These notes are for anyone who is interested in yoga poses to stretch and strengthen their lower back, and also as a refresher for those students who attended the recent “Yoga for Lower Back Care” workshop. Not all the poses have complete descriptions so you may need to google…
Lower back pain is very common, affecting at least 80% of people at some point in their life. The causes are wide and varied, but most are caused by a muscular imbalance, perhaps due to improper movement, or an injury at some time or another. There is a lot we can do in yoga to learn safe movement to prevent strain and also to heal lower back pain.
We spend a lot of time sitting at a desk at a computer, which shortens our hamstrings (the group of muscles at the back of our thighs) and our hip flexors, which can put a lot of strain on our lower back.
Here are some of the exercises we went through at the workshop:
We talked a lot about pelvis stability and the importance of having a stable pelvis, so check it out during poses and also during your day. Take time to breathe and relax and also be aware of your posture, take your shoulder blades down your back, find a natural curve in your lower back with a neutral spine. Practice pelvic tilts: lying on your back with knees bent and feet on floor find a natural space between your lower back and the floor. Inhale. Now exhale and gently press your lower back to the floor, filling the space until your back is flat on the floor, release and continue with the movement following your breath.
1) Strengthening the posterier chain of muscles in the lower back. It is often overlooked that as well as the strengthening the core muscles and stretching the lower back, we also need to strengthen the large muscles that form the back of the ‘corset’ around our body:
Cat-Cow and Table Balance: On hands and knees find a neutral spine gently pulling belly button towards your spine to tighten core. Inhale and arch your back, leading with your belly, stretching your chin and tailbone towards the sky. Exhale and flex your spine, pushing up from hands and letting head drop. Now come back to a neutral spine. Extend left hand and right flexed foot out keeping shoulders and hips even, hold for 10 seconds, release and move to opposite side. Continue a few times, holding longer as you feel stronger.
Gentle cobra pose: Think of lifting from the lower back, initially keeping your feet on the floor, then raising hands and feet as you feel stronger.
Chair pose: be careful to bend from the hips and maybe stick your butt out more than usual. Keep your weight on your heels as much as you can. You should feel the muscles in your lower back being used. Try this in the shower every day and feel the warm water on your back.
2) Transversis Abdominus: This is the deepest abdominal muscle that makes up the front part of the corset around your lower trunk.
Lying on your back with your knees bent, press your fingers in about one inch from your hip crest. If you tense your abs or say’HA” you should feel the TA firing. If not, keep trying, it might be subtle.
Try being aware and tightening the TA when you think of it… standing in line, lying down, sitting at your desk.
Dolphin plank: Lying on your stomach bring your forearms to the floor so they are parallel with your elbows under your shoulders, palms face down. Lift your hips keeping your knees on the floor. Keep your hips low so that you can feel your abdominals tightening. You can lift your knees off the floor in you want. Stay for 20 seconds, work up to 30 then a minute.
3) Psoas muscle. This is the deep hip flexor that inserts in the lower lumbar spine and comes down to join the illium, making it the only muscle to join your torso with your legs. It is also intimately connected with the fight-flight-freeze response, as it primes your legs to run if you are in danger. Therefore, if you tend to have a lot of anxiety, you probably have a tight psoas.
Psoas resting posture: This pose I got from Liz Koch, a yoga teacher who writes a lot about the psoas. Lie on your back with you knees bent, arms at your sides. let your lower back lie with it’s natural curve. Completely relax, letting your body feel heavy and consciously relaxing through your hips. Stay here for 10-15 minutes if you can, at least once or twice a day.
Gentle Low Lunge: make sure your pelvis is even and stable as you stretch each side.
4) Hamstrings: When you bend over in a forward fold, be sure and bend your knees to take the pressure off your lower back. Your back should be straight, not curved. Bend from the hip crease, pushing your buttocks out behind you if it helps to exaggerate it a bit. Practice this a few times a day so you start to develop the movement memory so it becomes more of a habit.
Dandasana and Paschimottanasana