The sentiment that yoga is particularly beneficial for tall people is a popular one. This is because yoga is known to improve posture, which we tall people tend to struggle with. Further, yoga has been found to reduce the risk of back pain,1,2 which tall people are at increased risk of. But yoga is a varied activity, and not all poses are created equal. And there are some important points to consider when it comes to yoga for tall people, given how different our bodies are from those of average height people.
Before we get to these, let’s consider why tall people tend to have poor posture in the first place. The first and most obvious explanation is that we are constantly interacting with manufactured objects that are too small for us, such as cars, work surfaces, and tools. These force us to slouch. The second is that we tend to have lower relative strength as per the Square-Cube Law. This is why we struggle with chin-ups and push-ups, and also why we aren’t as proficient at maintaining good posture. And as we continue to hold poor posture, the soft tissues of the musckuloskeletal system adapt to it, perpetuating it. One example of a pattern of muscle imbalances tall people may be at increased risk for is the crossed syndromes, as depicted below.
The good news though is that poor posture can be corrected. The basic idea is to stretch tight muscles and strengthen weakened muscles. And while a physiotherapist or similar can prescribe exercises for this, it just so happens that many yoga poses do a pretty good job of this themselves. Below are some examples of yoga poses that can hone postural awareness and help stretch and strengthen the tissues required to overcome or prevent postural distortions (Mountain, Toppling Tree, Runner’s Lung, Awkward, Powerful, Warriors I and II, Lunge, Bridge).
But the flip side of the coin is that there are also some yoga poses that may not be advisable in the context of back pain prevention and recovery. For instance, the world renown spine researcher, Stuart McGill, has expressed concern over the yoga poses that twist and bend the spine considerably, such as those below. He explains that this isn’t necessary for building a robust back, and can actually increase the risk of injury. And I think he would agree with me that, when it comes to yoga for tall people, we need to be extra careful. This is because our thicker spines don’t twist and bend as readily and our diminished relative strength makes us less capable of maintaining good posture during challenging poses like Warrior III. Yet, as McGill demonstrated in a recent yoga workshop I attended, some of the more risky yoga poses can be done moderately or modified for the individual, which happens to be a central theme in yoga.
And of course there is a lot more to yoga than just mechanics—yoga is beneficial for the cultivation of mindfulness, which in turn may be beneficial in the context of back pain prevention and recovery.3,4 And as a bonus, perhaps it can help us deal with all those height related comments!
Another great thing about yoga for tall people is the lack of manufactured objects trying to shrink us. Yoga has quite the opposite emphasis as we are encouraged to ‘elongate the spine’ and ‘grow taller’. The one manufactured object that may be a bit small is your yoga mat. But there are lots of extra long yoga mats for tall people out there if you feel you need one.
Props are another helpful addition in yoga, particularly for inflexible people. And given tall people may be more likely to have diminished flexibility, this may be good reason to keep some props handy. Straps and blocks are the most common props.
I actually just did a yoga class before writing this article. The sequence I did is known as Moksha. It’s designed to suit a wide range of body types, so it’s probably a good starting point for most people. I’ve been doing yoga for about eight years now, and I think it was essential in my improving my posture (I’m at least an inch taller now) and overcoming back pain. I will say though that I’ve learned to be very moderate with my yoga routine, and avoid or modify certain poses that bend, twist, or load my spine too much.
I hope this article has inspired future tall yogis to be—may your tree poses be tall and straight!
- Holtzman S, Beggs RT. Yoga for chronic low back pain: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pain Res Manag. 2013;18(5).
- Cramer H, Lauche R, Haller H, Dobos G. A systematic review and meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain. Clin J Pain. 2013;29(5).
- Banth S, Ardebil MD. Effectiveness of mindfulness meditation on pain and quality of life of patients with chronic low back pain. Int J Yoga. 2015;8(2).
- DC C, KJ S, BH B, et al. Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction vs cognitive behavioral therapy or usual care on back pain and functional limitations in adults with chronic low back pain: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2016;315(12).
That’s why I got into Yoga & how I fell in love w/it!
Thank you for this, I just started.
Great information!! Thank you!!
Are any of you yogis? I cannot, not not get my long legs to do many of the positions of chattarunga without taking two steps. I’m athletic and very limber- but my legs are so so long! :'(
I do the same thing. I’ve often wondered if tall people are more likely to do this and if tight hamstrings might have something to do with it. My hip geometry also limits me. I could compensate by flexing my spine, but that wouldn’t be good for my spine. Instead, I just take the multiple steps and accept mindfully 🙂
Im 6’10” tall…and a Kripalu teacher …i get to my mat everyday …and my body thanks me for it …yes…we need Yoga ~
Thanks for sharing.
I believe&feel that us tall ones need to be on our mats as much as possible …the general public is helped when we do our yoga…but beyond this …those of us who are in those 97..98..99 percentiles of height …Must do yoga…I say must because our bodies need to be stretched …fighting against gravity …as we live in a world thats surely isnt made for us …I fell the practice of yoga ..is beyond simple stretching …i feel its body prayer…Give thanks for this beautiful long,,strong body…remind yourself that we are warriors of spirit …we were given these bodies to be used …as guideposts… or beacons …I believe that i would of laid my body down …long ago …if it wasnt for yoga…this goes beyond any talk about height ..into the realm of spirit and our health…and ….I have found yoga to be a way to remind myself of all of who I am …and makes my long tall body feel great …..
Hey Kevin I’m 6’11 still growing the doctors said I am to be 7’2 by the time I’m done growing I’m 20 years old and already have 2 bulging disc in my neck. I am new to yoga and was wondering what would be the best route to go. I’ve done everything the doctors have asked me to do and they suggested yoga so here I am. Would greatly appreciate your reply cause not everyone is tall like me
Hi Kevin, some Yoga poses will be a huge help for you while others may not be. It is best to build a good understanding of back mechanics and back pain before getting to deep in a Yoga routine. I highly recommend this book: Back Mechanic
This is awesome! I never thought of it this way. I’m just getting started. Thank you for this encouragement. I was beginning to think yoga is not for tall people.
I think it is a fabulous exercise for tall people provided we recognize our differences and compensate for them. Glad you like the post!
I’m 5′ 11″ with long legs + short torso. I’m wondering why I can’t do the transition from downward facing dog into low lunge without having to drag my leg forward from midway through. Could be the length of my legs, could be that I need more strength. Glad to find your article.
It could also have to do with the geometry of your hip joints. For instance, I have femoral acetebular impingement of the cam variety, and I can’t even drag my foot forward but rather put one knee down, then the other foot, then the first foot. This approach doesn’t have much yoga finesse to it, but better than compensating through flexing the spine. I would wager that tall people in general have a harder time with the transition because of lower relative strength and diminished flexibility.
I have the same problem, a very compact torso and long legs. I have been able to loosen up my right psoas (hip flexors) enough that I can now step from Down Dog to between my hands – but it also helps if I do a few hip circles while in Three-Legged Dog, and also from Down Dog, bring my knee in to my nose a few times (3 is often enough). However my left leg still gets stuck to the mat during that transition, so I just scooch it forward to between my hands. All our bodies are different, respect it and treat it well!!
Stretching of the psoas may lead to greater extension of the hip joint, not flexion. Perhaps you meant strengthen the psoas…
What this article overlooked is, simply put, bone-on-bone compression. I can only backbend to a certain extent, and when I can go no further, iit isn’t necessarily lack of flexibility – it means that my vertebrae and spinal processes are pressing up against each other and that is my stopping point. No amount of yoga can fix compression. Read up on articles by Paul Grilley for examples.