12 Yoga Poses for Back Pain – Strengthen and Heal Your Lower Back

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After making it to the big leagues – aka cubicle life – I noticed a major shift in my overall energy and health. The key driver behind this shift was – drumroll please – sitting.

We all sit.

We sit in our cars.

We sit on our couches.

We sit at work.

We sit while eating.

We sit. We sit. And then we sit some more.

But here’s the scary part. Sitting is leading to a nationwide epidemic. Millions of people suffer from back and neck pain every year with most cases stemming from our modern sedentary lifestyles.

To drive this point home, below are a few factoids on this sitting epidemic:

Sedentary lifestyle contributes to or can be a risk factor for:

  • Organ damage: heart disease, over-productive pancreas, and colon cancer
  • Muscle degeneration: mushy abs, tight hips, limp glutes
  • Leg disorders: poor circulation and soft bones
  • Foggy brain, strained neck, sore shoulders, and back
  • Bad back: inflexible spin and disk damage.

How the back suffers:

The back suffers from the neck down to the tailbone; it’s an all-over crisis. I know ‘crisis’ sounds extreme, but truly, sitting is the new smoking. Let’s examine this a bit deeper:
While sitting at your desk, the neck is strained from the constant craning action towards a keyboard or computer screen. The shoulders are overworked from the constant rounding action of the back, which results in poor posture.

And our spines – aaaaah!

The spine becomes inflexible due to lack of movement and fresh blood pumping through the system. This “lack” then leads to the discs becoming squashed and uneven, eventually leading to hardened collagen in all the wrong places.

So how can we relieve and ultimately reverse the aches and pains from our sedentary lifestyles?

Here’s what professionals recommend:

  • Sit on something wobbly like a stability ball.
  • Stretch the hip flexors often.
  • Alternate between sitting and standing.Take frequent walks.
  • Try doing yoga – duh!

That last bullet point is why I’m writing this article and why you’re here. I love yoga, you love yoga, now let’s use the beautiful practice to heal our bodies and reverse all that damn sitting!

Below are 12 yoga poses to help relieve tension, circulate the blood, create space in the body, and most importantly – help our backs feel young again.

Psst… Want to take the class? Watch the free video tutorial at the bottom of this article.

1. Apanasana

  • Begin lying on your back with legs and arms extended long.
  • Exhale – bring both knees into the chest and clasp your hands around them.
  • Keep the back flat on the mat and draw the tailbone and sacrum toward the ground to lengthen the spine.
  • Release the shoulder blades down and broaden across the collarbone.
  • If comfortable, rock gently from side to side to massage the spine.

Benefits: helps keep the low back long, often used a counter stretch to backbends and spinal twists, and used as an eliminator of waste, toxins, and tension.

Cautions: avoid if recovering from abdominal surgery, hernia, spinal, knee, or hip injury.

apanasana


 

2. Ardha Apanasana

  • Begin lying on your back with legs and arms extended long.
  • Exhale – bring both knees into the chest and clasp your hands around them.
  • Hold the right knee into the chest and extend the left leg long.
  • If comfortable, rock the knee from armpit to chest, then find stillness wherever is comfortable.
  • Keep the back of the neck long and shoulder blades pulled down away from the ears.
  • Stay for a minute, and then switch to the other leg.

Benefits: helps release tension in the lower back, hips, and thighs and aids in stiffness of the spine.

Cautions: avoid this pose if you have spinal injury or sciatica.

Ardha Apanasana


 

3. Supine Spinal Twist

  • Begin from the pose above and with the right knee into the chest.
  • Exhale – roll onto your left hip as the right knee softens toward the ground.
  • Extend your right arm out along the floor, shoulder-width height.
  • Keep the left hand resting gently on the right knee.
  • Let the right knee become heavy, slowly releasing further towards the floor.
  • Stay for 10 – 30 breaths.
  • Inhale – gently engage the low belly and bring both knees back to center.
  • Repeat the above steps on the left side.

Benefits: stretches the back muscles and glutes, massages the back and hips, hydrates the spinal discs, and lengthens, relaxes, and realigns the spine.

Cautions: if back pain or back injury is a concern, bring both knees together and twist to your body’s comfort.
spinal twist

spinal twist 2


 

4. Cat & Cow Pose

  • Begin in a neutral tabletop position – shoulders stacked over wrists, hips over knees, and knees hip-width distance apart.
  • Inhale into Cow pose – belly softens towards the ground, the tailbone lifts skyward, shoulders roll back, collarbone broadens, chin slightly lifts, and the gaze goes toward the ceiling.
  • Exhale into Cat pose – tailbone drops toward the ground, round the back, belly comes up and in, and allow head and neck to completely relax.
  • Repeat this movement 5 – 10 times.

Benefits: strengthens the low back with a lengthened spine, creates stability in the wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, and knees.

Cautions: for sensitive joints, support the knees by folding the mat or placing a blanket underneath them.

cow pose

cat pose


 

5. Forward Fold

  • Begin in Mountain pose and bring hands to the hips.
  • Exhale – bend the knees and release the entire body towards the ground.
  • Keep a bend in the knees – as deep or mild as you choose.
  • Let the chest, head, and neck completely relax and melt down.
  • Engage the quadriceps to let the hamstrings release.
  • Keep the weight in the balls of your feet and hips stacked over ankles.
  • Inhale – gently feel the torso lift and lengthen.
  • Exhale – release deeper in the posture.

Benefits: increases forward flexion in the spine and hips, calms the brain, relieves stress, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, and insomnia, and deeply stretches the hamstrings and calves.

Cautions: if suffering from back pain or back injury, keep the knees bent and the body soft.

forward fold


 


 

6. Downward Facing Dog

  • Begin in a neutral tabletop position like Cat/Cow pose above.
  • Spread the fingers wide and keep middle or pointer finger directly straight to the front of the mat.
  • Exhale – curl the toes under, lift the knees off the ground, send the hips back and high towards the ceiling, lengthen the arms long, chest melts down towards the thighs, and keep head and neck in-line with the arms.
  • Imagine the body is making a V shape here.
  • Keep the knees bent to allow expansion and relief across the low back.
  • Stay for as long as your heart desires, then exhale the knees back to the ground into a neutral tabletop position.

Benefits: energizes and rejuvenates the entire body, deeply stretches hamstrings, shoulders, calves, hands, and spine.

Cautions: those with severe carpal tunnel syndrome, late-term pregnancy, injury to back, arms, shoulders, high blood pressure, eye or ear infections should avoid or move with caution.

downward facing dog


 

7. Child’s Pose

  • Begin in a neutral tabletop position – bring knees together, sit back onto the heels, then gently release the torso to the ground.
  • The arms can drape behind the body with palms up or extend long towards the front of the mat with palms down.
  • Forehead softly rests on the ground and back of the neck is long.
  • Gently close the eyes and let gravity do the work.

Benefits: helps relax and rejuvenate the entire body, encourages forward flexion in the spine, hips, and knees. Considered a resting pose that centers, calms, and soothes the body.

Cautions: avoid if experiencing knee injury or recovering from a recent knee injury.

child's pose


 

8. Rabbit Pose

  • From the #7 child’s pose, bring hands to the backs of the heels and pull the forehead in towards the knees with the top of your head resting on the floor.
  • Inhale – lift the hips towards the ceiling, roll onto the crown of the head, and press forehead as close to the knees as possible.
  • Hold for 5 – 10 deep breaths.
  • Exhale – lower the hips to the heels and slide forehead forward, resume child’s pose.

Benefits: allows maximum flexion in the spine and lengthens and stretches the back, arms, and shoulders.

Cautions: avoid if recent or chronic injury to the knees, neck, spine or shoulders and place a blanket under knees or neck to protect from pressure.

rabbit pose


 

9. Thread the Needle

  • Begin in neutral tabletop position and start on the right side.
  • Inhale – send the right hand straight up to the sky and open through the heart.
  • Exhale – thread the right hand through and underneath the left arm with the palm facing up.
  • Let the right shoulder and ear relax down to the ground.
  • Keep the left hand planted, extend it long in front of you, or wrap it around the opposite hip for a bind.
  • Soften, relax, and melt into the posture here – let all tension release.
  • To come out – press into the left hand, slide the right arm out from underneath, and return to tabletop position.
  • Repeat the steps on the left side.

Benefits: stretches and opens the shoulders, chest, arms, upper back, and neck, releases tensions held in the upper back and between the shoulder blades, and provides a gentle twist to the spine which further reduces tension.

Cautions: avoid if you have recent or chronic injury to knees, shoulders, or neck and practice with caution for those with back pain, back injuries, or disc complications.

thread the needle


 


 

10. Pigeon Pose

  • Begin in a neutral tabletop position – bring right knee to right wrist and right ankle towards the left wrist.
  • Extend the left leg back with the kneecap and top of the foot resting on the floor.
  • Inhale – press fingertips into the ground and lift/ lengthen through the front side of the body.
  • Exhale – release the torso to the ground, a block, or forearms.
  • Focus on keeping the hips squared to the front of the mat.
  • Hold the pose for up to a minute while breathing deeply into the body.

Benefits: deeply stretches the upper-leg and hip muscles – psoas, piriformis, and gluteus maximus.

Cautions: avoid if you have recent or chronic knee, ankle, or back injury – instead do a modified figure 4 version on the back.

pigeon pose


 

11. Happy Baby

  • Begin lying on your back with knees drawn into the chest.
  • Grab hold of the outer foot with your hand and keep arms in front of the shins.
  • Flex the feet and engage the arms.
  • Bring the knees wide and toward the armpits and stack ankles over knees.
  • Use your arm strength to bring the knees closer to the ground and release the lower back into the mat.
  • Stay for as long as you like, rock gently from side to side, and breathe.

Benefits: opens and stretches the hips, stretches the inner groin, lengthens and helps realign the spine, calms the mind and relieves stress, strengthens the arms and shoulders.

Cautions: knee or ankle injuries, extremely tight hips, and those who are pregnant should practice with caution.

happy baby


 

12. Legs Up the Wall

  • Find a wall with plenty of space to stretch alongside it.
  • The sitting bones should be pressed against the wall or a few inches away, back and head are resting on the ground, and legs are straight up with the knees soft.
  • Take a moment to adjust the body and find what works best for you. Feel free to incorporate bolsters and blankets for added comfort.
  • Completely relax into the posture – let the entire body melt, soften, and surrender to the ground beneath you.
  • Stay here for as long as your heart desires!

Benefits: eases anxiety and stress, gently stretches the hamstrings, legs, and lower back, helps with low back pain, and calms the mind.

Cautions: this a mild and restorative posture but still considered an inversion with feet above the heart – avoid if menstruating, pregnant, high blood pressure, or glaucoma.

yogi-approved---back-relief-sequence---10739


 

*These yoga postures are a general guideline to help with back pain and can be performed in any specific order. I’ve listed them in the order that makes sense for my personal practice. Always listen to your body, breathe deeply into the posture, and back out if any pain arises.

The above yoga postures barely scratch the surface of how yoga can heal and restore the body, especially for those who suffer from back pain. I highly recommend seeking out a yoga workshop, a private yoga lesson, or a yoga therapist to learn more about your body and how yoga can help.

While doing the above postures, please listen to your body – wholeheartedly – and know when to back out or go deeper. You are your own best teacher!

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