Back pain is one of the most common complaints heard by doctors today. There are many possible causes for back pain, including stress, injury and overuse. In yogic terms, back pain is the result of built up stress in the back coupled with poor muscle tone.
According to a study published in “Clinical Rheumatology” in September 2011, yoga has the potential to reduce lower back pain. Yoga for back pain should be practiced on a regular basis to have any real therapeutic value. As always, check with your health care provider before beginning this or any fitness program.
Seated Forward Bend
Seated forward bends help to warm up the low back muscles and provide a deep stretch in the hamstrings. Tight hamstrings can often contribute to back pain.
Begin sitting upright on the mat with the legs stretched out in front of you. Inhale and reach both arms up overhead. Exhale and extend forward, reaching for the feet, ankles, or as far as you can.
Drop the head and relax the neck and shoulders. Breathe deeply. As you inhale you will lift away from the legs slightly. As you exhale, try to relax more and get a little closer to the legs. Hold this pose for as long as possible, or up to one minute.
In another variation of seated forward bend, you can stretch one leg at a time. Bend the left knee, bringing the foot into the groin. Inhale and reach up overhead. Exhale and reach forward, extending over the right leg. Gently back up the leg, then repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
Weak abdominal muscles can also contribute to back pain. Boat pose is a core-strengthening posture. It requires some balance, but mainly helps to strengthen and tone the abdomen and back muscles.
Begin sitting upright on the mat with the knees bent, feet together. Rock back slightly and balance on your tailbone. Breathing deeply, lift both legs together, bringing your body into a “V” shape. Reach forward with the hands and extend through the fingers. If this is too challenging, modify the pose by keeping the knees bent, shins parallel with the floor. Hold for several breaths, then rest. Repeat 2 or 3 more times.
Plow pose is an inversion pose designed to release tension from the entire back area. It also improves flexibility in the spine and hamstrings.
Lie flat on the mat on your back. Inhale and extend both legs up toward the ceiling, supporting your lower back with your hands. Your body weight should be in the shoulders and upper back, not on the neck. As you exhale, lower one leg at a time behind you, keeping the legs straight. Try to touch the floor with your toes if you can. If not, just drop the legs as far as they will go and continue to support your low back with your hands. Breathe deeply and hold for up to one minute. Relax by rolling the legs gently back down onto the mat.
While plow pose is a deep forward bend, bridge pose is a deep back bend. It helps to strengthen the thighs and buttocks, while providing a deep opening in the back and chest.
Begin lying flat on your back with your knees bent, feet together. Inhale and press the hips upward, squeezing the buttocks. Arch the back deeply and begin to walk the arms together underneath the body, interlacing the fingers. Press into the floor with your forearms to achieve a deeper back bend. Breathe deeply and hold for up to one minute. Rest back down on the mat gently, then repeat 2 or 3 more times.
Cat-cow stretch is actually a combination of two poses, cat and cow pose. It helps relieve tension in the back and maintain good flexibility.
Begin on your hands and knees. Your hands should be under your shoulders, knees under your hips. Inhale and look upward, dropping the belly down and allowing it to fill with air. Exhale and round the back like a cat, squeezing the belly up toward the spine and looking down at the floor. This is one round. Repeat for 10 or 12 rounds, moving with your breath.
In another variation of cat-cow, you can strengthen the back by adding in a leg stretch. Begin on your hands and knees as above. Inhale and look upward, while stretching the right leg back behind you. Exhale and round the back, bringing the knee into the chest. Perform 10 or 12 stretches on the right, then rest and repeat the stretch for the left leg.
Lying Spinal Twist
Spinal twists help to relieve tension in the entire back. Lying spinal twist is a gentle pose that is best practiced at the end of a session.
Begin lying flat on your back on the mat. Inhale and bring the right knee into the chest. Exhale and guide the knee over to the left side of the body. Keep pressing the knee down with the left hand as you extend the right hand out to the opposite side. Look over at your right hand, breathing deeply. Hold for up to one minute, then repeat the stretch with the left knee.
It is a good idea to begin and end each yoga for back pain session with a few minutes of deep breathing. You can practice this either lying down or sitting upright in a comfortable cross-legged position. Perform 10 or more deep breaths.
“Clinical Rheumatology”; Yoga for Low Back Pain; P Posadzki, et al; September 2011 – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21590293