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).