It’s very common for us to experience some sort of mild back pain during our life. The most common type of back pain is in the lower back (lumbago), but we can also experience reoccurring mid and/or upper back pain.
Research has show that yoga can be an effective complementary therapy for treating your back pain. Resulting in many health care professionals recommending yoga as a tool to relieve back pain and speed up recovery.
You or someone close to you might be suffering right now with back pain. Or it might be something reoccurring that you have to deal with on a regular basis. Perhaps your doctor or physiotherapist has recommended to do yoga to help ease the tension in your back.
But what sort of yoga should you do? And how do you ensure that the yoga you do helps your back pain and doesn’t make it worse?
In this blog we’ll be exploring seven easy yoga poses that can help relieve back pain. Focusing on how you can approach these yoga poses to ensure they are helping rather than harming your back.
Remember that if you do have intense pain in your back, it’s always recommended to first seek the advice of your doctor before starting this yoga practice.
You might also want to read Irene’s blog practicing yoga with injuries to find out more about what you should consider before doing yoga with an injury, and how to approach your practice.
(1) Child Pose | Balasana
How will child pose help your back pain?
The child pose allows the spine to gently round and slowly stretch the entire back of your body. It can also help reset discomfort you might have from sitting for long periods of time.
How do you do child’s pose with back pain?
Bring your knees a little apart and allow your big toes to touch. Sink slowly the weight of your hips back towards your heels, while keeping your spine long and arms outstretched.
By allowing your forehead to rest on the ground or a support like a cushion, you can find a sense of heaviness and ease in the pose. If you feel tension in your knees, place a blanket under the knees to support them.
Arms can be about shoulder distance apart, with the palms pressing into the ground. For a more restorative version of the pose elbows can rest on the ground. While for a more active variation you can keep the elbows lifted and arms more engaged.
Focus on bringing awareness towards your breathing and slowly breathing in and out through your nose. Try and focus your attention on the back of your body, and see if you can observe your lower back expanding slightly as you breathe in and sinking down slights as you breathe out.
You can stay in this child pose for anywhere between five breaths to five minutes.
Build up gradually the amount of time you stay in child pose, observing how your back and entire body feels both during and after practice.
(2) Cat/Cow Pose | Marjaryasana/Biltasana
How will cat/cow pose help your back pain?
This dynamic movement of the spine helps build flexibility and relieve spinal tension through fluid and gentle movements. It can also help build overall core strength which is helpful in protecting your back.
How do you do cat/cow pose with back pain?
Start by coming to your hands and knees, ensuring your knees are under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Again, if knees feel a little sensitive feel free to place a blanket under your knees.
Allow your palms to be heavy and fingers spread to protect your wrists. And throughout the entire movement find some engagement int your belly, by drawing it slightly up and in.
On your inhale allow your back to arch, opening your shoulders and lifting up through your chest. And then on your exhale round your back, draw your belly in and tuck your chin down towards your chest.
Start with making these movements quite small and slow to get direct feedback on how this feels for your back. Repeating the movements several times in combination with your breath.
(3) Twisted Child Pose | Parivritta Balasana
How will twisted child pose help your back pain?
This twisted version of the child pose helps the spine become more mobile and flexible. By twisting in a controlled and careful way you can help relieve tension in your back.
How do you do twisted child pose with back pain?
Start by coming to your hands and knees, setting up in the same way as you did for the cat / cow pose.
Engage strongly through your left palm and abdomen, as you reach your right arm up on your inhale. And then on your exhale thread your right arm through your left and drop the right shoulder down.
Repeat this movement a couple of times. Using the next inhale to again lift the right arm up, and next exhale to thread the right arm through and drop your right shoulder down.
After repeating three times pause in the twist, allowing right shoulder and ear to drop down towards the ground. Stay here for around five breaths, keeping the spine long and hips high above your knees.
When you’re ready to come out of the pose, press back into your left hand and use the next inhale to come all the way up. Exhale lower your right hand back to the ground, and repeat on the left side.
(4) Butterfly Pose | Baddha Konasana
How will the butterfly pose help your back pain?
Sometimes the origin of a pain we have, like back pain can actually be caused by tension and tightness in another area of the body.
Tight hips are common if we spend a lot of our day sitting, or do activities like walking, running and cycling without stretching afterwards. Therefore, it can be helpful to also work on opening the hips to help relieve lower back pain.
This butterfly pose works on opening the outer hips and inner thighs, while also stretching and lengthening the muscles in our entire back.
How do you do the butterfly pose with back pain?
Come to a seated position, bringing your feet together and allowing your knees to fall open to the side. You can allow your feet to be a little away from your hips, so that you make a diamond shape with your legs.
Rest your hands on your ankles, and allow your head to be heavy. Start to breathe slow and steadily in and out of your nose, releasing any tension from your face and neck.
If your body allows it, and it feels comfortable you can start to slowly fold forward from your hips. Dropping your head down towards your feet. You can rest your head on your hands or a support like a cushion to help the body completely let go of tension.
Stay here for anywhere between five breaths to five minutes. Like in the child pose, build up this timing gradually and first see how your back feels the next day before starting to hold the pose for long periods of time.
(5) Seated Spinal Twist Pose | Ardha Matsyandrasana
How will the seated spinal twist pose help your back pain?
A seated spinal twist pose, allows you to twist while having your sitting bones rested on the ground. By keeping the spine long as you twist, the yoga posture can help relieve back pain and develop strength and flexibility in the spine to help prevent future tension.
How do you do the seated spinal twist pose with back pain?
Begin sitting with your legs outstretched and spine tall. Bend your right knee and step your right foot over your left leg. Keep your left leg active and left toes facing upwards, while you ground through your right big toe.
Use your next inhale to lengthen through your torso, and reach your left arm up. And then on the exhale, wrap your left arm around your right knee and place right fingertips on the floor behind your hips.
Keep using every inhale to lift up through your spine, and every exhale to gently twist to the right. Staying for five deep and steady breaths.
If you’re trying this pose for the first time with back pain, find a gentle variation of the twist. If this feels ok for your body, you can build up gradually over time to slightly deeper versions of the pose.
(6) Knees-to-Chest Pose | Apanasana
How will knees-to-chest pose help your back pain?
Knees-to-chest pose provides a mini massage for your lower back. Letting all the muscles in your spine stretch and relax.
How do you do knees-to-chest pose with back pain?
Lie down on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Wrap your arms around you, and rest your hands on top of your knees.
To help massage your lower back you can start to make small movement with your knees. Either rocking the knees from side-to-side or making slow circles with the knees.
Keep your breath slowly moving in and out of your nose, as you continue to move slowly or pause in stillness in the middle.
(7) Knees Together Feet Apart | Savasana Variation
How will this savasana variation help your back pain?
This savasana variation with the knees together and feet apart allows the lower back to let go and release. It’s particularly a useful alternative for when lying on the back with feet outstretched creates tension and pain in your back.
How do you do this savasana variation with back pain?
Lie on your back and bend your knees. Place the soles of the feet on the floor, with your feet a little wider than your hips and allow your knees to drop in towards each other.
Your knees want to be able to rest against each other, without having to use effort to hold them in place.
Soften around your belly and feel your lower back dropping down towards the ground.
Close the eyes if you like here and focus on watching your breath. You can stay here anywhere between ten breaths to ten minutes.
Seeing if you can allow your body to relax and drop down with every exhale.
The Best Advice for Practicing Yoga with Back Pain
When starting to practice yoga as a way to help your back pain, the best advice is to begin slow and gentle. Try out doing a short practice and not holding the yoga poses very long to observe how it feels for your body, and particularly your back.
If you have no or reduced pain either during or after practice, this is a great sign that the yoga practice was helpful. You can then try repeating it again for the same amount of time or slightly longer.
In addition to the physical yoga poses themselves, the World Health Organization also recommends that a focus on breathing, mindfulness and relaxation can also help ease and relieve chronic back pain.
Slow breathing, mindfulness and relaxation can help release stress and tension from the body. Helping you be in a better place in order to deal with pain and worries that come along with back pain.
It’s been shown that people who are able to stay positive and recognise that your pain will get better are able to recover quicker.
These simple seven yoga poses can be practiced individually when you can find a few minutes in your day. As explained in my blog about chair yoga, adding small but frequent periods of movement into your day can help relieve tension in your body that is built up from spending long periods of sitting. Therefore, any small amount of time you can find to fit in practicing just one or two of these yoga poses will be helpful.
If you have a bit longer, you can also practice these seven yoga poses together in a short 15-minute gentle yoga practice. These seven yoga poses have been sequenced together to help ease back pain and tension that may have built up after sitting for a long period of time.
Follow Irene’s below online YouTube video tutorial on yoga for back pain. Where you'll be guided through a series of the above twists and spinal movements.
Preventing Back Pain in the Future
In addition to managing your back pain through complementary therapies like yoga, it’s of course also important to know how to prevent back pain coming back in the future.
It will be easier to prevent reoccurring back pain, if you are familiar of the cause of your back pain.
Maybe you have weak or tight muscles due to long periods of inactivity. Through keeping active and practicing yoga you can learn how to strengthen and lengthen your muscles, as well as improving your posture.
Or perhaps you can learn to take more breaks throughout your work day and use breathing exercises to deal with stress. For more tips on this read Irene’s blog on five ways to practice mindfulness at work.
Another thing to observe is your posture throughout your day. Notice if you are well set up when working behind a laptop, sitting and watching TV, or when you are using your phone.
Also take care when doing other activities in your day. Especially those that involve heavy lifting or moving in unusual ways.
If you’ve been experiencing back pain for some time, and it’s not improving or is even getting worse—the best advice is to see a doctor or physiotherapist for help.
I’m curious to know if you’ve been able to identify the cause of your back pain. And if you’ve found these tips and yoga sequence for back pain useful.
If you are enjoying the yoga and finding it therapeutic—I really encourage you to keep it up after your back pain has gone away and use yoga also as a preventative practice.
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