Yoga for Upper Back, Thoracic Spine

Thoracic Spine Basics

  • 12 vertebrae, each supporting a pair of ribs.
  • T1 to T7 wrapping around to connect to the sternum directly. 
  • Natural strong convex curve or kyphosis that bends backwards.
  • Built for stability and strength, not a ton of mobility.
  • Connecting to the ribs to protect your heart, lungs, diaphragm.

Urdhvam Merudanda Mudra

  • Meaning upper or higher spinal column, core quality is expansiveness.
  • Curl the fingers into the palms.
  • Thumbs point outward towards the side walls.
  • Rest back of hands on your thighs.
  • Directs breath and awareness to top of the chest, side ribs and upper back.  Also relieves tension in this area.
  • Instills sense of enthusiasm, optimism, and vitality.  Creates open feeling and expanding our horizons. 
  • Breathing freely in the back of my body, I am open to my infinite possibilities. 


Pull your attention to your diaphragm area, around T10. As you inhale, see in your mind’s eye the muscle contracting and flattening. As you exhale, see it releasing into its dome shape.

Yoga Movements

Cat/Cow = Flexion and Extension. Try using either your hands at your side low ribs or a strap wrapped around your back ribs to give you feedback for the movement. As you go into Cow pose (back extension), note that the thoracic spine goes to neutral. There will not be much of a back bending quality to that portion of the spine.

Side Lateral Bends = Stretches the intercostal muscles between the ribs to allow your ribcage to expand and contract with ease.

  • Half Moon 1 side stretches
  • Also a combo of a twist with a side stretch is Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head of the Knee Pose). I like doing this seated in a chair.

Twists = There might not be much flexion and extension in the thoracic area, but you can twist. Discover the movement around the low rib cage area without forcing the shape.

  • Sit sideways on a chair seat and gently turn towards the back of the chair.
  • Note that Warrior Two actually is a twist! Position the legs, let the pelvis go where it wants to and then turn your upper back (think of rotating at the low rib area) so your heart center/sternum faces the long edge of your mat.
  • Revolved Half Moon balance (I love using a chair for this).
  • Cactus or goal post arms using a strap and turn left and right, using the breath as your guide.

Organic Movements = Reaching across the midline of the body towards the floor, on the horizon line and towards the ceiling. Feeling the shoulder blades glide and slide along the upper back.

If you want to see other movements, there are pictures below that are screenshots from the yoga video called “Chair = Upper Back“.