My favorite part about ballet growing up was how it made me feel. I wasn’t the most graceful kid; I was awkward, smaller than average and constantly tripping and running into things. And yet whenever I was in the studio, with my neck long, shoulders back and level, eyeline raised ever so slightly, core engaged and hips stacked, I felt like I was on top of the world.
"Ballet is all about creating beautiful lines,” my teacher would say, and I’d adjust my body to her corrections, always looking to stand a little bit straighter. Even now, being 19 years old, pushing 5’2 and still stumbling in my child-sized heels, I am conscious of the lines I create with my body.
Having good posture is not only beneficial for your body (improving muscle function and circulation, among other benefits), but according to scientific studies, also boosts your self-confidence with just a simple straightening of the back and bodily awareness.
When you feel good about yourself and your body, you look good too. Here are three 2-in-1 yoga stretches and exercises (with credit to Healthline and Shape Magazine), with my own modifications and advanced options, that you can do today to improve your posture so you look and feel your best, even if you aren’t dancing in a leotard and pointe shoes.
- Forward fold with back hand clasp
Stand up straight with your hands clasped behind your back, your neck long and your shoulders back. Bend over frontwards, stretching the back of your legs.
The forward fold will release tension in your spine and hamstrings while the back hand clasp opens your chest up.
Modification: Alternatively, you can aim to touch your toes or hold your ankles while holding the position.
Advanced option: If you feel comfortable, interlace your arms behind your calves and hold your elbows. Then, pull your nose towards your knees, still keeping your legs straight.
- Downward dog to dolphin pose
Laying down on your stomach, press your hands into the floor with your fingers spread and push your hips upwards so only your hands and feet are in contact with the floor. Focus on pressing your shoulders away from your hands and your knees straight, planting your heels into the ground.
The downward-facing dog pose helps with back alignment and muscle strength, which helps hold your body up when you’re standing tall.
Modification: If this position is uncomfortable for you, keep your knees bent and heels lifted off the ground.
Advanced option: If you aren’t feeling the stretch, you can place your forearms down into the ground as well, continuing to keep your legs straight and shoulders back.
- Center and side planks
From a position on all fours, lift your knees off the ground so the palms of your hands and the balls of your feet are grounded while the rest of your body hovers above the floor. Try to stay streamlined from the top of your head to your ankles, and keep your core, arms, and legs engaged as you rebound off the ground.
The center and side planks work on building strength and balance in your core, hamstrings, and glutes, areas that support your back for better posture all around.
Modification: If you’re finding it difficult to keep your balance, you can place your knees down onto the floor instead, as if you’re about to do a modified push-up, and hold that position instead.
Advanced Option: Once you’ve got the hang of the centre plank, shift your weight onto one side of the body (either hand) and stack your ankles, aiming to keep your hips lifted and maintain the streamlined body position. You can also place your forearm onto the ground if it helps with balance or relieve weight from your wrist, making the pose a forearm side plank. Repeat with the other side.
All exercises can be held for 30 seconds to one minute, and doing these even just once a day when you first wake up in the morning will have you standing straighter and walking taller in no time.