- Top 6 Yoga Poses for Back Pain
- The yoga practice
- 1. Fists Forward Bend
- 2. Wall Plank
- 3. Downward-Facing Dog
- 4. Pigeon Pose
- 5. Back Traction Pose
- 6. Child's Pose
- 3 more tips for back pain sufferers
- 10 Yoga Poses to Alleviate Low Back Pain
- 1. Cat-Cow
- 2. Bird Dog
- 3. Downward Facing Dog
- 4. Forward Fold
- 5. Plank Pose
- 6. Side Plank
- 7. Bridge Pose
- 8. Supine Twists
- 9. Supine Pigeon
- 10. Legs up the Wall
- Try the Supported Bridge Pose for a Restorative Backbend
- Supported Bridge Pose: A Bridge to Healing
- How to Practice Supported Bridge Pose
- 10 Yoga Poses That Can Hurt Your Back & What You Can Do Instead
Top 6 Yoga Poses for Back Pain
by: Sadie Nardini
Fifteen years ago, I was not acting my age. Since I would recoil from any form of exercise, as well as any green foods, I was overweight, inflexible and debilitated by lower back pain. The 40 extra pounds on my frame — plus tight, shortened back muscles and weak abs — left me moving an 80-year-old version of myself.
I suffered daily from sciatica, back spasms, limited mobility, weakness, you name it. When I got stuck in my car one day, unable to swing my legs out because of my sciatic pain — at age 23 — I realized, “Something’s gotta change.”
I started reading up and realized a shocking number of people suffer with chronic back pain, partly from hours spent sitting in a way that flattens the lower back curve. (BTW, Gaiam's Balance Ball Chair, the very one I’m sitting on as I write this, is a great tool to help build core strength and realign your spine.)
Then, I found yoga. Over time, using some of the same poses I’m showing you here, I built a lean and pain-free body.
The yoga practice
These six yoga poses for back pain provide traction for your spinal muscles as you root through the hips and let a gentle pull or gravity make space between the spinal bones. You’ll walk taller and enjoy a body that’s no longer stopping you, but rather serving you to live, move and play to the fullest.
1. Fists Forward Bend
Stand on your yoga mat with feet hip-distance apart. Bend your knees and release your torso over your legs until your belly touches your thighs (or as close as you can get). Make two fists and place them in the opposite elbow creases. Relax your back, neck, and head, and squeeze fists actively.
Fists and bent elbows together are a central nervous system trigger that causes your back muscles to open. You’ll feel it after just a few breaths!
Take 10-20 breaths here, releasing more tension from the back with every exhale.
2. Wall Plank
Stand in front of a wall at arm’s length. Reach forward from your shoulders and plant your palms on the wall, fingers wide, middle fingers pointing straight at the ceiling.
Firm your fingers into the wall and draw your navel back as you lengthen the tailbone towards the floor. Lift your ribs from the pelvis. You want to work with a natural lower back curve but an active belly.
Keep length in your spine as you begin to walk the legs back, folding at the waist, and walking your hands down the wall. Eventually you’ll come to an L-shape as seen here. If you can’t get there today without feeling pain or rounding in the lower back, bend your knees and maintain the proper spinal alignment.
As you lift the navel and lower ribs into the body, reach long through the tailbone and legs into the floor while reaching the spine, arms and head towards the wall.
Repeat for 10-20 breaths, then fold into Fists Forward Fold once again. Move to the next pose after a few breaths.
3. Downward-Facing Dog
If done properly, this tried-and true asana can be excellent for spinal traction and lower back health.
Move into the pose with feet hip-distance apart [did you know that’s only two fists-width or so?] and hands shoulder-distance apart. It’s important not to let your back arch too much, which pressurizes the shoulder joints and over-contracts the back muscles.
Instead, think of lifting the navel and front ribs, providing a buoyancy in the shoulders and back. Carve the tailbone toward the heels and press back through the inner and outer legs equally.
This provides a root, a backward grounding from which you can pull and grow your spine and head forward towards the space between your hands.
Even as you move the shoulders down the back and wrap your outer shoulder blades towards your armpits slightly, press long through the arms and fingers, providing a whole-body realignment and stretch.
Take 5-10 breaths here, then proceed to the next pose.
4. Pigeon Pose
We should call this pose “Angel of Mercy” for what it can do to rescue your poor aching back.
It’s genius at opening the lower body muscles hamstrings, hip rotators and the iliopsoas muscles, all which can contribute to back pain, without putting too much torque on the already tight back muscles. This releases them by springing open the muscles beneath. It’s a must-do in my yoga sequencing.
From Downward-Facing Dog, bring your right knee behind the right wrist, foot either touching the left hip crease or slightly forward. Stretch the left leg out long behind you, knee and top of the foot facing the floor.
Center your hips in space even if they don’t touch the floor. Press your palms into the floor or a yoga block, ground your legs into the mat, and allow your legs to stretch while you let your low back curve and lift up.
Draw your navel and pelvic floor muscles in and send your heart to the sky. To deepen this pose, move your front knee wider and back and creep the back leg longer.
Take 5-10 breaths here, then fold forward, forearms on a block or the floor for a full-body stretch to counterpose. Return to Downward-Facing Dog, then repeat on the other side.
5. Back Traction Pose
After your last Pigeon, swing your back leg around and come onto your back, knees bent, feet under knees as if to prepare for a Bridge Pose. Grab your yoga block or if you don’t have one, a firmly-rolled yoga mat will do.
Lift your hips, and place the block in the center of your hips (not low back). The block should be the skinny way, in the same direction as your spine, not wide across the hips your pants line.
Place your hips on the block and gently walk your feet wide. Knock your knees in towards one another for one minute to stretch across the sacrum, and then walk feet and knees together. Lift your knees over your hips until you can relax them but still stay suspended in the air.
This pose will release your iliopsoas muscles, providing traction for the low back spine. After about 30 seconds or so, scoot your head further from the shoulders and rest for another 30 seconds. Return to the first variation, feet wide on the floor, knees closer, for a few breaths.
To release, walk the feet under the knees at hip distance. Engage your navel, lift your hips off the block and remove it to the side. Roll slowly down the spine inch by inch and enjoy your new spacious lower back curve and sacrum!
6. Child's Pose
Roll over and take Child’s Pose for one minute or more. Try knees wide, big toes closer, but end with knees together for a neutral spinal stretch. If your head doesn’t touch the floor, place a yoga block or fists under your forehead so you can relax completely.
Breathe slowly into your back body, expanding more nourishing energy and space on the inhale, and on the exhales, let ever more tension dissolve.
3 more tips for back pain sufferers
- Don't overemphasize ab work. A common misconception about healing back pain is that the back is weak and that you just need to work the core more. Actually, when you only work the core muscles — as in a hundred crunches a day — you may just be shortening your front body to match the back one.
This can further pull on the spine and cause more disc compression and too little (or too much) curvature.
Optimally, you want greater core strength andlength in your abdominals, side waist, low, and mid back. To do this, your back muscles will have to release, and both your back and core will have to stretch as well as flex.
We’ll do both simultaneously in each of these yoga for back pain poses.
- Breathe slowly and deeply through the nose for the duration of the practice. On your inhales, flare the ribs wide, and as you exhale, contract around your navel while maintaining a long, natural spine.
- For a longer yoga practice to strengthen and open up your lower back, try Rodney Yee's Yoga for Back Care DVD or his yoga practice on the Mayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for Back Pain DVD.
Note: Consult your doctor or physical therapist about yoga for back pain before starting, especially if you're experiencing severe back or leg pain now or during the practice, or if you have known disc problems, hernias or degeneration.
10 Yoga Poses to Alleviate Low Back Pain
Just a couple of months ago, I pulled a low back muscle while lifting weights. This was not the first time I had injured this muscle, so I knew I needed to seek treatment to prevent further injury and to be able to continue with my fitness routine and yoga practice.
I went to the orthopedist and to physical therapy, where I noticed something interesting: nearly all the strengthening and stretching exercises I was asked to do were based in yoga.
I wasn’t that surprised because the keys to a healthy back are mobility, flexibility and strength—which can all be improved through a consistent, basic yoga practice.
Try these ten moves for a tight and achy back. If you have moderate to severe pain, please consult with your physician before beginning an exercise routine.
Find a quiet space with minimal distraction. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Use a yoga mat if you have one, but any flat, firm surface will work. Begin by sitting in a comfortable seated position for a couple of minutes. Close your eyes and simply pay attention to your breath, inhaling and exhaling through the nose.
Cat-cow is an effective way to relieve tension in the lower back, especially if you've been sitting or standing for a long period of time. It's also a great way to warm up the body.
Kneel on all fours with shoulders directly over the hands and hips over the knees. The spine is in a neutral position. Inhale, tuck the toes under and arch the back.
Keep the arms long as you lower the belly toward the earth, gently gazing upwards. As you exhale, untuck the toes, press the palms into the earth and round the back, gazing toward the navel.
Repeat for five cycles and then return to a neutral spine.
2. Bird Dog
Bird-dog is an excellent way to build core strength. Begin on all fours. Extend the right leg directly behind you with the toes and hips pointing downward, keeping the spine long.
Gently extend your left arm in front of you with your thumb pointing up to the sky. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, round the back, touching the opposite elbow to knee. Inhale and extend the arm and leg long.
Repeat five times and then switch to the other side.
3. Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog stretches the spine, hips and hamstrings all at once. From all fours, tuck the toes under and lift the hips toward the sky, moving the body into an inverted “V” position.
Allow the spine and legs to lengthen as you reach the heels toward the ground (the heels don’t need to touch the ground). Make sure your legs are at least hips-width distance apart. If the hamstrings are tight, you can bend the knees.
Hold the pose for five cycles of breath.
4. Forward Fold
This is the perfect place from which to enjoy low back muscle relief. From downward facing dog, walk the feet up to the hands. Keep a bend in the knees (listen to your hamstrings!) and allow the torso to hang heavy over the legs. Hold opposite elbows with your hands and gently sway from side to side, keeping the core engaged. Hold the pose for five cycles of breath.
5. Plank Pose
One of the best ways to increase stability in the back is to strengthen the core muscles.
From forward fold, place your hands on the ground and walk the legs back into plank pose (the top of a push-up). Engage the leg and glute muscles while slightly tilting the pelvis under.
To modify this pose, gently place the knees on the ground, keeping the spine long. Hold the pose for five cycles of breath.
6. Side Plank
Now it’s time to get serious about firing up those core muscles. From plank pose, press the left palm firmly into the earth.
Pivot onto the outside edge of the left foot and inside edge of the right foot; reach your right hand toward the sky. Keep the hips lifted away from the ground. Hold the pose for five cycles of breath.
Return to plank pose. Repeat on the other side. To modify, keep the bottom knee on the ground.
7. Bridge Pose
Strengthening the muscles around the back and glutes can also improve back stability. Gently lie down on your back.
Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground, hips-width distance apart, walking the heels in toward the bottom and keeping the arms by the sides.
As you inhale, scoop the pelvis under and peel your hips up to the sky while pressing the feet and arms into the ground. As you exhale, roll the spine down, vertebra by vertebra. Repeat three to five times.
8. Supine Twists
Twisting can help to create more mobility in the spine. While lying on your back, bring the arms out into a “T” position, palms facing down. Gently lift the feet off the ground until the shins are parallel to the ground.
As you exhale, let the legs fall over to the right side, doing your best to keep the left shoulder grounded, and turn your head to the left. Relax the legs completely. If you are experiencing a lot of tightness, slide the knees closer to your feet or place a yoga block, pillow or rolled up towel between your thighs.
Hold the pose for five to 10 breaths. Inhale, engage the core and return the knees to center. Repeat on the other side.
9. Supine Pigeon
Opening the muscles around the hips can assist in low back pain relief. From a supine position with feet lifted, knees bent, and shins parallel to the floor, cross the right ankle over the left knee. Make sure the right ankle is flexed.
To progress, thread the right hand through the space created between the thighs and clasp your hands behind your left thigh, opening the right hip, energetically pressing the whole unit of the legs away from you. If your hands do not reach to clasp, use a strap or towel between the hands.
Hold for five breath cycles. Release the pose and switch sides.
10. Legs up the Wall
Bringing the legs up the wall not only increases blood flow to the legs; it also allows the lower back muscles to completely relax.
Lie on your back with your buttocks as close to the wall as possible and place your legs up the wall, relaxing your torso.
If the hamstrings feel tight, move your buttocks away from the wall until the pose feels more easeful. Breathe and relax for one to five minutes.
To come the pose, scoot your buttocks away from the wall and roll onto your right side in a fetal position. Slowly make your way up to a seated position. Place your hands together in front of the heart, take a deep inhale through the nose, and a slow exhale through the mouth to complete your practice. Namaste!
Our Back Pain LiveClass is designed to help you learn how to improve function, reduce pain and enhance overall quality of life. Get more info here.
Try the Supported Bridge Pose for a Restorative Backbend
Verywell / Ben Goldstein
Targets: Restorative, spine extension, core
Equipment Needed: Yoga block, yoga mat
A supportive block under your sacrum in Bridge Pose turns this yoga backbend into a restorative pose. It allows the spine to experience extension while being gently supported. This pose may help relieve back pain and might be used as part of the cool down in a yoga sequence.
A yoga block can be turned to stand at three different heights, so you can choose the height that is the most comfortable. While you can hack a yoga block in many cases, whatever you use for Supported Bridge must be really solid since your weight is going to be resting on it.
The restorative nature of this pose comes from the head and neck being lower than the heart. This suppresses the sympathetic “fight-or-flight” nervous system and promotes the parasympathetic nervous system.
Back extensions also help relieve the hunch from poor posture and sitting, giving you more flexibility and mobility for daily activities. It helps open the chest for better breathing, as well. And if you have chronic low back pain, this pose may offer some relief.
This pose works the core abdominals, back, hip, and hamstring muscles. It especially brings the obliques into play, which help keep the pelvis and lower back centered. While the hamstrings are in use supporting the pose, their opposite muscles—the quads and hip flexors—get a good stretch, too.
You will need your yoga block or a similar solid bolster handy.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor.
- Extend your arms on the floor with your fingers reaching toward your heels. You should be able to just barely touch the backs of your heels with your fingertips.
- Keep your feet parallel. Maintain that position throughout the pose.
- Press down into the soles of your feet to lift your hips off the floor.
- Slide your yoga block under your back directly under your sacrum, letting it rest securely on the bolster. Your arms can stay outstretched on the floor next to your body.
- This should be a comfortable position. You may want to stay here several minutes as your body settles into the stretch and gets the benefits of a passive backbend. If the pose causes your back to hurt, remove the block and come down.
- To come out, press down into your feet and lift your hips again. Slide the block out from under your sacrum and gently lower your back to the floor.
Beginners and those with back pain should be sure that the block is under the sacrum, which is between the coccyx (tailbone) and the lower back. You don't want the block centered too much on the tailbone or the lower back, but rather in that sweet spot in between.
Beginners can find a modification to make this pose easier while developing their skills. You can also make changes to challenge yourself as you progress.
A standard yoga block can be set up at three different heights, depending on the side that is on the floor. When you first try this pose, it's a good idea to start with the block on the lowest height, since this is its most stable and gentle position.
If the lowest height feels comfortable and you want a deeper stretch, you can try turning it. The highest height will give you the deepest backbend, but it is also the least stable, so go carefully. Since this is a restorative pose, choose the level that gives you the most ease. If you feel any pain, come out.
If you feel very stable, try lifting one leg off the floor while keeping the block in place under your sacrum.
Straighten your lifted leg up to the ceiling, or try bending it and placing your ankle on the thigh of the opposite leg (the one still on the floor) for a hip opener.
Keep the foot of the raised leg flexed in either position. After several breaths, return that foot to the floor and try the other side.
You may also lift both legs at the same time, which is a supported version of Shoulder Stand.
If you feel any pain, release this pose. While some people use it to relieve chronic low back pain, it is best to avoid it if you have a new onset of back pain, a flare-up, or a recent back injury. Avoid it as well if you have any neck or knee problems.
As your head will receive more blood flow, avoid this pose if you have any condition that could be worsened by it, such as glaucoma, detached retina, recent dental bone grafts, or uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:
- Classic Restorative Yoga Poses
- Cool Down Yoga Poses
- Heart Opening Yoga Poses
Thanks for your feedback!
What are your concerns?
Supported Bridge Pose: A Bridge to Healing
This entry was posted on February 1, 2018 by Charlotte Bell.
In 1989, I went to India to study with B.K.S. Iyengar and his daughter Geeta. Studying yoga in India was an eye-opening experience. While there are many, many great teachers in other parts of the world, there is something about practicing in the place where yoga began.
The rhythm of life in India is just so different from that of the West. I don’t know how to describe it without sounding New Agey, so I’ll leave it at this: I’ll just say that it was an immersive experience—definitely tangible, but also indescribable.
On the more practical side, it’s undeniable that visiting India can be fraught with health challenges. Our Western guts aren’t used to the bugs that permeate the food and water. All but one person in my group of 33 ended up being down for the count for a few days with amoebic dysentery.
Later in the trip, many of us developed sore throats and sinus problems. Pune was, at the time, a city of 2 million souls. Even so, there were no regulations as to what fuels could be burned. The city’s particulate-laden air took a toll.
The good news is, the Iyengars were very experienced at dealing with these issues. Instead of encouraging us to stay away from practice when we felt crummy, they’d have their assistants lead us through a practice specific to our health challenges.
The one pose they prescribed for all the various health challenges we faced was Supported Bridge Pose. Of course, there are situations where it wouldn't be appropriate, but in general, it’s a pose that promotes healing for a wide variety of maladies.
One reason is the head/neck position. When your head is below your heart and your neck is flexed, it triggers a process called the ”baroreflex.” In a nutshell, the baroreflex suppresses the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) side of the autonomic nervous system. Because of this, practicing Supported Bridge Pose promotes relaxation.
In addition to the relaxation effects, Supported Bridge Pose stretches the hip flexors, expands the chest. It can also be helpful for digestion.
Contraindications to Supported Bridge Pose include disc problems in your neck and back or knee problems. Because it is a slight inversion, avoid Supported Bridge Pose when you’re on your menstrual period or if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, glaucoma or detached retina.
How to Practice Supported Bridge Pose
- Gather your props: a nonskid yoga mat and one or two yoga blocks.
- Lie on your mat with your blocks close by. Place your arms close in to your sides.
- Bend your elbows and press your upper arms into your mat to help you arch your ribcage up.
- Straighten your arms out alongside your body, and then press your feet down into the floor.
As you plant your feet, stretch your knees out away from your pelvis to lift your hips. For a more detailed description of this instruction, read this blog.
- Place your block under your pelvis—not your low back. It should be positioned under the sacroiliac (SI) joint. Make sure the block is placed widthwise across your SI joint so that it supports both sides of the joint.
- Begin by placing your block at its lowest height (Baby Bear position). If that feels easy, you can turn it on its side (Mama Bear position, as in the photo). If that feels fine, you can try turning it to its highest position (Papa Bear position). If at any point, you feel stress anywhere as you increase the height of the block, go back to the previous position.
Your body—and your nervous system—will not relax if you’re feeling pain or discomfort.
- If your knees are uncomfortable, feel free to place a block between your knees and squeeze your knees into the block. For this, you’d want to use the narrowest dimension.
- Relax your neck, throat and jaw, as well as your facial muscles. Breathe deeply.
You can stay here for as little as a minute or two or for longer—up to 15 to 20 minutes—if it’s comfortable.
- To leave the pose, lift your hips off the block. Remove the block and set it aside. Extend your arms out overhead and slowly roll your spine down onto the floor.
- Stay here for several breaths, allowing your back body to soften into your mat.
Here’s another way to practice a restorative bridge pose, using two yoga bolsters.
10 Yoga Poses That Can Hurt Your Back & What You Can Do Instead
So you finally made it to a class at the hip new yoga studio in town, but rather than feeling a peaceful warrior at the end, you felt your body had just been through a battle. To make matters worse, the next day you woke up with an intense back ache.
Full wheel pose requires lower body strength, spine, shoulder and wrist flexibility. Image Credit: Michael Gray
If done correctly with breath, awareness and slow progressions, yoga can be beneficial for reducing back pain, increasing flexibility and building strength_.
_ The problem is that many new students come to yoga class unprepared for poses they've never done before. They may have a host of mobility issues, muscle imbalances or chronic aches and pains.
Back pain being the most common (approximately 8 10 people will experience back pain at some point).
Here are a few common yoga poses that can potentially increase or lead to back pain when done incorrectly and what you can do to avoid pain and injury.
Lack of hamstring flexibility can cause the low back to round excessively in forward folds. Image Credit: Michael Gray
Forward folds help create space between the vertebrae and counter gravity's downward pull. But since many people lack the flexibility in their hamstrings, the lower back rounds, which lengthens the connective tissue, weakens the back and creates instability around the lumbar spine.
Bring the ground to you by placing your hands on blocks, bend your knees, and hinge at the hips as you maintain length in your spine. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The Fix: Bend your knees. Bring the ground to you by placing your hands on blocks. Hinge at the hips maintaining length in your spine. Compress your abdomen to your thighs by engaging the abdominal muscles. Maintaining the compression, begin to straighten your legs as much as your flexibility allows.
Lack of mobility in the mid spine (thoracic spine) can lead to compression of the low back in backbends. Image Credit: Michael Gray
When yoga students can't extend the thoracic spine, the lumbar spine may take the hit in backbends such as Upward Facing Dog.
“The body will take the path of least resistance, if the thoracic spine lacks mobility the lumbar spine experiences excessive lordosis (sway in low back),” says David Lee, sports chiropractor and functional range conditioning mobility specialist. “This causes compression and possibly degenerative changes, too.”
Mobilize every part of your spine with this activation drill. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The Fix: Cat cow is a highly effective yoga pose for back pain, but to get even more the move, add activation with the segmental cat cow. The slow, controlled movement brings activation to each segment of the spine to improve mobility.
HOW TO DO IT: Begin on your hands and knees. Exhale as you round your back, pull the belly button toward your spine and tuck your chin toward your chest.
Starting at the tailbone, release one segment of your spine at a time, relaxing through the lumbar spine, thoracic spine (mid-back) and finally, your cervical spine as you lift your chin upward into full flexion. Then reverse the motion.
Be aware of what segments feel stuck. Breathe into these spaces and remember to move slowly.
Hovering inches from the ground in chattarangua requires full body strength and strong core engagement. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The main problem you see in Chattrarangua is the sway back due to lack of core strength. Without strong core engagement, the spine gets compressed. The key is to not only hug your navel to your spine, but to also activate the glutes and legs, slightly tucking the hips to lengthen the tailbone towards your heels.
Build strength for proper body alignment in hollow body pose. Aim to keep your low back on the mat. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The Fix: Hollow body position is an excellent core strengthener that teaches proper body alignment for Chattarangua along with a host of other advanced asanas from Warrior III to Handstand, but it's even great for helping to improve daily movements such as standing, sitting and walking, as it improves body alignment.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back, lift your legs up to 90 degrees. Pull your navel into the spine, press your low back down into the mat. Roll your shoulders off the mat. Lower your legs to your lowest point where you can keep the low back on the mat.
If hip flexors are very tight one may overarch the low back to compensate. Image Credit: Michael Gray
Many people compensate for lack of hip flexibility by overarching the lower back, which can cause over time. Instead of trying to straighten out the back leg, it's better for your lower back to keep a bend in the knee and activate the glute of the extended leg.
Bending the back knee and tucking your hips can help stretch the hip flexors and protect your low back. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The Fix: Keep your back knee bent. Tuck the hips by rolling the frontal hip points up towards the rib cage and drawing navel to spine. Squeeze your glute to feel the stretch in your hip flexors.
Standing twisting poses require lower body strength, thoracic spine mobility, and balance. Image Credit: Michael Gray
Revolved side angle pose or any twisting pose can potentially lead to low back pain if done incorrectly. This is another pose that requires thoracic spine mobility for the twist along with core engagement. The key is to try to to keep the sacrum stable so you don't over twist at the low back.
Create more stability by lowering your back knee to the mat and aim to keep your hips even as you twist from your mid-spine. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The Fix: Bring one knee to the ground to find stability. Twist and bring your hands together. On the inhale lengthen the spine and on the exhale press your hands together and press your upper arm against your upper leg to move deeper into the twist.
Forward folds can overstretch the low back to compensate for lack of hamstring flexibility. Image Credit: Michael Gray
Forward folds stretch the hamstrings, but if performed improperly, forward folds may do more harm than good. The two main problems are lower back rounding, which creates strain, and the hips hinging behind the ankles, which stresses the hamstrings and the tendons in the back of the knees, says traveling yoga teacher Joan Hyman.
In forward folds think about lengthening your spine as you hinge at the hips to feel the stretch in the hamstrings. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The Fix: Sit up tall with your legs together. Engage your quadriceps (tops of thighs) to lengthen your hamstrings. You can put a slight microbend in the knees. Hinge at your hips while maintaining a long spine. You will feel the stretch at the top of the hamstrings rather than the low back.
Boat pose is an excellent core strengthener as long as you are using your deep abdominals muscles and not rounding through the low back. Image Credit: Michael Gray
Boat pose is an excellent yoga pose to strengthen the core and create total body strength and coordination, but the main mistake people sometimes make is a rounding through the back — both upper and lower. This decreases core activation and can hurt your back if done excessively.
Place your toes on the mat and ground your sitting bones as you find length along your spine. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The Fix: Instead of lifting the legs, bend the knees and touch your toes down to the ground or place your feet flat on the mat. Ground down through your sits bones and lengthen the spine by drawing navel, back body, and waist in toward your midline to support the spine. Think about lifting your sternum up.
Full wheel pose requires lower body strength, spine, shoulder and wrist flexibility. Image Credit: Michael Gray
Full wheel pose, urdhva dhanurasana, is a challenging pose for many, as it requires lower body strength, spine mobility, hip flexor and quadricep flexibility, and shoulder and wrist flexibility.
This pose may compress the low back if a student lacks the above mobility prerequisites and performs this pose too fast and too early in their practice.
Backbends, particularly one as full on as wheel pose, should be worked up to gradually.
Supported bridge pose is a restorative posture that helps lengthen the low back. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The Fix: You can still get the benefits of backbends with a more gentle version. Supported bridge is a great alternative to help create length in the lower back.
HOW TO DO IT: Place a block under the sacrum relax on your back breathing deeply into your low abdomen and low back.
Plow pose stretches the back and helps to calm the nervous system. Image Credit: Michael Gray
Halasana is a pose that provides a deep low back stretch. It opens the spine and shoulders, and stimulates the thyroid gland.
It's a deeply grounding and calming pose if performed with ease, but if not, it can be uncomfortable and injurious to the spine, particularly the cervical spine.
If a student lacks engagement of bandhas (spinal locks) to help support the spine and transfers weight to the neck versus across the shoulders, it can be problematic.
Modify shoulder stand and plow pose by setting a yoga block under your sacrum and extending legs up towards the sky. Image Credit: Michael Gray
The Fix: supported bridge pose you can place a block under your sacrum and lift the legs up toward the sky or lie on your back facing a wall and place your legs up the wall to receive the benefits such as a stretch for the low back, restoring energy levels and improving circulation.
Relieve low back pressure by placing a bolster or rolled up blanket under your knees in savasana. Image Credit: Michael Gray
Savasana is a pose for deep relaxation. It's the final rest at the end of a yoga class to allow time for integration, but if you're not used to lying on a wood floor, it can be uncomfortable.
The Fix: Lying on your back, place a small pillow or rolled-up blanket under your head if you want. Place a bolster or rolled up blanket under your knees to protect your low back. Find length through your lower back and relax the pelvis and hips. Let your arms rest by your sides with your palms facing up.