If you are experiencing severe or persistent back pain, or if you have suffered a recent injury, do not attempt any of the yoga suggestions in this article. Instead, please consult with a health care professional to ensure you receive the care you need.
You’ve reaped yoga’s benefits and tried convincing your brother, mother, and dental hygienist they can benefit from practicing, too. Stressed? Try yoga. Trouble sleeping? Yoga can help. Back pain? You really should consider yoga.
Of the myriad of positive outcomes resulting from a consistent yoga practice, relief from lower back pain is at the top of the list. These days it isn’t only anecdotal stories, but peer-reviewed research that is giving the green light to yoga as treatment for back pain, even when compared to other methods like physical therapy. Statistics are continually showing back pain as one of the top reasons for missed work. All things considered, setting aside time for a short yoga practice may prevent and alleviate lower back pain and generally boost one’s ability to succeed in life.
People experience lower back pain for different reasons, so assigning a series of movements as a catch all for back pain is a tough task. We know that most cases of lower back pain are mechanical, meaning the condition originates from how the spinal joints are moving, along with the state of the muscles, tendons, fascia, ligaments, and intervertebral discs. What varies with each case of mechanical low back pain is how it came to be and what activities or movements are exacerbating the problem. Thus, exercises promoting healing will also be variable. If you have a muscle spasm from moving mulch all weekend, it may not feel super to do a forward bend or flex at your hips and spine. On the contrast, if your back is tired from standing and walking on the concrete floor at conference all day, those same movements could be exactly what you need and crave. You see the dilemma. The way around all of this is through yoga asanas that are gentle instead of extreme. This type of movement can promote mobility along with strength. If you experience lower back pain, these are three yoga poses that fit the bill.
Note: The best way to begin a yoga program is with the help of an experienced yoga teacher. As always, consult with your healthcare practitioner before trying out a new routine to be sure nothing you are doing is contraindicated.
You might be tempted to remain bed bound when you're sore, but gentle movement is a must for shortening the life of pain. This doesn’t mean any kind of extreme bending or twisting, but simple and small ranges of motion to keep muscles supple and blood moving. Cat-Cow is a basic flexion and extension exercise that will do just that.
How to practice: Begin on your hands and knees, padding your knees if needed. Exhale as you push down into the floor, rounding or flexing your spine toward the ceiling like a Halloween cat. Inhale as you reverse the direction, extending or bending back through your spine like a Brahman cow. Remember this should be gentle movement, so keep your range of motion somewhere near or below 70% of what your body can do. If being on the floor isn’t an option, Cat-Cow can also be done seated by moving to the edge of a chair, placing your hands on your knees and tilting your pelvis forward and backward. Whichever option you choose, practice a total of 10 times.
Our instinct tells us that if something hurts, we should stretch it, but that leaves us overlooking the incredible amount of strength we need to support our spine. In a day’s work, our back can face the demands of sitting or standing long durations, lifting both light and heavy things, and that weekend warrior game of racquetball. A strengthening posture like Plank Pose can ensure your abdominal and back muscles are giving you all the support you need.
How to practice: Start on your hands and knees. Keeping your shoulders directly over your wrists, lift your knees to create a line that runs from your heels to your head and intersects your hips and ribcage. You may need a friend to help confirm. Without creating a hunched position in your upper back, draw inward through the front of your floating ribs while reaching your tailbone back and down. Keep your legs and arms energized. Now, take 5 deep breaths, expanding the sides of your ribcage. Release your knees to the floor. Repeat plank 2 more times.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
If you’re going to pick only one muscle to stretch to relieve lower back pain, choose your psoas. The psoas is a muscle that performs hip flexion or bending at your hip—like when you lift your leg to walk up steps or to get in or out of a car. It also contracts when we sit.
If your psoas muscles spend more time contracting than stretching or relaxing, it can create excessive lumbar extension or a tipping forward of your lower back and pelvis. This leaves your back quite vulnerable no matter what activities consume your day.
How to practice: From a hands and knees position, or an upright kneeling position, take one foot forward. Inch it ahead until you feel as though you can bend your front knee fully without your knee jutting too far beyond your heel. Use a blanket or towel to cushion your back knee, if necessary. Place both hands on yoga blocks or at the floor to the inside of your front leg. Much like you did in plank, keep your lower back supported by engaging your abdominal muscles, drawing your tailbone back and downward. This will take out any excessive extension or sinking in your lower back. You should now feel a stretch around your front hip pocket or hip flexors of your back leg. Take deep breaths, and hold for 1 minute. Repeat on the other side. If getting down on your knee or lowering to the floor is too big of a feat, you can also practice this in a standing position. Simply take a big step back with one foot, staying on your back toes as you tend to the same directions mentioned above.