Studies have shown that yoga has huge benefits for those with nagging back pain. Try these poses if you need some relief in the lower back.
Anyone else felt a sense of inertia over the last year?
Life is standing still. And we’re… well, we’re doing a lot more sitting than standing these days. With only one opportunity to get outside each day, and so many of us working from hastily set-up home offices, it’s only natural that creaky knees, stiff necks and achy backs are on the rise. In fact, The Independent reported last year that over a third of British people have suffered increased back pain since lockdown started.
Should we be worried about that?
Well, yes and no. Stress and anxiety can increase muscle tension, so worrying is most definitely not going to help! But finding practical solutions to help ease your back pain now, without letting it worsen, is going to prevent problems further down the line.
But how does yoga help back pain?
Yoga postures (or asanas, to use the Sanskrit word), promote muscle strength and flexibility. You might find many yoga resources online that concentrate on stretches to relieve that tight feeling around the back (we love child’s pose, or balasana, for loosening up in the morning!), but the best yoga poses for back pain will combine these lovely stretches with strength-building postures to build up the core muscles around the abdomen, back and pelvis. These help to stabilise the spine and give you more permanent protection from back pain.
There have been lots of studies showing the long-term benefits of yoga for back pain, and we have students in our beginner yoga classes here at the Frog Project who have noticed significant improvements in their aching backs since picking up yoga.
Since I started doing yoga a couple days a week my posture, body and strength has improved, and so has my mood too! So beneficial! Barbara
The teachers are great with advice on adaptations to moves for the less agile, that's me! I have gained so much benefit from the sessions both mentally and physically, and fully intend to carry on when we finally get out of lockdown. Helen
It’s all about slow movements
As anyone who’s had back pain knows, jerky movements are like being jabbed by a hot poker in the spine. Yoga teaches you to breathe into each posture, moving mindfully and slowly to ease into your pose. Yoga’s natural concentration on slow, smooth movement helps to relieve the stress and anxiety that make your muscles tense up, helping you to stretch out and build strength safely.
Of course, if you have really severe pain, or if you’ve ever experienced injuries such as a slipped disc or any spinal fractures, then you should absolutely speak to your doctor before starting any yoga practice. A live online yoga class is the best option, as you’ll have a qualified teacher who will ensure that your posture is correct, or give you variations if there are some poses that are not yet accessible for you. Yoga is for everyone, after all!
So here you go. Eight of our favourite easy yoga postures for back pain. These are asanas that not only stretch out the back muscles, but also build core strength to permanently protect your spine.
1. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
A classic yoga pose that elongates the back. It’s a sneaky pose that may feel lovely and restful, but is actually an active stretch that’s really helping lengthen those back muscles. Try it in bed, either morning or night, for a bit of TLC. From kneeling, with knees either together or wide, allow your tummy to come towards the top of your thighs and reach your arms out in front of you. Lower the forehead towards the floor, or rest it on your hands or a cushion. Take a big breath in and fill your body up. As you exhale, feel everything sinking towards the floor. Stay as long as you like.
2. Cat/Cow (Bidalasana)
Normally a warm-up pose to flex the spine, this yoga pose can be done at any time of day, wiggling out any compression that has built up from sleep, sitting or standing. You can even do a seated variation at your desk for a little work stretch. For the normal version on all fours, breathe in and drop the belly. Lift the back of the head towards the tailbone and look up. Breathe out and round the centre of the spine towards the ceiling, bringing your forehead towards your pubic bone. Do several rounds connected to your breath, as fast or as slow as feels good to you.
3. Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
This yoga posture stretches out your hip joints and gives a gentle stretch down the back. Lie on your back, with your legs in the air. Bend the legs into your belly and take the outside of each foot with your hands. Lift the feet up so that your shins are perpendicular to the floor, ankles over knees with the feet flexed. Gently pull the feet down so that your knees come towards your armpits. You should feel a nice balance and resistance as your hands pull on your feet, and your feet naturally push back up into your hands. If you have your balance, try rolling from side to side – it feels great down the back!
4. Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward Dog builds strength across the shoulders and down the back, as well as stretching out the whole of the back body. From all fours, tuck the toes under, push through the hands and, with a big breath in, lift the knees and send the hips high. Keep a bend in the knees if you need to, and take your time to find the perfect downward dog for you. Everybody is different! Spend time peddling out your legs until you find a comfortable position for you.
5. Triangle (Trikonasana)
This is a great posture for strengthening the back and legs, and stretching the muscles along the side of your body. From a low-lunge position, put your back heel down and turn the toes out 45 degrees, so that they’re pointing towards the long side of your mat. Come up to standing, and straighten both legs. Lift both arms out into a ‘T’ shape, palms facing outwards. Reach forwards with the front arm, and then downwards, turning the chest to the side so that it opens out the body. You’ll have one arm reaching towards the sky and the other towards the floor. Don’t overstretch – it doesn’t matter if you can’t touch the ground with your hand. Just go as far as is comfortable for you, and hold for a few rounds of breath. You should feel quite a strong stretch in the hamstring, and the core working to stabilise you.
6. Plank (Phalakasana)
It may not seem like a pose that you really want to get on board with when you’re suffering from back pain, but a plank pose, as well as side plank (with both legs up or one leg down), can really help to strengthen those core muscles that support your back. With your full body on the floor, belly down, bring your elbows underneath your shoulders with hands flat to the mat or in fists. Curl the toes under and push yourself up to a plank position, keeping your belly firm and engaged. Hold for several rounds of breath. Feel free to sway a little side to side if the pose ever feels too intense. A nice middle ground could also be to rest your knees on the floor. If you take this option be sure to keep your core engaged so you're still focusing on building strength while you breathe.
7. Bridge (Setu Bandhasana)
This is a strong position, engaging the glutes and the back to support you all the way through. Lie on your back with your legs bent and knees pointing towards the sky, your feet about hip width apart. Rest your arms alongside your body, palms on the ground. Engage your things and start to raise your tailbone off the floor pushing your pelvis toward the sky. Go as high as feels comfortable for you. Hold for several rounds of breath. If your back is quite strong this might actually feel like a nice stimulating hold. When you’re ready, gently lower your spine back down vertebrae-by-vertebrae, ending with your tailbone.
8. Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
If you sit down all day at a desk, it’s likely that your hips will be pretty tight. This hip-opening pose is great for stretching the pelvic muscles that support the back. Even if you just fancy a couple of minutes off the desk, you can easily sink into this on the living room carpet! Start in table-top or downward dog, and bring your right leg forward, laying it down on the mat. The ideal is that the shin will be parallel to the short edge of your mat, but for many people this isn’t accessible. That’s no problem, just try to get your right knee behind your right hand, and edge your right foot up to your left hand as far as it feels right for you. The left leg is laid straight back behind you, and your right foot will be resting in the left-side of your groin. You can use your hands to support you, staying upright, or fold forward over the leg for a deeper stretch. Stay for a few rounds of breath before switching legs.
So there you go! Eight yoga poses to help stretch and strengthen your lower back. We’d love to hear if these poses work for you!
If you're already on your yoga journey and ready to take the next step, why not try our Live Online Yoga classes, bringing you accessible yoga for all, from our living room to yours? Sign up now for 15 days of free unlimited classes.
Carmel is a travel professional and lover of literature and Latin America. In her day job at a tour operator she whisks people away to far off destinations, while in her spare time she moonlights as a freelance copywriter. You can find her portfolio here https://carmelhendry.journoportfolio.com. While not writing, or dreaming about travel, she can be found playing the piano, cycling or practising yoga. She’s spent the last year learning how to do a headstand, but mostly can be found relaxing in child’s pose! Join her and the Frog Project Community with 15 days of free unlimited classes. It’s just yoga.