such as at a computer or behind the wheel. Over time, this shortens the pectoral muscles and weakens the upper back muscles.
In this situation, make friends with backbends. There are many to choose from, but Cobra, a beginner's pose that's like doing a push-up from the waist up, is a great place to start. Another good one Locust: Lying face down, lift your sternum about a hand's width from the floor while reaching back with your arms as if you're trying to touch your lifted feet and legs.
To lengthen the pectoral muscles that can pull your middle spine forward, try some chest openers. An easy one that you can do any time, anywhere is a modified Bow Pose. Stand in a door frame with your hands placed on either side and let your body hang forward. For another variation, place your hands at the top of the door and hang forward.
Reversing Excess Curve of the Lower Back
The lower back has its own version of problem curvature, which is called lordosis, an excessive inward curve of the lumbar spine. In more extreme cases, it causes what's called "swayback," a posture marked by protuding buttocks. Lordosis is the result of weak abs and too-tight lumbar muscles.
For both strengthening the abs and the hip flexors -- which play a big role in correct pelvic tilt -- Boat pose can do wonders. Mountain, Eagle and other standing poses help oppose lordosis. You can enhance their effect by bracing your abdominal muscles as if you're going to be punched in the stomach, a move that strengthens the transverse abdominus, the deep-lying muscle that affects gait and posture. Bridge and other asanas that require you to tilt the pelvis forward loosen up the erector spinae, the small muscles that flank the spine from top to bottom.
Read More: How to Lengthen the Spine with Yoga