Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana variation with the support of a blanket

6 Yoga Poses to Strengthen and Stretch Your Erector Spinae Muscles

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Updated: 
November 17, 2021

The erector spinae group is a collection of muscles that run up and down the spine from the base of the skull to the pelvis. Sometimes referred to as the paraspinals, this powerful group of muscles helps to erect the entire spinal column. They work hard in our day-to-day lives to simply help hold us upright. 

The erector spinae group also works to draw the spine into extension. As these muscles work all day long to hold us erect and move us into varying planes of motion, they can—in some—become very tight and constricted.

But also, since so many of us spend long periods of time sitting and hunching forward, these muscles can become weak. So the following is a select number of poses that can help to both strengthen and stretch the erector spinae group. 

How to Practice 6 Yoga Poses to Strengthen and Stretch the Erector Spinae Group

All you need is a yoga mat for these poses to target your erector spinae muscles. 

1. Baby Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana Variation) 

Yoga's Cobra Pose also known as Bhujangasana is a great for the spine

Baby Cobra Pose very effectively targets the erector spinae group by extending the spine against the resistance of the downward force of gravity. 

  1. Lie down on your belly and place your hands underneath your shoulders. 

  2. Actively root down into the tops of your feet until your kneecaps lift from the floor. Keep this much activation in your legs. 

  3. Press your pubic bone down into the mat and lengthen your lower back. Roll your shoulders down your back and draw the tips of your shoulder blades together. 

  4. Ground down into your palms and slowly peel your head and chest up off the floor as you expand your heart forward toward the top of your mat. Stay fairly low toward the ground and activate your core. 

  5. Keep the height in your chest as you lift your hands to hover above the floor. 

  6. Hold for a few deep breaths before slowly releasing down. 

  7. Repeat 3 to 8 times. 

2. Locust Pose (Salabhasana)

Locust Pose or Salabhasana with its many variations is a pose that strengthens and stretches the spine

Very similar to Baby Cobra Pose, Locust Pose effectively strengthens the erector spinae group by lifting the spine into extension against the downward pull of gravity.

  1. Lie down on your belly and place your arms by your sides. 

  2. Root down into the tops of your feet actively until your kneecaps lift from the floor. Keep this much activation in your legs. 

  3. Press your pubic bone down into the mat and lengthen your lower back. Roll your shoulders down your back and draw the tips of your shoulder blades together. 

  4. Slowly peel your head and chest up off the floor as you expand your heart forward toward the top of your mat. Activate your core strongly. 

  5. Keep the height in your chest as you lift your feet to hover above the floor. 

  6. Hold for a few deep breaths before slowly releasing down. 

  7. Repeat 3 to 8 times. 

3. Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)

Warrior lll Pose or Virabhadrasana lll Pose is a balance pose that also strengthens and stretches the spine

Warrior III is another effective posture to strengthen the erector spinae group because you need to elongate your spine and hold its weight up against gravity.

  1. Start in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Lean your weight into your right foot. 

  2. Place your hands on your hips (right and left sides of the pelvic rim) and lean the weight of your torso forward toward the top of your mat. 

  3. Simultaneously, lift your left foot off the floor and extend your left leg toward the back of your mat. 

  4. Lean forward with your torso as you equally kick back with your left foot and strive to draw your torso and leg roughly parallel to the floor.

  5. Option to keep your arms as they are or reach them forward to frame your face. 

  6. Hold here for a few deep breaths as you actively lift your spine against gravity. 

  7. When you’re ready, slowly return to Mountain Pose. Then switch sides. 

4. Seated Forward Bend Pose (Paschimottanasana)

Seated Forward Fold or Paschimottanasana stretches and strengthens the muscles of the spine

Forward bends practiced with a rounded spine are really helpful postures to stretch the erector spinae group. 

  1. Sit down on your mat with your legs extended forward in front of you. If your pelvis is tilting back and your lumbar spine is rounded, elevate your hips by sitting on a block, folded blanket, or bolster. 

  2. Root your heels into the ground and energetically draw your heels back toward your sitting bones. 

  3. Hug your navel toward your spine and round your back body forward and down over your legs.

  4. Bending from your hip joints, flex your torso—including your pelvis—forward any amount toward your legs.

  5. Surrender the weight of your spine down with the downward pull of gravity as you curl in on yourself. Option to place props underneath your torso or head. 

  6. Hold for a few deep breaths before slowing releasing. 

5. Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)

Cat Pose also known as Marjaryasana is an excellent Pose for flexion of the spine

Cat Pose is another excellent posture that deeply (and actively!) flexes the spine to stretch the erector spinae group. 

  1. Come onto hands and knees with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your knees. 

  2. Press down firmly into your palms as you hug your navel toward your spine and round your whole back body. 

  3. Draw your shoulder blades apart and tuck your chin toward your chest. 

  4. Energetically draw your hands and your knees apart from each other as if you were trying to stretch the fabric of your yoga mat. 

  5. Hold in this active spinal flexion for a few deep breaths before releasing out. 

  6. Repeat 3 to 8 times. 

6. Child’s Pose (Balasana)

Child's Pose or Balasana is great for extending the spine against the resistance of the downward force of gravity

Child’s Pose is a great posture for passive spinal flexion to stretch the erector spinae group. 

  1. Start on all fours. Draw your knees toward the center until they touch and untuck your toes. 

  2. Release your hips onto your heels. 

  3. Pour the weight of your torso over your thighs as you round your back body to release your forehead to a prop or the floor. 

  4. Reach your arms by your sides as you stretch your palms toward the back of your mat. 

  5. Surrender into this passive stretch for as long as you’d like. 

Stretch and Strengthen Your Erector Spinae Group Daily for a Healthy, Happy Back

The erector spinae group works hard daily to allow us to move about in the world. So it’s important for these muscles to be both stable and supple. 

Use these strengthening and stretching poses to keep your erector spinae group healthy and happy, and in turn, your whole back healthy and happy too!

 

Doug Keller, Yoga Teacher YogaUOnline Presenter, the vagus nerve and yoga

 

Leah SugermanLeah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.