3 Layers Of Yoga To Relieve Lower Back Pain

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“I’ve got great news for you: your body wants to be as fit and strong and gorgeous as you want it to be. Its instinct is to be powerful and resilient.” ~Cameron Diaz

I’ll admit that at times in the past, I’ve been disappointed, even angry with my body. I felt that it had let me down. That it hadn’t been as strong or as resilient as I’d hoped.

How crazy is that?

As Cameron reminds us, our bodies want us to be rockstars but sometimes we get in our own way. We stop paying attention to our nutrition, we don’t move as much as we should and we cheat ourselves of the rest we need to show up as our best selves every day.

Pain Is a Signal

If you’re suffering from lower back pain, it’s a message from your body that something is out of whack from a physiological and a lifestyle point of view. Are you sitting too much? Are you working out hard but forgetting to stretch? Have you let your posture slip? Are you anxious, stressed, over-worked, lonely or depressed?

I’ve written before about the mind-body connection – how your mind affects your body and your body affects your mind – and that concept applies very much here. So if you’re suffering from lower back pain, follow this 3-phase protocol to first ease your physical symptoms and then give you the motivation you need to make adjustments in other areas of your life.

There Are 2 Principles to Keep in Mind

1. Your body is an efficiency machine that adapts to the position it’s in most often.

2. Everything in your body is connected, so imbalances and misalignments have a domino effect.

What Causes Lower Back Pain?

– Sitting for long periods of time shortens your hip flexors which pulls your pelvis forward, compressing and tightening the muscles of your lower back.

– Poor posture leads to a lack of mobility in the thoracic spine which places stress on the lumbar spine as it struggles to compensate.

– Moving dynamically in sports – without stretching – leads to tight hips, quads and hamstrings which pull your pelvis out of alignment and stress your lower back.

– A weak core and glutes force your lower back to overwork to compensate.

Be Overly Cautious 

The stretches, strengthening exercises and 15-minute yoga routine I’m going demonstrate in are designed to relieve tightness in the lower back and correct common muscular imbalances. They may not be suitable for more severe conditions including muscle spasms and disk injuries. Please check with your doctor or physical therapist that it’s safe for you to do these exercises if you have any concerns.

PHASE 1: STRETCH TIGHT MUSCLES

If you’re in intense pain, I recommend you start by gently loosening up tight muscles in the area. If there is potential nerve or disc damage, you should avoid forward bends, backbends, twists and seated poses as they may aggravate your condition. Here are 6 supported, reclining poses you can do as often as you need them.

Hold each one for a minimum of 3 minutes, ideally in the evening when your muscles are warm and stretchy. You can start with just one a day and gradually build up to the full sequence.

Breathe in and out through your nose, aiming to make your exhalations twice the length of your inhalations. You can count in for 4 and out for 8. The key is to relax fully in each of the poses and allow tension in your muscles to fall away gradually.

1. Legs Up The Wall

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– Sit right up close to a wall.

– Swing your legs up to vertical and come down onto your back.

– Bring your arms out by your sides, palms facing up.

– Relax fully into the pose.

2. Supported Bridge

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– Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the mat, hip-width apart. Check that your toes point straight ahead.

– Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing down and walk your feet back until your fingertips graze your heels.

– Lift your hips all the way up and put a block at the base of your spine. Yoga blocks have 3 different heights, so just go as high as is comfortable and feels therapeutic.

  • Breathe deep into your belly to release tension in the front of your hips.
  • Take a deep breath in, remove the block and come down on an exhalation.

3. Reclining Hand-To-Toe

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– This is a hamstring and calf stretch.

– Lie flat on your back.

– Bring your left knee into your chest, loop a strap, belt or towel around the arch of your foot and try to straighten your leg as much as is possible up to the sky.

– Keep your left foot flexed and press through your heel.

– If you find yourself straining in the pose, you can bend your bottom leg and bring the sole of your right foot flat to the mat.

– Relax. Use gravity and the weight of your arms to gradually increase the intensity of the stretch.

– When you’re ready, release the pose and switch sides.

4. Dead Pigeon

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– This pose stretches the glutes, piriformis and outer hips.

– Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat.

– Rest your left ankle on your right knee.

– Thread your left hand through the triangle between your legs and hold the back of your right thigh with both hands. Gently pull your right leg in towards you.

– Relax your neck and shoulders.

– You can interlace your fingers around your shin to increase the intensity of the pose.

– When you’re ready, release the pose and switch sides.

5. Reclining Butterfly

3 Layers Of Yoga To Relieve Lower Back Pain

– Sit on your mat, bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall open in the shape of a diamond.

– Place several cushions or a couple of pillows behind you and lie back onto them.

– Let your arms fall out to the sides.

– Completely relax into the pose, allowing gravity to open up your hips.

– Supporting your knees on cushions will actually increase the intensity of the pose.

6. Reclining Spinal Twist

3 Layers Of Yoga To Relieve Lower Back Pain

– This pose releases tension at the lower back.

– Lie flat on your back and squeeze your right knee into your chest.

– Bring both arms out in a T, palms facing down.

– Hook your right foot behind your left inner thigh and gently guide your right knee across your body down towards the mat, as far as is comfortable.

– If your knee doesn’t come all the way down, you can support it on a cushion or two.

– Look to the right and completely let go of tension in your neck and shoulders.

– When you’re ready, take a deep breath in. Exhale, come back to centre and switch sides.

PHASE 2: STRENGTHEN WEEK MUSCLES

When you feel that you’re out of the danger zone, you can add in some strengthening exercises. Try to do them every day or as often as possible, ideally in the morning when your energy and motivation levels are high.

These exercises strengthen the muscles that work together to support your lumbar spine – the abs, obliques, hips and glutes.

Hold them for 5-10 breaths, in and out through your nose, or as long as you can without compromising your form. Contracting your abs on every exhalation will help to build muscular strength and support for your spine.

1. Plank

3 Layers Of Yoga To Relieve Lower Back Pain

– From all fours, walk your hands forward, tuck your toes and come up into Plank.

– Spread your fingers wide and press your hands evenly into the mat. Check that your shoulders are directly over your wrists and your feet are hip-width apart.

– Try to create a straight line all the way from your heels, to your hips, to the back of your head. Engage your core and press back through your heels to straighten your legs.

– Look down at the mat to complete the alignment.

2. Side Plank

3 Layers Of Yoga To Relieve Lower Back Pain

– From Plank, shift your weight onto your right hand and come to the outside edge of your right foot. Open your body to the left stacking your left foot on top of the right and bring your left hand to your hip.

– Make sure your right wrist is directly below your right shoulder and straighten your left arm up to the sky.

– Your ankles, hips and shoulders should all be in a straight line.

– When you’re ready to come down, take a deep breath in. Exhale, come back to Plank and switch sides.

3. Locust

– Lie face down on the mat with your feet hip-width apart and your arms resting by your sides, palms facing up.

– Inhale, lift your chest, hands, arms and feet off the mat. Exhale, draw your shoulders back and push through the balls of your feet, looking straight down at the mat so you don’t compress your neck.

– When you’re ready, take a deep breath in. Exhale, come down onto the mat.

– Rest your left cheek on the mat and rock your hips from side to side to release your lower back.

– Push back to Child’s pose for a few breaths.

4. Bridge

– Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the mat, hip-width apart. Check that your toes point straight ahead.

– Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing down. Walk your feet back until your fingertips graze your heels.

– Screw your feet into the mat and lift your hips all the way up. Check that your knees point straight ahead and do not fall out to the sides or in towards each other.

– Roll your shoulder blades underneath you and come up to your edge. Interlace your fingers if you can.

– Contract your glutes to stabilize your hips.

– When you’re ready to come down, take a deep breath in. Exhale, lower slowly down onto the mat.

– Bring one hand to your belly and one hand to your chest. Walk your feet to the edges of the mat and drop both knees slowly to the right, and to the left. Windscreen wiping your knees a few times to release your lower back.

PHASE 3: INCREASE MOBILITY IN THE JOINTS

The third layer to add into your back relief program is a gentle 15-minute yoga sequence designed to increase thoracic spine and hip mobility, stretch your hip flexors, quads, hip rotators, glutes, hamstrings and groin and strengthen your lower back and abs. You can start to practice it whenever you feel ready.

We finish with a short diaphragmatic breathing exercise that is designed to relax tension throughout your body and calm down your central nervous system.

Practice this routine in the evening, ideally 3-5 times a week until the pain starts to ease off. Remember to pay attention to your breathing throughout, keeping your breaths long, slow and deep.

Prevention Is the Ultimate Principle of Wisdom

– Here are some extra strategies to keep your spine young, healthy and pain-free.

– Try not to sit for more than 30 minutes at a time. Take breaks to go for a walk or do some simple stretches and mobility exercises.

– Be aware of your posture throughout the day, standing or sitting up tall whilst keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed.

– Warm up and cool down before and after you exercise.

– Mix up your workouts to avoid repetitive strain injuries.

– Commit yourself to a bulletproof self-care routine. This could include yoga, breathing, massage, sauna, ice baths (my new current obsession) or just taking time off work to play and have fun.

– Prioritize sleep to optimize muscle tissue repair.

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” ~ Jim Rohn

More from Abi:

How to Practice Yoga Safely

7 Ways Yoga is Beneficial to Longevity


ABI CARVER designs 15-minute yoga routines to improve flexibility, balance and strength, de-stress and ease aches and pains. Her videos are available to download from her site: www.yoga15.com.

Photo credit: Paul Baker

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