Incidents of back pain have surged to become one of the most common complaints in the US. Half of all working Americans say they have back pain each year. It’s also among the commonest reasons for missed work. But, while the symptoms can feel severe and may compel you to seek out treatments like pain medication, much can be accomplished through physical activities like yoga. In studies of National Institutes of Health, people with mild to moderate chronic low back pain, yoga was found to improve the ability to move and walk and reduce the pain.
The key to letting yoga alleviate back pain is to keep it gentle. Some poses require a very strong core and back, and if your body isn’t prepared, you could find yourself the worse for wear. The poses below are gentle and can be done by almost everyone. However, you should consult your doctor before beginning any yoga/exercise regimen.
Downward-facing dog is a common yoga pose and a favorite for those looking to stretch their hamstrings. But, it does a lot more than that. The pose lengthens the spine and targets the back extensors which are muscles that your body uses to stand and lift objects. Having stronger back muscles are important as they stabilize the entire body and allow you to perform a range of functions. The pose also engages and strengthens the abdominal muscles, the arms and legs.
When doing the pose, lift your body while keeping the knees slightly bent. Straighten them as you form a ‘V’ shape. Hold the position for 1-3 minutes before bending your knees and returning to your original position.
An upward-facing dog is an effective pose for reducing back pain. It strengthens the spine, reduces stiffness and improves posture, all of which can relieve back pain. It also stretches the abdomen and opens the chest to counter forward-leaning postures, which are common when sitting.
Keep your wrists aligned with your elbows and shoulders when you straighten up into the upward-facing dog. Your legs should also lift a few inches. If you feel pain, relax into less of a backbend by widening your arms and lowering your pelvis. Hold for 30 seconds before returning to the start position.
Sphinx pose is a good way to stimulate the sacral, lumbar arch, which is the curve at the lower part of your back. When we sit for long periods, this arch tends to flatten and can cause pain over time. The sphinx pose helps to maintain this natural curve and reduce pain. It also strengthens the buttocks and is easy on the wrist, which makes it a good choice for people with carpal tunnel syndrome.
When doing the sphinx pose, make sure not to arch your back too much as the pose only requires you to do a mild bend. Unlike an upward-facing dog, your abdomen, pelvis, and legs should remain on the floor.
The lower back undergoes tremendous strain every day especially when sitting. This can lead to tight muscles that throw off posture and set you up for back pain. The cat/cow pose provides a gentle stretch to the spine, promotes mobility and reduces pain. It also stretches the abdomen and relieves stress.
When doing the cat/cow pose, inhale and move into cow pose. Exhale as you transition to cat pose. Your arms must be aligned with your shoulders and your knees with your hips. Alternate between the two poses for about 10 breaths.
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The child’s pose is a relaxing pose that’s commonly used as a resting position in between other yoga poses and as a counter-pose to backbends. It’s a great way to improve tightness and pain in the lower back as it stretches the muscles there and relieves tension. A tight back can restrict your range of movement and make doing even simple things like reaching down to pick something difficult. The child’s pose keeps the back limber.
If you can’t bend your body forward as much and your head and hips are above the floor, use a cushion or a rolled up towel under them. Hold for 1 minute and use your hands to slowly walk your body up and on your heels to the starting position.
Alongside yoga, you should make it a point to do mild to moderate exercises on your doctor’s okay. Buy a mattress which supports your body parts can also help as it keeps the spine naturally aligned and cushions the hips and shoulders. When sitting, take breaks every 30 minutes to relieve the pressure on your back.
As for the yoga poses outlined above, try to do them every day or at least twice a week. Not only will they relieve pain but they’ll also calm the mind and help you center yourself, which does wonders for stress. There are many more yoga poses that can assist with a troublesome back. Check out part II of our yoga poses for back pain series to find out.