Just a couple of months ago, I pulled a low back muscle while lifting weights. This was not the first time I had injured this muscle, so I knew I needed to seek treatment to prevent further injury and to be able to continue with my fitness routine and yoga practice. I went to the orthopedist and to physical therapy, where I noticed something interesting: nearly all the strengthening and stretching exercises I was asked to do were based in yoga. I wasn’t that surprised because the keys to a healthy back are mobility, flexibility and strength—which can all be improved through a consistent, basic yoga practice.
Try these ten moves for a tight and achy back. If you have moderate to severe pain, please consult with your physician before beginning an exercise routine.
Find a quiet space with minimal distraction. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Use a yoga mat if you have one, but any flat, firm surface will work. Begin by sitting in a comfortable seated position for a couple of minutes. Close your eyes and simply pay attention to your breath, inhaling and exhaling through the nose.
Cat-cow is an effective way to relieve tension in the lower back, especially if you’ve been sitting or standing for a long period of time. It’s also a great way to warm up the body.
Kneel on all fours with shoulders directly over the hands and hips over the knees. The spine is in a neutral position. Inhale, tuck the toes under and arch the back. Keep the arms long as you lower the belly toward the earth, gently gazing upwards. As you exhale, untuck the toes, press the palms into the earth and round the back, gazing toward the navel. Repeat for five cycles and then return to a neutral spine.
2. Bird Dog
Bird-dog is an excellent way to build core strength. Begin on all fours. Extend the right leg directly behind you with the toes and hips pointing downward, keeping the spine long. Gently extend your left arm in front of you with your thumb pointing up to the sky. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, round the back, touching the opposite elbow to knee. Inhale and extend the arm and leg long. Repeat five times and then switch to the other side.
3. Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog stretches the spine, hips and hamstrings all at once. From all fours, tuck the toes under and lift the hips toward the sky, moving the body into an inverted “V” position. Allow the spine and legs to lengthen as you reach the heels toward the ground (the heels don’t need to touch the ground). Make sure your legs are at least hips-width distance apart. If the hamstrings are tight, you can bend the knees. Hold the pose for five cycles of breath.
4. Forward Fold
This is the perfect place from which to enjoy low back muscle relief. From downward facing dog, walk the feet up to the hands. Keep a bend in the knees (listen to your hamstrings!) and allow the torso to hang heavy over the legs. Hold opposite elbows with your hands and gently sway from side to side, keeping the core engaged. Hold the pose for five cycles of breath.
5. Plank Pose
One of the best ways to increase stability in the back is to strengthen the core muscles. From forward fold, place your hands on the ground and walk the legs back into plank pose (the top of a push-up). Engage the leg and glute muscles while slightly tilting the pelvis under. To modify this pose, gently place the knees on the ground, keeping the spine long. Hold the pose for five cycles of breath.
6. Side Plank
Now it’s time to get serious about firing up those core muscles. From plank pose, press the left palm firmly into the earth. Pivot onto the outside edge of the left foot and inside edge of the right foot; reach your right hand toward the sky. Keep the hips lifted away from the ground. Hold the pose for five cycles of breath. Return to plank pose. Repeat on the other side. To modify, keep the bottom knee on the ground.
7. Bridge Pose
Strengthening the muscles around the back and glutes can also improve back stability. Gently lie down on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground, hips-width distance apart, walking the heels in toward the bottom and keeping the arms by the sides. As you inhale, scoop the pelvis under and peel your hips up to the sky while pressing the feet and arms into the ground. As you exhale, roll the spine down, vertebra by vertebra. Repeat three to five times.
8. Supine Twists
Twisting can help to create more mobility in the spine. While lying on your back, bring the arms out into a “T” position, palms facing down. Gently lift the feet off the ground until the shins are parallel to the ground. As you exhale, let the legs fall over to the right side, doing your best to keep the left shoulder grounded, and turn your head to the left. Relax the legs completely. If you are experiencing a lot of tightness, slide the knees closer to your feet or place a yoga block, pillow or rolled up towel between your thighs. Hold the pose for five to 10 breaths. Inhale, engage the core and return the knees to center. Repeat on the other side.
9. Supine Pigeon
Opening the muscles around the hips can assist in low back pain relief. From a supine position with feet lifted, knees bent, and shins parallel to the floor, cross the right ankle over the left knee. Make sure the right ankle is flexed. To progress, thread the right hand through the space created between the thighs and clasp your hands behind your left thigh, opening the right hip, energetically pressing the whole unit of the legs away from you. If your hands do not reach to clasp, use a strap or towel between the hands. Hold for five breath cycles. Release the pose and switch sides.
10. Legs up the Wall
Bringing the legs up the wall not only increases blood flow to the legs; it also allows the lower back muscles to completely relax. Lie on your back with your buttocks as close to the wall as possible and place your legs up the wall, relaxing your torso. If the hamstrings feel tight, move your buttocks away from the wall until the pose feels more easeful. Breathe and relax for one to five minutes.
To come out of the pose, scoot your buttocks away from the wall and roll onto your right side in a fetal position. Slowly make your way up to a seated position. Place your hands together in front of the heart, take a deep inhale through the nose, and a slow exhale through the mouth to complete your practice. Namaste!
Our Back Pain LiveClass is designed to help you learn how to improve function, reduce pain and enhance overall quality of life. Get more info here.