Yoga is remarkably effective at relieving lower back pain. In fact, it’s the most consistently reported benefit that I hear. And although there are many different types and causes of lower back pain, the most common form stems from our repetitive movement patterns and postural habits—including sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, putting in 60-mile bike rides at the weekend or surfing every morning before work. We’re likely to experience lower back pain if we’re too sedentary but equally if we dedicate ourselves to demanding sports that take a toll on our bodies over time.
There are other types of back pain that don’t respond as well to yoga so please check with your doctor that you have the all clear to practice these poses if you have any concerns. In yoga, pain is always a sign that you need to back off. Not push through.
WHAT CAUSES LOWER BACK PAIN?
“Pain is typically a good thing as it can help us identify something in our lives that is not good for our long term health.” Dr Mercola
Pain is a signal that something is going on in your body that your central nervous system has concerns about. Incidentally, it doesn’t always mean that damage has occurred. The role of the central nervous system is to protect us from injury and help us to avoid future threats.
Here are some common causes of the type of lower back pain that is related to daily movement and postural habits:
- A lack of preparedness, for example, as experienced by mountain bikers riding up steep hills without first strengthening their lower backs.
- Weakness in surrounding musculature, such as an under-developed core, can force the lower back muscles to work harder to compensate.
- Muscular imbalances, for example, when the hip flexors are tight and the glutes are weak it can de-stabilise the lower back.
- The repetition of movement patterns, which is typical in all endurance sports, including running, swimming, climbing and surfing.
- The repetition of asymmetric movements and postures, as we see in sports including tennis, baseball, golf and hockey.
- Compensation patterns, for example, after injury or resulting from a muscle so tight that it restricts movement.
WHY IS YOGA SUCH AN EFFECTIVE ANTIDOTE TO LOWER BACK PAIN?
- One of the key focal points for traditional yoga is improving the strength and flexibility of the spine.
- Likewise, the breath is primary. Breathing from the diaphragm activates the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the body to let go of tension.
- In yoga, we simultaneously stretch muscles that are tight or overactive and strengthen muscles that are weak or under-active.
- On the mat, we slow it right down, which allows us to notice sensations in our body, breathe into areas that feel restricted and stop short of any movements that could cause pain.
- Bringing slow, controlled and gentle movements into painful areas signals to the central nervous system that it is safe to take the breaks off and move again.
- We hold positions with a neutral spine, like Mountain, Plank, Side Plank, Bird Dog and Boat, that strengthen the deep core stabiliser muscles.
- We have a number of poses designed to achieve similar objectives that are suitable for different levels of ability and various times of the day.
YOUR YOGA FOR BACK PAIN SEQUENCE
This sequence is designed to address a range of muscular imbalances, compensation patterns and alignment issues that are commonly correlated with lower back pain.
- Tight lower back.
- Tight hips—hip flexors, groin, TFL and piriformis.
- Stiffness in the thoracic spine.
- Tight calves and hamstrings.
- Weak glutes.
- Weak core—the abs, obliques and lower back.
- Misalignments in the pelvis.
You may recognise that you are prone to all of these issues or to just one or two. Either way, this sequence has your bases covered and all you need is your mat.
Lie down on your back with your arms by your sides—palms facing up. Take a few deep breaths, in and out through your nose. Allow your belly to rise on the inhalation and fall on the exhalation.
POSE 1: KNEES-TO-CHEST
Take a deep breath in. Exhale, hug your knees into your chest. Continue to breathe, slow deep breaths, in and out through your nose. You can rock a little from side to side to massage your lower back.
Knees-To-Chest pide can help to alleviate lower back pain by decompressing the base of your spine.
POSE 2: DEAD PIGEON
Take a deep breath in. Exhale, bring both feet flat to the mat. Cross your left ankle on top of your right thigh and take hold of the back of your right thigh with both hands. Draw your right leg in towards you as you press the back of your pelvis into the mat. Hold the pose for 5-10 deep breaths on each side.
POSE 3. THREAD-THE-NEEDLE
Take a deep breath in. Exhale, hug your knees into your chest. Rock and roll backwards and forwards a few times. Cross your ankles and come forward onto your hands and knees.
Bring your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips. Inhale, sweep your right hand up to the sky. Exhale, thread your right hand under your left shoulder and bring your head and shoulder to rest on the mat. You can bring your left hand to your sacrum or take hold of your right thigh to bind the pose. Hold for 5-10 breaths on each side, breathing deep into your belly and into your lower back.
Thread-The-Needle pose improves mobility in the thoracic spine, which has a tendency to become stiff if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, driving a car or rounded over handlebars.
POSE 4: DOWNWARD DOG
Come back up to all fours. Walk your hands forward to the top of the mat. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, tuck your toes and lift your hips up into Downward Dog. Walk out your feet to stretch the backs of your legs. Keep breathing in and out through your nose. You don’t have to straighten both legs if doing so causes your lower back to round. Hold the pose for 3-5 breaths.
Downward Dog releases tension in the calves and hamstrings and improves mobility in the hips.
POSE 5: LOW LUNGE
Take a deep breath in. Exhale, step your left foot in between your hands. Drop your right knee and release your back foot. Inhale, sweep your arms out and up—touch your palms together. Exhale, relax into the pose. Breathe into the stretch in the front of your right hip. Draw your lower abs in to protect your lower back and hold the pose for 3-5 breaths on each side. It’s perfectly fine if your palms don’t touch.
POSE 6: PLANK POSE
Take a deep breath in. Exhale, bring your hands back down to the mat and step back to Plank. Check that your shoulders are directly over your wrists, spread your fingers wide and reach back through your heels. Draw your ribs in, push the floor away from you and firm your shoulder blades on your back. Hold the pose for 5-10 slow breaths, in and out through your nose.
Plank pose strengthens the abs, obliques and lower back.
POSE 7: BRIDGE POSE
Take a deep breath in. Exhale, drop down to your knees. Sweep both feet to the right and come to seated in the middle of your mat with your feet flat on the mat. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, lower slowly down to the mat.
Rest your hands by your sides, palms face down and walk your feet back until your fingertips graze your heels. Feet are hip-width apart and parallel. Inhale, press into your heels and lift your hips all the way up. Exhale, relax into the pose. If you feel compression at your lower back, you can lower your hips a few inches. Hold the pose for 3-5 breaths.
Take a deep breath in. Exhale, lower slowly back down to the mat. Bring your left hand to your belly and your right hand to your chest. Walk your feet to the edges of your mat. And drop both knees to the right. And to the left. Windscreen wiping your knees a few times to release your lower back. And hug them into your chest.
Bridge pose activates the glutes, engages the hamstrings and lower back and lengthens the hip flexors. It’s another great yoga pose for alleviating lower back pain.
POSE 8: RECLINING SPINAL TWIST
Bring your arms out in a T to prepare for our lower back twist. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, drop both knees to the left and look to the right. Don’t worry if your knees don’t come all the way down. Relax into the pose—letting go of tension on every exhalation. Hold for 5-10 breaths on each side.
Reclining Spinal Twist releases tension at the lower back and can help to correct the alignment of your pelvis.
POSE 9: RECLINING BUTTERFLY
Bring your knees back to centre and hug them into your chest. Keep your feet together and bring your knees out wide. Lower your feet to the mat and let your knees fall open in the shape of a diamond. If that feels uncomfortable at your lower back, you can draw your feet away from you. Keep your arms by your sides or reach them up overhead and take hold of opposite elbows. Relax into the pose for 5-10 breaths—breathing into the places where you feel sensation.
FINAL RESTING POSE
Release your arms, straighten your legs and lie still in Final Resting pose. Tune back into your breath. Allow your whole body to let go of tension and melt into the mat. Relax for a few minutes, assimilatIng the benefits of the practice.
YOUR YOGA FOR BACK PAIN VIDEOS
Yoga has a smorgasbord of poses and solutions for lower back pain. If you’re a subscriber to the site, you can find all the relevant videos here. Including:
- Gentle Flow
- Rest And Recovery
- Lower Back Therapy
- 1-Hour Lower Back Pain
- Back And Shoulder Love
- Supple Spine
And if you’re not a subscriber, what are you waiting for?!
Please let me know if you have any comments or questions. I’d also love to hear which poses you have found give you short and long-term relief.