Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons people show up in my office and more recently one of the reasons people come to yoga classes. After hundreds of studies showing the benefits of yoga on low back pain, the word is finally getting out to the public. This is good news since an estimated 85 percent of people will experience lower back pain during their lifetime. If you’ve ever felt it, you know how it turns the most basic movements into insurmountable tasks. Suddenly sitting, walking, or bending can feel like the most challenging yoga pose. Low back pain is commonly associated with too much sitting, but it is experienced by all types of people — from the sedentary to the athletic. Fortunately, yoga can help in both cases.
Yoga helps alleviate back pain because it both stretches and strengthens key muscles of the lower back and pelvic girdle while creating length in the spine. Over time a regular yoga practice will create stability in the core and aid in cultivating proper alignment and body awareness that you can take off your mat and put into practice in the movements and tasks of your daily life.
Part of the therapeutic aspect of yoga versus standard stretching is due to the mindfulness and breathing techniques. Not only is there a physical benefit to doing the poses, but the practice of yoga has been shown to positively impact your cognitive appraisal, reduce stress, and improve neuroendocrine function. In other words, it gives you a better outlook on life, minimizes psychological distress, and balances stress hormones — all of which affect the sensation of pain.
While certain yoga poses are beneficial for low back pain, they can be equally harmful if done incorrectly or mindlessly. It is important to make sure your alignment is correct and that you’re listening to any signals of pain that your body may give you. If you’ve never done yoga before, you may want to consider going to a class or workshop, or at least have a yoga teacher go over some main alignment points with you.
Here are a few poses that can help alleviate lower back pain by creating stability in the core and low back area, as well as stretching muscles that are chronically tight.
This movement is excellent for bringing flexibility into the spine and stretching the front of the body.
- Begin in a neutral tabletop position: shoulders stacked over wrists, hips over knees, and knees hip distance apart.
- Inhale into Cow pose. Let your the tailbone lift skyward as your belly drops toward the floor and shoulders roll back. Broaden across the collarbones and lift your chin.
- Exhale into Cat pose. Round the back, pull the navel up toward spine. and look back toward thighs.
- Repeat this movement 5-10 times.
2) Downward facing dog
The entire spine is lengthened and decompressed in this position. It also lengthens hamstrings, tones the core, and improves overall circulation.
- Begin in a neutral tabletop position
- Spread the fingers wide and keep middle or pointer finger to the front of the mat.
- Curl the toes under, lift the knees off the ground, and send the hips up and back towards the ceiling. Keep head and neck in-line with the arms. Imagine the body making a V shape here.
- You can keep the knees bent to allow for expansion across the low back. Make sure to maintain a small, egg-sized curve at the base of the spine, (i.e., don’t tuck your pelvis under) and engage abdominal muscles.
- Hold for 5-10 deep breaths.
Stretches the muscles along the spine, hips, and inner thighs. It can also help in relieving sciatic nerve pain.
- Begin in a neutral tabletop position: bring right knee to right wrist and right ankle towards the left wrist.
- Extend the left leg back with the kneecap and top of the foot resting on the floor.
- Press fingertips into the ground and lift/lengthen through the front side of the body, then release the torso to the ground, a block, or forearms.
- Focus on keeping the hips square to the front of the mat.
- Hold the pose for up to a minute on each side while breathing deeply.