Yoga for the Lower Back

In a society that features lots of sitting down in chairs, lower back pain is definitely a pretty common issue that I've been hearing about lately, so I thought I'd write a post about how yoga can help. If you deal with lower back pain or are interested in learning how to use yoga to create a more stable lower back, this post is for you!

Let me first mention that I'm not here to offer any sort of medical advice. The purpose of this post is to offer suggestions of how to use yoga to help ease some of the pain that you may have in your lower back. If any poses suggested in this post cause you any pain, pinpoint sensations, or cause anything to go numb, please don't do them! Yoga should never cause pain - this is not a "no pain, no gain" exercise. 

That being said... your body is your best tool for healing. It's best to begin by learning more about it.

The lowdown on your spine.

The spine includes discs in between its vertebrae that are meant to help absorb shock & assist with holding the spine together while providing some mobility. You can think of these discs like jelly donuts; they have a tough outer portion with a soft inner core. Over time, either though aging or injury, these discs lose their naturally jelly-like quality and can become dehydrated, which may cause pain in the lower back.

Yoga can help with this by strengthening the muscles around the spine, which may help take some of the pressure off the discs. Yoga can also help with creating length in the spine, which naturally creates more space between the vertebrae for each disc. It can also help to stretch out some of your other muscles that may pull on your lower back from being too tight (such as your hamstrings.)

It seems that overall, doing exercises that stretch the hamstrings, strengthen the core & supportive muscles on your back, and allow the lower back to release is a good overall start towards healing. Keep reading to find specific poses that may help you!

Explore your options - there are lots of different types of yoga!

It's important to let your yoga teacher know if you have lower back pain so they can help offer additional poses for you to try if necessary. You could also start with lower impact types of yoga such as chair, restorative, or yin yoga. These classes focus on slow, deliberate movements that allow you to more easily recognize when a certain movement might either be hurting or helping your spine. The key is to listen to your body and notice how each pose feels for you individually - everyone is a little bit different! 

Listen to your body, not your ego.

Sometimes the ego can be louder than the body - telling you to "push yourself" further into the stretch even if it doesn't quite feel right. (Remember, that "no pain, no gain" mentality we've all been trained to think?) Listening to your ego is especially easy to do if you're in a room where everyone else is doing the same stretch. Just remember that you want to ignore your ego - no matter how loud it may be - and just pay attention to how your body feels. That's the only voice that matters.

If you learn anything from this article, let it be to listen to your body! If you feel pain - DON'T do it! Back out of the pose a little or come out completely until the pain is gone. Plain and simple. Listening to your ego over your body could mean pushing yourself over an edge and leading to further injury.

Now, for a breakdown of some poses for you to experiment with! You can also watch this 20 minute video I made for the lower back, which includes all of the poses below!

Active poses to strengthen various back muscles.

[1] Forearm plank. You can get into this pose by starting on your belly and bringing your forearms to the mat. Tuck your toes, engage your belly, and then lift yourself up until you feel that your hips and head are about even. Be sure to keep your gaze down in order to help lengthen all the way through your neck. 

Hold for 5 deep breaths and slowly lower down to your belly to rest. Do 3-4 times.

Forearm plank

[2] Baby Cobra. You can get into this pose from laying down on your stomach. Lay all the way down so your forehead/chin is on the mat. Lightly rest your palms face down near your shoulders. First, inhale and engage your belly, glutes and leg muscles. Keep those muscles engaged, and exhale press the tops of your feet into the mat. Inhale, and lift your heart off the ground. Do your best to just use your muscles to lift yourself up; there should be little to no weight in your hands. Press the tops of your feet into the mat to help you engage your legs and lift.

Inhale into baby cobra. Exhale, lower your forehead down. Do 5-6 times, moving with your breath.

Baby cobra

[3] Cobra Pose. I suggest doing baby cobra first to warm up your muscles before doing full cobra. Start on your belly with your palms on the ground, underneath your shoulders. Inhale, engage your glutes and core. Exhale, keep those muscles engaged and lift yourself up by straightening your arms. Keep your knees on the ground.

It's important to not just rely on your arms here to lift up. If you relax your glutes in this pose, you're forcing your lower back down into a greater backbend, which isn't necessarily what this pose is trying to achieve. Instead, think of pulling your heart through your arms and see if that creates more length in your back.

Inhale into cobra, stay for one breath, exhale to tabletop (hands & knees.)

Cobra Pose

[4] Locust Pose. Start laying down on your stomach. Interlace your fingers behind your back. Engage your belly, glutes and leg muscles, and lift up your heart and legs on your inhale. Remember to keep your gaze down & neck long. 

Inhale into locust. Stay for 3 breaths. Lower down on an exhale & rest. Do 4-5 times.

Locust Pose

[5] Cat Pose. Start in tabletop (hands & knees.) On an exhale, press your hands into the mat, arch your upper spine like a stretching cat and bring your gaze in towards your belly button. Think of allowing your tailbone to draw down and point towards the mat. 

Exhale to cat, inhale back to tabletop (or cow pose if you're familiar.) Do 5-6 rounds moving with your breath.

Cat Pose

Passive stretches to assist the lower back:

[1] Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe pose. This allows you to stretch one hamstring at a time with less pressure on the lower back. Feel free to use a belt, rope, or anything that will help you relax into the stretch with your leg in the air. Don't worry about how high you can lift your leg. As long as you're feeling a stretch along the back of the leg, that's what matters most! You could also try this standing while propping your foot on a chair.

Place your strap on the ball of your foot and extend your leg out long. Your bottom leg may be straight or bent. Breathe into the stretch for 5 breaths and then switch sides.

Hand To Big Toe Pose

[2] Wide-Legged Forward Fold. Start in a standing position with your hands on your hips. Walk your legs out wide until you feel a stretch in your inner thighs. Bring your toes to point slightly toward each other and keep your knees soft.

On your inhale, think of finding a longer spine and stand up nice and tall. On your exhale, slowly bend forward from your hips (vs your back) and stop when you feel a good stretch. Your hands can find your thighs, shins or the floor. You could also place your hands on a block. 

Stay in your fold for 5 breaths and slowly come back to standing on an inhale.

Wide Legged Forward Fold

[3] Reclined Dragonfly. This pose allows you to go a bit deeper and stretch the inner thighs in addition to the back of the legs. Use blocks, folded beach blankets or even some books propped on the outside of your thighs to allow your muscles to relax into the pose. Again - the distance from your feet to the floor isn't what we're measuring! As long as you feel a good stretch along the inner thighs and the back of the legs, this is what we're looking for.

Bring your legs up a wall and scoot all the way up so your hips are touching the wall. Allow your feet to spread out wide and stop when you feel a good stretch. Use blocks or other props on the outside of your thighs to lessen the pressure of gravity.

Stay here for 10 deep breaths. Slowly bring your legs back together up the wall.

Reclined Dragonfly

[4] Reclined Butterfly. This can be done before or after reclined dragonfly. Make sure you're up against the wall with your hips touching the wall for support. Bring the bottoms of your feet to touch and your knees wide. You can use blocks on the outside of your thighs for support if you like. Do whatever feels most comfortable with your hands - either resting on your legs or outstretched.

Stay here for 10 deep breaths. Slowly bring your legs back together up the wall.

Reclined Butterfly

[5] Child's Pose. This will allow your lower back & spine to release. This may also feel like a quad stretch for an added bonus! Feel free to relax your upper body onto a bolster or some pillows for support. 

Bring your knees wide and sit back towards your heels. It's okay if your glutes don't touch your heels. Allow your upper body to rest on a bolster or pillow.

Rest here for 10 deep breaths.

Child's Pose

[6] Knees-to-chest. This pose can feel very supportive for the lower back. Lay down and draw your knees towards your chest. You can experiment with bringing your knees wide or bringing them close together. You can also experiment with rocking from side to side or staying in stillness.

Rest here for 10 deep breaths.

Knees To Chest Pose

[7] Shavasana with bolster. By elevating your legs/knees, you're allowing your lower back to reset into the floor. Here your spine will be in a more neutral position. Begin by laying down on your back. Bring a bolster or some pillows underneath your knees. Alternatively, you could try bending your knees and placing your feet/ankles/shins on the seat of a chair. Close your eyes and do whatever feels comfortable with your hands.

Rest here for several minutes.

Shavasana with bolster

And there you have it! Don't forget to watch the 20 minute video for the lower back. All of the poses above are featured in the video. Please leave any questions or comments below!