Lower back pain can cause undue strain on many aspects of life. Chronic pain can lead to insomnia and depression, so it's important for your overall health to get your body back into balance. A stiff back can also be the cause or symptom of a legion of other body troubles. Because there are so many causes of back pain, it's best to get a correct diagnosis from your doctor before starting a yoga program.
Symptoms with Various Causes
Lower back pain is often caused by an unnatural curvature in your lower back. When your pelvis tilts too far forward, the lumbar curve (the lower portion of your spine) lengthens. This compresses the discs between your vertebrae. This condition is called lordosis, swayback, or hollow back. Strengthening your abdominal muscles helps reduce lordosis by rotating the pelvis into a neutral position.
Other causes of low back pain include tight hip flexors, problems with the sacrum or sacroiliac joint, and inflexible hamstrings. Overworking the abdominal muscles while neglecting the back extensors can also lead to an imbalance. Even suppressed emotions, such as fear and grief, can manifest into back pain.
The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you're in control of your life. If you don't, life controls you.
How Yoga Can Help
It is possible to relieve lower back pain with yoga techniques. A careful balance of stretches and strengthening moves can open up tight spaces in the body and rebalance the muscles.
Not all styles of yoga are appropriate for reducing back pain. If you try to learn by using a book or DVD, you could make things worse. A good choice of yoga styles is Iyengar, which emphasizes alignment and the use of props, like blocks and bolsters. Another option is Viniyoga, a form of yoga therapy that adapts the practice to each individual. Seek out a qualified instructor who can teach you the correct alignment and provide guidance. If you're taking a group class, be sure to let your teacher know about your back trouble before the lesson starts so he or she can modify your poses as needed.
Yoga Poses That Help Relieve Lower Back Pain
Try the gentle asanas (yoga poses) listed below, wait a day or two, and then see how you feel. Be aware that seated forward bends might aggravate your back pain, so only do as much as your body allows. Do not strain or force your body to hold or get into any position. Breathe smoothly throughout each pose.
Spinal Flexibility: Cat Pose
Cat Pose is a warm-up that helps bring flexibility to the lower spine and torso. To avoid over-stretching the lower back, be careful not to let your belly drop between repetitions.
- Start in Table Pose on your hands and knees. Your wrists will be directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Point your fingertips toward the top of your mat. Place your shins and knees hip-width apart, center your head in a neutral position, and soften your gaze downward.
- As you exhale, draw your belly into your spine and round your back toward the ceiling, like a cat stretching its back. Release the crown of your head toward the floor, but don't force your chin to your chest.
- Inhale, coming back into Table Pose, then exhale as you return to Cat Pose.
- Repeat 5-20 times, then rest.
Spine Strengthener: Balancing Table Pose
This pose will help build abdominal and lower back strength. Keep your spine in a neutral position throughout the repetitions.
- Start in Table Pose. Draw your belly button into your spine without arching your back and extend your right leg behind you. Reach through the ball of your foot and rest your toes on the mat. Keep your spine neutral.
- With your abdominal muscles engaged, extend your left arm forward and reach through your fingertips.
- Exhale and release back to Table Pose.
- Repeat on the other side, extending your left leg and right arm. This is one round.
- Complete 5-10 rounds.
Always practice yoga on an empty stomach! Wait at least one hour after a snack, or two hours after a meal, before hitting your mat. You'll keep the digestive process flowing smoothly and properly. Plus, you'll avoid feeling bloated and uncomfortable when bending and twisting!
Low Back Release: Supine Big Toe Pose
- Lie on your back. Bend your right knee and hug your thigh into your chest. Keep your left leg extended along the floor. Wrap the strap around the ball of your right foot and grasp it with both hands.
- Straighten your knee, extending your heel to the ceiling. Keep your right foot flexed and your buttocks equally balanced on the floor. As you draw slightly down on the strap, let the head of your thigh bone rest in your hip socket. Feel your lower back press into the ground.
- Hold for 5-10 breaths.
- Place the strap in your right hand and turn your leg outward to the right. Keeping your left thigh pressing down, lower your right leg all the way to the right. Let your toes hover a few inches above the mat, keeping your leg outwardly rotated.
- Hold for 5-10 breaths.
- Inhale as you raise your leg again. Exhale as you draw your knee into your chest and let go of the strap, and then release your leg completely.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Restorative: Supported Corpse Pose
The final relaxation pose of a yoga practice, Savasana (shah-VAHS-uh-nuh), properly aligns your body and helps you deeply relax. This can be hard with chronic lower back pain. Placing a bolster underneath your knees takes weight off of your pelvis, which can allow the lumbar vertebrae and lower back to release and relax.
- Lie on your back. Place a yoga bolster or a stack of folded blankets under your knees. Let your feet rest on the floor and your legs drop open.
- Close your eyes. You may want to cover your body with a blanket.
- Allow your body to feel heavy on the ground.
- Release each body part, from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head. Tune your awareness inward and relax completely.
- Stay in Savasana for 5-15 minutes.
Yoga is not a miracle cure. While you can't expect one class to instantly heal your pain, you may be surprised by how quickly yoga works! The practice is different for everyone. Remember to relax and treat yourself gently. With patience and regular practice, you will gain innumerable benefits.