Yoga Poses for Lower Back Pain

Shoshana Hebshi-Holt
bridge pose

Yoga for Lower Back Pain

Yoga is a great way to relieve lower back pain. Many extension poses, such as bridge pose pictured here, work to reverse the patterns in your spine that can cause pain.

To enter this pose, lie down on your back and bring your feet to the ground, knees bent. Feet should be hip-distance apart. Arms stretch alongside the body, palms face down. On an inhale, begin to press into the feet and lift the hips, feeling the spine lift. Continue to deepen the pose by lifting through the chest and pushing into the heels.

happy baby/dead bug

Happy Baby/Dead Bug Pose

Happy Baby or Dead Bug Pose, also known as ananda balasana in Sanskrit, is a great way to loosen the hips and give relief to the low back.

By lying on the back, bring the knees into the chest and separate them out toward the shoulders. Reach for the back of the thighs and pull the legs toward the ground. Simultaneously, reach the feet toward the sky, pressing through the heels and the balls of the feet.

Make sure the entire spine, from the back of the head to the tailbone, is secured to the ground. For more stimulation, grab hold of the toes or the outsides of the feet. You may also want to gently rock side to side.

seated forward bend

Seated Forward Bend

A basic pose, seated forward bend or paschimottanasana, lengthens the spine and stretches the lower back.

Begin seated with your legs in front of you, straight and strong. With a flat back, hinge forward from the hip joint, reaching your chest toward your toes. When you begin to feel your back bend, stop moving forward and place your hands on your feet, ankles or legs for support.

Deepen by continuing to lengthen the spine, reaching the heart toward the toes and bringing the sits bones toward the back of the room.

standing forward bend

Standing Forward Bend

Uttanasana, or standing forward bend, is usually cued in yoga classes as a forward fold. The upper body folds over the lower body. This pose can spell great relief for lower back pain, but it can also cause lower back strain if practiced improperly.

Much attention should be paid to the connection between the ribs and the thighs. They should always be touching. If the knees need to bend to get the ribs and thighs to touch, then they should be bent. Hands should be placed on the ground for support. Belly button is pulled in and the tailbone is reaching to the sky.

Camel Pose

Camel Pose

Camel Pose, or Ustrasana, is a deep backbend that should be performed slowly and with caution. Its benefits are great, and there are many modifications to make this pose accessible.

Beginning on the knees hip-width apart, bring your hands, either in fists or flat palms, to the lower back. Squeeze your elbows together and begin to lift through the crown of the head. Taking an inhale, begin to push the hips forward while simultaneously lifting the chest toward the sky.

To deepen, bring the hands to the heels. To achieve good alignment, place a block between the thighs.

cobra pose

Cobra Pose

Cobra pose, or bhujangasana, brings strength into the lower back and core muscles. There are many options for this pose.

Beginning on your belly, place your hand under your shoulders, elbows pointing straight back. On an inhale, lift the head, neck, shoulders and chest and press the tops of the feet into the ground. To check that you are using your back strength and not your arms, lift the hands off the floor.

For more depth, gently press into the hands and lift up higher, pulling the belly button in toward the spine and reaching the heart forward.

rabbit pose

Rabbit Pose

Rabbit pose, Sasangasana, dives deep into the lumbar spine, opening space you may have not known you had.

Starting in child's pose, reach around to grab the outside of your heels. Bring your forehead as close to your knees as you can, resting the top of your head lightly on the ground.

Take an inhale, and on the exhale, pull on the heels and begin to lift the hips. The more you pull on your heels, the less weight is put on your head. Be careful to keep as much weight off your head as possible to avoid putting your neck in a compromising position.

Keep the forehead close to the knees as you deepen the pose with each breath.

seated spinal twist

Seated Spinal Twist

Twists are always good to maintain a healthy spine. They can also help alleviate back pain. With twists, however, it's important to not go too deep too quickly. Ease into them slowly and allow your body to find its natural limit rather than pushing or forcing a twist.

To begin the seated spinal twist, start seated with the hips even and both legs stretched out in front. Bring the left knee in toward the chest and set the foot firmly on the ground. Stay here, or for a deeper hip and glute stretch, cross the left foot over the right thigh. Make sure both hips are still even. If not, uncross the foot.

To twist, take an inhale and lengthen the spine. On the exhale, begin to twist to the left, first from the belly button then through the ribs, chest, neck and finally, the gaze. Allow the left hand to come beside or behind the left hip. The right hand can fall where it feels natural. Avoid using leverage to deepen the twist. Hold for five to 10 breaths. Untwist and switch sides.

plank pose

Plank Pose

When lower back pain occurs, it often signals a weak core. Plank pose is an effective way to strengthen all the muscles of the core.

Begin on all fours. Walk the hands slightly forward and then bring your weight forward so the shoulders are over the hands and there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees on the ground. Pull the belly in and keep the shoulders spread down the back, away from the ears. Hold here for as long as you can, breathing deeply.

For an additional challenge, raise the knees, coming into full plank position. Play around with the length of time you hold it, or even challenge yourself to holding plank every day, increasing time by five or 10 seconds each day.

Legs up the Wall

Legs Up the Wall

This restorative pose is a wonderful way to lengthen the hamstrings and relieve strain on the back. It is so relaxing you may even begin to feel sleepy.

Sitting perpendicular to a wall that is free of hanging objects or furniture, bring your hip as close to the wall as possible. Lie down on the ground and extend your legs up the wall. You might want to have a pillow, bolster or yoga block to place underneath your sacrum. This will elevate your hips and provide more support for the pose. If you have a yoga strap, try fastening it around your thighs to provide even greater support for the pose.

The arms can rest alongside the body, on the stomach or be raised above the head, whatever feels most comfortable. Hold this pose for at least a minute, breathing deeply throughout the duration.

locust pose

Locust Pose

Another good back extension is Locust Pose, salabhasana. It is much like cobra pose, but goes a little deeper.

To begin, lie prone on the ground with your arms alongside your body, palms facing up. Inhale and lift the head, neck, shoulders and chest, then the arms and pull the fingers toward the back wall. Lift the legs. If there is any lower back pain here, lower the legs.

Continue to extend through the chest forward while pulling the fingers and the toes backward, finding length throughout the entire body. Hold for three to five breaths and release.

half forward fold

Half Forward Fold

Usually found as part of the Surya Namaskar, sun saluation, ardha uttanasana, or half forward fold, is a lift that brings strength and focus to the back.

From forward fold, take an inhale, pulling in the belly button and flattening the back. The chest will reach forward and the spine will lengthen. The hands can walk up the legs to achieve a flatter back. Hold for one to three breaths and release back to forward fold.

Cat pose

Cat Pose

Cat pose is a wonderful stretch for the entire spine. Focusing on rounding through the tailbone can get good extension in the deep lumbar spine.

To begin, get the hands right under the shoulders, and the knees under the hips. On an exhale, begin to tuck the tailbone under, using abdominal muscles to tighten and pull further. Bring your chin toward your chest. Inhale, and either come back to neutral spine or take a counter stretch into cow pose, bringing the chest forward and lifting the gaze.

Repeat at least one more time.

supine twist

Supine Twist

Supine Twist offers a deep stretch in the mid and lower back. It also can relieve tension in the hips and IT bands of the outer thighs.

Starting on the back, bring the knees into the chest and then roll both knees to the left side. Both shoulders should remain fixed to the ground. If this is too deep a stretch, prop up the bottom knee with a block, bolster or blanket. Another option is to extend the right leg and keep the left leg bent and twist to the right side.

Hold for five to 10 deep breaths and switch sides.

standing straddle splits

Standing Straddle Splits

Like the forward fold, standing straddle splits provides a deep stretch to the lower back as well as to the hamstrings. Low back pain and tight hamstrings often go hand-in-hand, so it's good to stretch the rear of the thighs to ease any tightness in the lower back.

Standing with the feet about a leg's length apart with toes pointing forward, bring your hands to your hips. On an inhale, lengthen the spine. Exhale and hinge from your hips forward until you feel you back start to bend. Then bring your hands to the ground or a block and release the head and neck. Rock your weight forward so it sits in the center of your foot and allow each exhale to bring you deeper into the pose.

child's pose

Child's Pose

One of the foundational poses, child's pose, balasana, offers an opportunity for deep relaxation and surrender.

Starting on all fours, reach the hips back toward the heels. The hips may come to rest on top of the heels or stay in the air. Knees can be spread apart or remain close together. Arms can be outstretched or come alongside the body with the palms facing up.

For additional support, place a bolster or blanket under the hips, under the torso and forehead, or stack your hands under your forehead. This pose should be comfortable and able to be held for at least a minute. Continue to breathe deeply while in child's pose, allowing the lower back to relax with each exhale.

downward facing dog

Downward Facing Dog

Another foundational pose, downward facing dog, or ardho mukha svanasana, is great for opening up the back and to relieve pressure on the vertebrae. It is a mild inversion, so you are reversing the pressure of the body's weight on the spinal column.

From child's pose, stretch the arms as far forward as you can and press the hands securely into the ground. Tuck your toes under and press through the heels to extend your legs and lift your hips until you are in an upside down v-shape.

If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees slightly and press deeply into the floor with your hands to lift your hips higher and achieve a straighter back. Your hips should feel as if they are lifting up and back. If there is a lot of weight in your shoulders, bend your knees more and try to pick your hips up even further.

Hold for three to five breaths.

Headstand

Headstand

The fundamental inversion, headstand or sirsasana, works against gravity to relieve pressure on the back. It requires focus and attention to precise alignment, as well as core strength. Beginners should start at the wall.

From downward dog, come to your forearms and measure the distance between your elbows with your hands. You should be able to grab the outsides of each elbow. Make a cup with your palms and rest your head inside, just behind the crown. Begin to walk the feet in, lifting the hips higher. When the hips are directly above the shoulders, bring the shoulders down the back, away from the ears. Bring one knee into the chest, then the other. Connecting with your core, begin to extend your legs slowly until they are fully extended.

Make sure very little weight is put on the head so as to protect the neck. Push through the balls of your feet toward the ceiling and continue to bring your shoulders away from your ears. Hold here for at least five breaths.

Yoga can help reduce pain and restore your body's balance.

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Yoga Poses for Lower Back Pain