If you’ve ever had back pain, you know that #1 it can be a pain in the rear (literally) and #2 there isn’t a magic bullet when it comes to treatment. The good news is you don’t have to just grin and bear it any longer. Because, when it comes to both relieving and preventing your pain, there’s a proven health and relaxation practice gaining a lot of promise: yoga for back pain.
But which poses are actually good for pain? Before we answer that question, let’s quickly go over some of the causes of back pain.
What Are Some Common Causes of Back Pain?
Possible causes of back pain include:
- Bulging or ruptured disc (herniated disc) in the spine pressing on the nerve roots
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Bone spurs (small, bony growths that form along the joints) from arthritis
- vertebral fracture caused by osteoporosis or injury
- Spondylolisthesis (a disorder where one vertebrae slips forward onto the one below it)
- A pinched nerve
- In rare cases, conditions not involving the spine (e.g., pregnancy or tumors)
Why Yoga is Good for Your Back
From improving your flexibility to increasing your heart rate to boosting your mood, practicing yoga offers plenty of physical and mental health benefits. It also happens to be ideal for your spine health by:
Strengthening the muscles in the back, as well as the abdomen (stomach). When these muscles are in good shape, back pain can be significantly lessened or possibly even prevented.
Stretching. For those who’ve had or have lower back pain, stretching is critical. For instance, stretching the muscles in the back of the thigh (hamstrings) helps enhance the motion in the pelvis, lowering stress on your lower back.
Nurturing proper posture, balance and body alignment. Consistently practicing yoga can result in better posture, as well as increase sense of balance by keeping your head, shoulders and pelvis in the correct alignment. Proper body alignment and good posture can help maintain the natural curvature of your spine.
Helping you build greater awareness. When you regularly practice yoga, you become more and more aware of your body, including its limitations. This awareness may help prevent back pain or injury, as you will begin to understand what types of motions you should or shouldn’t avoid.
Yoga for Back Pain: How to Strike 11 Soothing Poses
Ready to channel your namaste and unlock the relief you deserve? Keep in mind that yoga may not be the answer for everyone. Before you attempt any of these poses, be sure to check in with your doctor or physical therapist. Move slowly and carefully into each position, and most importantly, pay close attention to your body. Stop right away if you feel any discomfort or pain.
For your convenience, and to help you master each pose, we’ve also included short video clips from our certified yoga instructor at the Borgess Health & Fitness Center, Patra Ryder.
1. Reclining Cow’s Face
- Lie face-up. Cross your left leg over your right
- Raise both legs off the floor. Flex both feet, and reach up for the outer ankles, hugging your legs toward your stomach
- Spread your toes while keeping your feet flexed, and hold your legs in for several breaths
- Switch slowly to the opposite side and repeat
If you feel like you can easily lie with your stomach on the floor, try this straightforward and gentle cobra pose.
- Place your palms on the floor under your shoulders with your elbows bent straight back
- Anchor your pelvis to the floor
- Push into your palms and lift your chest off the floor
- Hold as long as you feel comfortable
3. Low Lunge
- Get in a runner’s lunge. Your right leg should be forward with your knee over your ankle. Your left knee should be on the ground with the top of your foot flat on the floor (or mat).
- Slowly lift your torso and rest your hands lightly on your right thigh.
- Lean your hips forward slightly, keeping your right knee behind your toes. Feel the stretch in the left hip flexor.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds, or if you’re feeling comfortable and looking for a deeper stretch, raise your arms over your head, so that your biceps are by your ears
- Repeat on opposite side
4. Bridge With Knees Together
This pose works well for both sciatica stemming from the lower back or the piriformis muscle. It works by strengthening your back and supporting muscles, as well as opening your hip flexors. Keeping your knees together also activates your inner thigh muscles and opposing outer hip muscles, including the piriformis.
- Begin from a bridge position on all fours with your knees and feet together
- Inhale and lift your knees to align diagonally with your shoulders and knees. Avoid arching the low back.
- Hold for three breaths
- Release down for a breath
- Repeat three times
5. Modified Pyramid
This pose combines hamstring stretching with pelvis resetting. If you feel hamstring stretching aggravates your sciatic nerve, use caution. Avoid the pose if pain increases.
- Place your painful leg forward and step back with your other leg about 18 to 24 inches
- Keep both legs straight and bend forward from your hips
- Place your hands on blocks or the seat of a chair
- For a neutral pelvis, push your forward hip backwards while pulling your back hip forward
- Hold for five long, deep breaths
6. Reclined Pigeon
- Lie on the floor with your face up and bend your knees so your heels are beneath your knees
- Put your hands on the front of your thighs, slide them to the base of your leg where it meets your pelvis, and push the heel of each hand into the bottom of the leg bone
- Lift your right leg up and cross it over the left. Gently grab the back of your thighs and push your legs into your hands, away from your face.
- Hold for several deep breaths
- Repeat on opposite side
This pose is helpful for elongating the back, opening the hips, groin and hamstrings, and relieving sciatica and pressure on the lower back.
- Get down on all fours
- Slide your right knee forward toward your right hand. Angle your right knee at two o’clock
- Slide your left knee backwards as far as your hips will allow
- Keep your hips square to the floor
- If you’re not feeling a deep stretch in your right glute, slide your right foot (slowly) toward your left hand. With patience and practice, bring your foot parallel with the front edge of your mat.
- Depending on your comfort level, you should be upright on your hands while sinking your hips forward and down. If you decide to push the pose further, you can rest on your forearms, followed by resting your chest on the floor with your arms fully extended in front of you.
- You may stay in this pose from 10 breaths to five minutes
8. Pigeon in Chair
This pose is a great option for those experiencing issues with the piriformis or piriformis syndrome. This pose is a variation of the traditional pigeon pose and may be a good solution for people who are unable to comfortably get on the floor.
- Choose a chair in which you can comfortably sit with both feet flat on the floor. Your thighs should be about parallel to the floor.
- Place your right ankle near your left knee
- Relax your right knee toward the floor
- Repeat on the left side
9. Modified Boat
If your sciatica is related to the lumbar-spine, this pose can help through strengthening deep core muscles and stabilizing your low back. It also stretches the adductors (inner thigh muscles) to help realign the pelvis.
- Sit and place a foam yoga block between your shins with your knees bent to 90 degrees
- Lift your legs, engaging your low, deep core to avoid arching your back
- Hold for five long, deep breaths.
- Build up to longer holds (up to 10 breaths)
10. Seated Twist Variation
A rotating twist pose that stretches the piriformis. Twist slowly and carefully, as incorrect twisting from the low back could worsen disc issues. Twisting should come from the middle back, between your shoulder blades.
- Sight up straight with your legs out
- Cross the afflicted leg over your opposite leg
- Press the sole of foot on your painful leg down
- Hug your opposite arm around your knee, placing the other hand on the ground behind your hip
- Exhale as you pull the leg toward your chest and rotate from your middle back
- Hold for three long, deep breaths
11. Supine With Pillow Under Knees
Finally, a pose that’s meant for rest! Go ahead, you deserve it. (Because being in pain, especially persistent pain, can be both annoying and exhausting.)
- Lie on your mat or the floor face up
- Place a pillow or another type of support beneath your knees
- Your legs should be hip-distance apart and your low back should be touching the floor
- Do not arch your back
- Take 10 to 20 long, deep breaths
What to Do If Your Back Pain Is Severe and Won’t Go Away
While it may help with your back pain symptoms, yoga is not a replacement for your doctor or treatment from a physical therapist. Visit your doctor if you’re experiencing:
- Numbness or tingling
- Severe pain that doesn’t improve with rest
- Pain after a fall or an injury
- Pain in addition to any of the following symptoms: trouble urinating, weakness, leg numbness, fever and unexplained weight loss