Yoga for lower back pain

Yoga for lower back

Back pain, and in particular lower back pain, is something I come across a lot as a yoga teacher. Lower back pain starts below the ribcage, in the lumbar section of our spine. The great thing about lower back pain is that it often gets better on its own. But it is proven that yoga can help and speed up this process.

Lower back pain can have several causes:

  • Heavy lifting, pulling or doing something that twists your spine.
  • Doing a work-out that was too intense (especially at the gym or playing golf).
  • Sitting at a desk all day (especially when your chair is uncomfortable and doesn’t support your back).
  • A heavy tote bag, briefcase, backpack.
  • A slouching posture, when the shoulders slouch forward the lumbar spine starts rounding and loses its natural curve.

All these lower back issues can be around the muscles, but can also cause sciatica and herniated discs. Both are extremely painful and have to be worked with a lot of caution; careful movements and consciousness of what is going on in the body are key.

People who are at risk are generally over 30 and either have a job where they have to lift a lot, or sit behind a computer for extended periods, they have an inactive lifestyle or are overweight.

The 5 lumbar vertebrae’s are able to do 4 different movements:

  • Flexion (60%) – forward fold
  • Extension (35%) – backward bend
  • Lateral (20%) – sideward bend
  • Axial (5%) – twist

No other part of the spine is able to do a larger forward fold than this low part of the spine. That’s why we so easily can hurt the lower back when we are carrying heavy stuff. It is also the part where our secondary curve, named lordosis, is. When we sit all day, we decrease the curve by bringing our tailbone in and under the body. This causes tension and pain over time.

The 9 poses in the pictures will help you relief tension in the lower back. You can weave them into a sequence or use them as separate poses. If you are suffering from lower back pain, check to see which ones work best for you. Try it out, maybe you can even create variations of the pose, in order to get a bigger relief.

Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breathes through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer then your inhale.  Stay in a pose for at least 3 cycles of inhales and exhales.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • While you’re in a standing pose always check your front knee. When it is bent, it makes a 90-degree angle with your ankle; however, it should never go over your ankle.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.

For further instructions of the poses, see below:

Picture 1: Marjaryasana / Bitilasana
Cat/cow pose. Come to your hands and knees. Knees in a 90 degrees angle with your hips, shoulders with the wrists. Inhale, look up and arch your spine. Exhale, look down and round your spine. Do this with a minimum of 5 times.

Picture 2: Malasana
Squat pose. Step your feet wider apart, at maximum as wide apart as the mat. Turn your feet out slightly. Separate your thighs wider than the torso and bring the hips down. Hugs yourself in between the legs. Keep your heels on the floor, or if necessary, roll up the mat under your feet. Press your elbows against your inner knees and bring the palms together in front of your chest. Hold it for a minimum of 5 cycles of breath.

Picture 3: Purvottanasana
Straight bridge. Sit down on the floor. Legs are fully on the mat and feet are hips distance apart. Place your hands on the mat, fingers pointing towards your feet. Your hands are straight under your shoulders (so next to your body). The hands are placed just behind the hips and thus behind your body. Inhale, push your hips up keep the legs straight. Feet stay fully on the mat, while you push your hips up as high as possible. It helps to squeeze your gluteus together. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.

Picture 4: Salabhasana
Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest off the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.

Picture 5: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.

Picture 6: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.

Picture 7: Utthita Trikonasana
Extended triangle pose. Straighten your front leg, so both legs are straight. Have your torso similar to the Warrior 2 pose. Bring your body weight forward. Bring your arm down towards your leg. Either grab your thigh, lower part of the leg or ankle. Make sure your torso is parallel with your front leg. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.

Picture 8: Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
One-legged king pigeon pose. Come to a downward facing dog pose (picture 7). Bring your right leg up and bring it forward. Right knee goes to your right wrist. Your foot goes as close to your left wrist as possible. Your hips need to be open to do this, so you might want to walk your foot closer to your body. Place your hands next to your hips. Breathe into your chest and stay up straight. A possible next step is to bring your body forward on an exhale. Make a diamond of your hands (hands are on the mat) and place your forehead in the diamond space of your hands. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.

Picture 9: Reclining twist
Reclining twist pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.

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