Yoga for Back Pain: Poses and Stretches
As a back pain sufferer in a family of back pain sufferers, I can with great certainty and personal experience recommend yoga as a preferred method of treatment for many different kinds of back pain. With guidance from your doctor and a certified yoga instructor, you can find yourself stronger, more flexible, and in significantly less pain. The postures in yoga have stood the test of time, existing for centuries, and building up the bodies of people all over the world naturally and without weights. Yoga is especially beneficial to those who cannot perform repetitive movements, as yoga is a primarily isometric exercise.
Yoga can be done in a yoga studio, at a gym or fitness center, or in your home with a DVD. I recommend attending a class at a studio or fitness center before moving on to the DVD at home, as the professional instructors will be able to guide you to doing the postures correctly. This will help you to avoid any stress or injury.
Poses for Relieving Upper Back and Shoulder Pain
- Child's Pose (Balasana) is an excellent pose that helps to stretch the entire back, the hips, and the shoulders. It is a calming posture that is often used for a break in between other more vigorous yoga poses. It can be performed with the arms relaxed at the sides, or with arms stretched in front, palms down.
- Child's Pose,Thread the Needle Variation is useful for stretching between the shoulder blades. For those of us who spend a great deal of time driving or in front of a computer, this pose is a godsend.
- Side Angle (Parsvakonasana) is a lunge that stretches out the sides and ribs, as well as the shoulders.
- Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana) can be done along with Side Angle. These two poses are often done in a series, or a vignasa. Triangle pose is strengthening for the neck and is also a nice stretch for shoulders and upper-torso.
Poses for Relieving Lower Back and Hip Pain
- Child's Pose is also extremely restorative to the lower back.
- Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) is primarily a hip stretch. I find it to be particularly soothing to the hip flexors and the piriformis muscles.
- Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Savasana) is the quintessential yoga pose. It's upside down posture encourages blood flow back to the head and heart, and strengthens the arms and shoulders. It also reverses our usual relationship with gravity, allowing our spines to decompress. This pose is best done in a vignasa with other yoga poses, such as in sun salutations with plank and cobra.
- Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana) is one of my favorite for relieving pain in the upper buttocks, lower back, and hamstring/upper thigh. By holding one's feet, you allow the legs to relax into the ground. Gravity takes over!
- Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana) consists of laying on the back, pulling the knees into the chest, and then allowing the legs to fall gently to one side, while looking in the opposite direction. It is a great back and hip stretch, and allows the sides to stretch, as well. This is best done at the end of a workout when the muscles are warm. It is often used in fitness classes directly before the Savasana, or Dead Man's Pose.
- Feet Up Wall Restorative Pose (Viparita Karani) is a variation on the traditional Savasana performed at the end of the yoga session. The savasanas are relaxing, meditative poses to be done for at least 5 minutes. The advantage of the feet up wall pose is that the blood flows back to the head and heart. A variation on this pose is doing it wide-leg style. To modify, you can do this with a folded towel or blanket tucked under the buttocks or the small of the back. To stretch out the chest and shoulders in this pose, roll a towel vertically and have a partner place it under you along your spine.
Back Strengthening Poses and Exercises
- Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) are the most common type of vignasa, or yoga movement series. (Yoga Flow classes, for example, commonly center around vignasas such as the sun salutations.)
- Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana) is a great core (abs) workout, and of course, a strong core supports the back. The pose can be modified by keeping the hands behind the knees.
- Baby Cobra (Bhujangasana) is a lower back strengthening pose. The key is to make sure that the body's weight does not rest on the hands.
- Upward Facing Dog is an upper back and shoulder strengthening pose, and is a common part of the sun salutation, or standard yoga flow. Baby Cobra can be used as a modifier is your back and core are not strong enough to properly do the up-dog pose.
- Plank Pose (Ardha Chaturanga Dandasana) is reminiscent of a push-up pose. You can start in down-dog, move into plank, then lower from Plank into Baby Cobra slowly as part of your sun salutations.
Poses that Need Modifications for Back Pain Sufferers
- Forward Fold/Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) This pose can be extremely beneficial for people with back pain, as it allows gravity to stretch out the back. It can also be painful to perform if you have excess tension in your lower back or upper buttocks. To modify, place your palms on two bricks in front of you. If you need more modifications, you can try placing your hands on a low chair or stool. Another variation is the Wide Leg Standing Forward Bend, which you would do with your feet wider than shoulder distance apart. I personally find this variation to be more comfortable for my lower back.
- Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) is similar to the Standing Forward Bend, except that it is done while seated with the legs straight out in front, toes up. To modify this pose, you may use a strap placed around the soles of the feet, and held by your hands. Adjust the strap as needed.
- Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) can be modified using a brick under the palm of the hand on the floor. This takes stress off the lower back.
- Chair Pose (Utkatasana) can be modified by keeping the hands together at the heart or on the hips. Having the arms out in this pose can stress the back.
- Warrior Three/Exalted Warrior (Virabhadrasana) must be done with slightly bent knees in order to avoid tension in the back and knees. Also, only lean backward only as far as is comfortable.
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