If you experience back pain, yoga is a therapeutic practice that will treat both the physical pain and the mental stress that comes along with it.
Yoga promotes an awareness of the body that will teach you how to recognize where the power lies within your hands to relieve tension and pressure on your back. Regularly practicing the poses described below will improve your posture and balance your body so that you can optimally care for your spine.
1. Downward Facing Dog
This asana balances the entire body! It relieves back and neck pain while stretching the hamstrings, opening the shoulders, and strengthening the arms and abdominal muscles.
Start on all fours, then tuck your toes and lift your hips so your tailbone is reaching up towards the ceiling while your heels draw down towards the floor, with thighs pressed back. Bend your knees if your hamstrings are inflexible.
Relax your neck as you look between your feet. Feel your shoulder blades moving away from one another for a deep upper back opening.
Hold for five to ten breaths.
2. Sphinx Pose
This is a gentle backbend that will strengthen your back, open your chest and shoulders, and stretch your abdominal muscles.
Lying on your belly, bring the elbows under your shoulders with forearms on the floor. Spread your fingers out wide and lift your upper body. Open your heart forward. Keep your chin slightly tucked and gaze at the horizon, engaging your abdominal muscles slightly to protect your lower spine.
You can safely experiment with holding this posture for longer stretches of time. Try it for one, three, or five minutes.
3. Cobra Pose
Cobra Pose can help with sciatica, strengthen the muscles along your spine, and aid in relieving the stress that often comes with back pain.
When performed correctly, with your shoulders relaxing down the spine and away from the ears, you’ll develop an awareness of the shoulders and upper back that will empower you to keep your posture that in proper alignment.
Start by lying on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders, fingers pointing forward. Press into your hands and, squeezing elbows to your sides, begin to straighten your elbows, opening your heart forward. The tops of your feet, legs and pelvis are also pressing into the floor.
Take five cycles of long, slow, deep breaths.
4. Bridge Pose
The beauty of the bridge pose is that you can make it energizing and challenging, or it can be restorative and relaxing with a block under your lower back, right beneath the hips. You’ll strengthen and stretch your back, relieving tension and bringing awareness to your range of motion.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet firmly planted on the floor a few inches away from your sit-bones. Keep your arms down by your sides and press into your feet as you lift your hips up towards the ceiling.
Your thighs will be parallel to the floor. If you feel comfortable, bring your hands together and interlace your fingers behind your back, raising the hips even higher.
Aim to keep this posture for five breaths.
5. Plow Pose
Come to the plow pose from shoulder stand by hinging at the hips and touching your toes to the floor behind your head. If you can’t keep your legs straight, you can practice this posture close to a wall and press the soles of your feet into the wall.
You may keep your hands on your lower back for support, or plant your forearms onto the floor.
Enjoy a soothing yet intense stretch through the whole back body as you slow your breath down and hold for five to ten full breath cycles.
If you’re comfortable and pain-free, you can transition to the “deaf man’s pose” by bending your knees and pulling them in close to your ears, raising your tailbone towards the ceiling.
6. Spinal Twist
There are many seated and reclined twisting poses to choose from. When your back is feeling sensitive, this easy twist can be soothing and relieve pressure.
Sit in Easy Pose, often used in meditation, with your legs crossed and your hands resting on your thighs. Allow your inhale to draw the crown of your head up toward the sky while your exhale creates a rooting sensation through your tailbone.
When you feel settled, use an exhale to place the back of your right hand against the outside of your left knee.
Continue to use your breath to create a natural twisting movement. Inhales lengthen your spine as you grow taller and exhales help you settle more deeply into the twist.
7. Child’s Pose
Simple and restful, this forward fold will gently stretch your lower back, while relaxing the neck and shoulders.
Sitting on your heels with your thighs and knees together, walk your hands forward on tented fingers and lay your belly down on your legs. Take a deep inhale. Then, as you exhale, feel the sensation of your back stretching, releasing and rounding over your thighs. Gently rest your forehead on the floor. Relax the palms of your hands onto the floor and take long, soft breaths.
Create a meditative experience by imagining your spine filling up from tailbone to crown on the inhale and emptying out from crown to tailbone on the exhale.
Rest here for up to seven minutes. If your hips do not reach down to your thighs, you may place a pillow or a rolled up blanket between your hips and your calves.
Through the process of healing back pain, it’s important to find the delicate balance between strengthening and stretching. Attention, awareness, and deep breaths will be invaluable tools so that you can reap the full benefits of your yoga practice while avoiding further injury.