Has anyone told you lately that yoga’s a cure-all and that you might as well cancel your health insurance and start eating brownies for breakfast? No? I guessed not.
So now we’re all agreed that yoga isn’t a cure-all, there are some pretty nifty aspects to a regular* yoga practice that can help make our lives way more magical. Namely, and for the purposes of this particular blog episode, yoga poses that can help ease lower back pain and support spinal health.
*Yes, this means doing them once in front of the telly while you watch Mad Men doesn’t count.
Here are some of my favourite ways to use yoga to ease lower back pain in myself and my students:
This is a fairly subtle movement, but can really help you feel into your lower back and almost feels like it brings everything back to factory settings. Move with breath, and follow these steps:
- Lie on your back with your feet flat to the floor about a foot or so forward of your pelvis with your knees bent and pointing up.
- Bring a hand under the lower back – right where the arch lifts away from the floor.
- Breathe in and press that part of your spine down into your hand while lifting (slightly – we’re talking an inch or two here) your tailbone up.
- Breathe out and lift that part of your spine away from your hand, more than its natural position, and feel the tailbone pressing down.
- Repeat with breath. Feel free to remove the hand once you’ve got the hang of it.
This movement doesn’t involve actually lifting the pelvis off the mat, but it’s about tilting your pelvis forward and backward. Try it – it goes great at the start or end of a movement practice – and see how you get on.
Cat and cow
This one’s more of a transition, but after saying that, the individual cat and cow are beautiful yoga poses in their own right. Think of cat and cow as an extension of the pelvic tilt I mention above.
How to: from hands and knees, inhale and press your chest forward, lift your gaze, lift your tailbone and feel like you’re trying to connect the back of your head and your tailbone together. Great to lengthen out the abdominals, chest, and the front-side of your spine.
How to: from hands and knees, press the floor away, tuck your chin and your tail, and feel like you’re trying to connect your forehead and pubic bone, almost hollowing out the belly and chest.
Bonus: add an expert wiggle. An expert wiggle is done by you – the expert – wiggling into tight, stuck, and oh-my-god-I-forgot-I-had-that-part places. In cat and cow this could look like shifting weight forward and backward, left and right, circling the hips or the rip cage, or shortening one side-waist then the other. Moving in these sort of ways can be just the ticket to feeling less stuck.
I love this one. It’s a perfect yoga pose to ease lower back tension and it’s super accessible. Here’s how to find it:
- Sit cross-legged. Keep your left leg (relatively) where it is, lean over onto your left hip, and rotate your right leg in so the knee comes over toward the left foot, the right foot over toward the right, big-toe side down.
- Bring the right knee and left foot together, so the knee and the sole of your foot meet(ish). If this is too much, feel free to overlap the knee over top of the calf.
- Twist away from the feet over towards the left.
- Stay high, or maybe start easing yourself down – belly over left thigh.
- Breathe, pause, then repeat on the other side.
Probably one of my favourite pre-savasana (or relaxation) poses ever, this one is about, well, twisting. It’s a great yoga pose to ease tension from the back as well as everywhere else – consider this your go-to after your next stressful day, or full day sat at your desk. Here’s how it goes:
- Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. I like to circle the knees a bit here – notice how the lower back feels when the knees are close compared to when they’re further away.
- Bring your left hand to your outer right knee. Keeping your right shoulder firmly planted on the mat, ease the knees over to the left. Too much? Straighten the legs a bit, moving the knees further from the chest. Want more? Maybe try straightening the top right leg and hold the foot. You don’t get brownie points for going deeper, remember. This is a feeling thing.
- Turn your gaze to the right, away from the knees. You can reach your right arm out right, and your left hand can gently press into the top knee to help facilitate a deeper twist.
- Breathe. Inhales, feel the spine getting longer. Exhales, sink into the twist.
- Repeat on the other side.
Downward facing dog
The most ubiquitous of all the yoga shapes, down dog is an amazing pose that helps you wake up, strengthen, and lengthen your spine. You really get the best bang for your buck with this pose. Try warming up wrists and shoulders a little first (see cat and cow above), then, take these steps:
- From hands and knees, press down into fingertips and thumbs and press your hips up and back, elongating the spine in the process.
- Softly bend your knees, maybe peddle out the legs (bend one, then the other).
- Keep your ears between your upper arms, reach the crown towards your thumbs, and gaze somewhere between the hands and the feet.
So often I’ll see students straining to straighten the legs and/or trying to bring heels to the mat. This can actually cause a rounding of the back when our focus here is about lengthening the spine. So, bend those knees a little, deprioritise bringing your heels to the mat, and really lengthen from crown to tail. Oh, and don’t forget to breathe.
Another favourite and beginner-friendly yoga pose, this is a place of ease and rest. Or, at least, that’s what I want you to find. If you don’t look like me, your teacher, or that bendy woman you follow on Instagram, who cares. Just make sure this is comfortable and resting. Here’s my favourite variation:
- From hands and knees, bring your knees a bit wider and your big toes together.
- Slowly press your hips back toward your heels and your forehead toward the mat – hands can be by your sides or stretched out forward (elbows heavy – as little effort as possible, please).
- Rest and breathe.
Hips nowhere near your heels? Don’t sweat, this is common. You can put a cushion on your heels to give you more height, a cushion under the forehead (this can be nice either way), or, just get comfortable with the thighs and hips being more lifted.
The best thing you can do? Jump straight into a yoga class to support back health (this 12-minute Upper Body Opener’s one of our member favourites).
And remember, while these are some of my favourite yoga poses to ease back pain, this list definitely isn’t exhaustive. Try practicing a few times a week, if only for ten minutes each time, and see what a difference this movement thing can do for you.
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