Practicing Yoga for Back Pain
Sitting at a desk for too much of your day? Not getting proper lumbar support? Carrying around stress? There are many reasons why you could be experiencing back pain. And you're not alone: most of us experience some type of back pain at some point in our lives.
Whatever the cause (which can often be tricky to pinpoint since back pain often pops up seemingly out of nowhere), back pain can cause a serious decline in your day-today comfort. Left untreated, it can keep you from doing the things you love. In fact, at any given time, it’s limiting the productivity and movement of about 60-70% of the population.
While there are lots of treatment options for back pain such as massage therapy, chiropractic work, muscle relaxing salves, or acupuncture, one extremely effective route is the ancient art of yoga.
Originating in India as a physical and spiritual pursuit, yoga has serious staying power for a reason. It’s a great form of exercise, many people find it calming and centering, and it can also help reduce and help prevent pain of all types.
Many find great relief for back pain from practicing yoga, and you don’t have to be an expert Yogi to reap the benefits either.
There are plenty of moves and poses that anyone can do, even if you’ve never taken a yoga class before. They will help strengthen and stretch your back muscles and help reduce inflammation and pain.
Causes of Back Pain
The origins of your back pain can be hard to diagnose, but here are a few of the most common causes:
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Hunching when seated or poor posture
- Strained or sprained muscles from workouts or other activities
- Lack of a proper warm up before working out
- Conditions like bulging or ruptured discs, osteoporosis, or arthritis
How Yoga Improves Back Pain
Aside from its ample benefits to mental health, yoga works wonders on the physical body. Here are a few of the ways practicing yoga moves can provide significant relief to back pain.
You might think that only high-intensity workouts like lifting weights increase strength, but even low-impact yoga workouts can greatly strengthen the muscles around the spine and abdominals. Stronger back muscles mean you’re better able to carry yourself and maintain proper posture.
Most of us don’t intentionally take the time to hold any stretching poses throughout the day. Yoga forces us to slow down and hold poses which can strengthen and lengthen the muscles around the back, hips, and abdomen, which help to relieve pain. Stretching also improves blood flow, which helps to flush toxins from the body.
Science is only starting to fully understand the connection between our brain and physical body, but it points to a very significant link between our mental and physical health. Since yoga impacts both the brain and body, by improving the state of our mental health, we can feel the very tangible improvements in our physical bodies too.
Lots of us hold tension in our muscles. Yoga’s controlled, slow movements force us to slow down and relax, which can go a long way in allowing pain to melt away. Relaxing with yoga poses will also help improve breathing, which is a powerful way to reduce pain.
If you typically slump or spend lots of time slouched over a desk, a regular yoga practice can correct and improve posture issues. This is essential when it comes to keeping the spine in line, and greatly reduces existing pain and prevents future pain.
Yoga Poses for Back Pain
While many yoga poses alleviate back pain, there are a few basic poses you can do anywhere with little to no yoga expertise that will provide immediate benefits.
Downward Facing Dog
Start in a kneeling position on your hands and knees. With your palms planted on the ground, curl your toes under and come up onto your feet, walking your feet back if you need until you can straighten your legs. Press your hips up and keep your legs straight. Focus on sinking heels down toward the mat rather than staying on the balls of your feet.
This pose helps to stretch and loosen tight hips, which is a contributor to back pain. Start in a downward facing dog pose and raise one foot off the mat behind you, then bring your weight forward onto your hands, and bring the leg you raised with you. As you lower down to the mat, bend your leg at the knee and rest it on the floor with your outer ankle bone and outer shin area on the floor, and your other leg straight out behind you. Keep your hands on the floor outside your legs. If you’d like, allow your torso to fold forward over your bent leg toward the mat.
To do this restorative and stretching pose for the back, start on your hands and knees with hands under your shoulders, and knees under your hips. Alternate between gently arching your back and letting you gaze drift upward, and then curling your back and hips under and letting your head and gaze lower. You can do this as many times as you need to gently stretch your lower back.
This is a resting pose that you can do anytime to stretch your back. From a position on your knees and hands, angle your big toes together and spread your thighs apart, then lower your hips and buttocks down to your heels. Let your chest and forehead come down to rest on the mat, and lengthen and stretch your arms out in front of you. You can hold this pose while breathing deeply for as long as you are comfortable.
This pose directly stretches the back and spine. Come down onto your stomach and plant your palms and forearms on either side of your rib cage, with your elbows pinned in. Slowly press into the palms to raise your torso up, keeping your hip bones planted on the ground and arching your back. You can fully straighten your arms or stay resting on your elbows, depending on your flexibility.
There are many online or in-person yoga classes you can take, but these poses are good to start with to help with your back pain. Be sure to do those that fit your experience level, and don't do any poses that make your pain worse.