Your lats, which are your latissimus dorsi muscles, span across your back on either side of your spine, from the middle of your spine down to your lower spine. Your lats are mainly used when you reach overhead to push or pull against resistance. There are several poses practiced in yoga that exercise and tone your lats. At the same time, performing yoga with good posture and balance can be hindered by tight lats, especially in Handstand. Tightness in the lat muscles reduces your range of arm movement, closes the chest and moves your back out of alignment. Doing yoga poses that exercise the lats will not only strengthen them, but also improve your posture for other yoga poses, and keep your muscles loose to protect your rotator cuffs from tears and injury. Remember to consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
Perform Upward-Facing Dog, which strengthens your lats and improves your posture. Lie flat on your mat on your belly, with your feet together. Put your palms on your yoga mat under your shoulders, with your elbows pointing directly back. Inhale to lift your chest to the ceiling, straightening your arms. Look straight ahead. Keep your spine long and your shoulders down. Hold the pose for 30 seconds then slowly lower. This action requires you to pull using your lats against your body's resistance. If your lats are weak, it will be difficult for you to support your upper body, and your shoulders will inch up to your ears.
Lie on your belly on your yoga mat with your arms down by your sides and your palms facing up. Rest your forehead on your mat. Take a deep breath in, then exhale to lift your head, chest, arms and legs off your mat. Your arms and legs should lift and hover above the mat as high as you can hold them. The only part of your body that should have contact with the floor is your belly, from your lower rib cage to the front of your hips. Use your lats and butt instead of your leg muscles to hold the pose. Straining the hamstring could cause cramps; instead, tighten your butt to help you support your legs. Lift your chest to the ceiling as high as you can, using your lats. Hold for at least 30 seconds, breathing deeply. Locust pose strengthens and tones your lats as they open your chest.
Warrior I pose strengthens your lats, as well as your legs. Stand up tall with your feet spread about 4 feet apart. Bend your left knee so your leg forms a 90-degree angle, with your left thigh parallel to the floor. Keep your right knee straight and turn your left foot inward, about 45 degrees toward the right. Turn your left foot out 90 degrees. Lift your arms straight overhead, clasping your hands if you can, and hold the pose for at least 30 seconds. Focus on reaching as high as you can with your arms, which works the lats. Lift your rib cage as far away from your hips as you can. Keep your head neutral and look straight ahead. Do the other side too to work your lats evenly.
The Shoulder-Pressing pose exercises and strengthens your lats by using them to keep your body upright. Squat on your yoga mat with your hips turned out, knees pointing toward your sides and your feet flat on the floor, roughly shoulder-width apart. Press your palms and fingers firmly into your mat directly under your shoulders, with your fingers pointing straight in front of you. Now, take your feet off the ground slowly by rocking forward and back until you find your balance. Allow your feet to move in front of your body, cross your ankles and rest the backs of your knees on the sides of your shoulders, so your thighs are hugging your shoulders. Hold for at least 30 seconds, taking slow, deep breaths. Weak lats can keep you from being able to hold your legs up for this pose; begin with easier poses that strengthen the lats, such as the Upward-Facing Dog, Locust pose and Warrior I, and work your way up to the Shoulder-Pressing pose.