Want to know how to relieve back pain fast? Yoga may be just the thing for you, and in this post, we’re going to show you five easy and effective yoga poses for back pain relief and spine health.
Why yoga? For people with recurring back pain, much of the problem can come from muscle rigidity caused by stress and habitual postures like sitting at a desk. This reduces blood flow and oxygen levels, causing stiffness and pain. Yoga is great not only for helping those tense muscles loosen up, but also for calming the mind, so that your body can stay more relaxed.
Now, if you’ve been injured, you’re pregnant, or you have any doubt whether yoga is right for you, please check with your physician before trying yoga or any new exercise routine.
That said, since yoga is a practice for the mind as much as the body, even if you have limited ability to do physical poses, you can still get great benefits by taking time to breathe and focus your mind on your physical body, so keep reading!
Yoga Practice: Getting Started
A yoga practice for the back can be anywhere from a minute to several hours. If you’re a beginner or looking for some quick relief in the middle of your day, 5-10 minutes can be a great starting point. A few tips:
- Remember to breathe! Think slow, deep, and relaxed.
- Don’t strain. The ideal level of stretch is where you feel just a slight pull in the area you’re working on. Going for maximum stretch without proper training will likely get you injured. So be gentle, especially if you’re new to yoga or stretching.
- Give your mind a break from your usual worries by focusing on the physical sensation of the stretch and exercise. If you realize you’ve started thinking about your to-do list or that fight you had with your partner, don’t worry, but do bring your mind back to what you’re doing.
A great place to start your yoga session is with a simple standing posture called Mountain Pose. This can do wonders on its own, even if others poses aren’t in the works for you right now. It helps calm the mind, develop greater balance and coordination, and reprogram those habitual muscular holding patterns that cause pain.
Simply stand with your big toes touching or slightly apart and your heels turned out a bit so the outsides of your feet are parallel with each other. Imagine your head floating up, extending your neck and spine, and at the same time allow your tailbone to sink toward the floor.
Let your shoulder blades widen and sink down your back (if that’s new to you, just visualize it). Let your arms hang. Breathe slowly and deeply, and let your whole body rock and sway a bit, both front to back and side to side, until you find the most relaxed position to stand in. Stay there for a few breaths or a few minutes. (If standing is too difficult, you can do this pose sitting on the front edge of a chair.)
<Get more details on Mountain Pose at Yoga Outlet.>
Now let’s move on to some other yoga poses that help with back pain. There are lots of great ones to choose from, and we’ve selected the following ones because they cover some key movements and stretches to support a healthy back: rounding, arching, twisting, and lengthening.
Yoga Pose 1: Downward Dog
Possibly the most well-known position out there, Downward Dog is a great yoga pose for your back. It builds core and upper body strength, lengthens your spine, and helps your vertebrae move freely.
Getting into the pose:
From Mountain Pose, sink down to place your hands and knees on the floor, thighs perpendicular to the floor and hands a little ahead of your shoulders. Spread your fingers and adjust your hands so your index fingers point straight ahead.
Turn your toes under, exhale, and raise your knees off the floor to mostly straighten your legs and arms.
- Lift your pelvis up and away from both your hands and ankles.
- Press the bases of your index fingers into the floor.
- Widen your shoulder blades across your back to bring your upper arms more in front of your body rather than out to the side.
- Don’t lock your knees, but do gently reach your heels toward the floor. You can also pedal them one at a time, being careful not to strain your Achilles tendons.
- Keep your head in line with your arms, not hanging straight down.
To exit the pose, simply lower your knees back down to the floor. With toes turned under, push yourself back onto the soles of your feet. Then slowly make your way back up to Mountain Pose for a few breaths.
<Get more details on Downward Dog from Yoga Journal.>
Yoga Pose 2: Garland
People all over the world sit in a squatted position for extended periods while working or just hanging out. But in most of the chair-loving developed world, we’ve unfortunately given up the habit, and lost some of our mobility as a result. Reclaiming this natural posture with yoga will free up your spine, and strengthen your core, knees, and ankles.
Getting into the pose:
With your feet a little wider than your hips, lower yourself down into a full squat. If your heels can’t touch the floor, use a folded towel or mat under them. If you need some support for balance, you can do this pose with the back of your pelvis against a wall.
Lean forward a bit, place your elbows against the insides of your knees, and press your palms together in a prayer position.
- Squeeze your elbows with your knees.
- Keep your breathing smooth and gentle.
- If you’re able to safely go deeper into the stretch, lean further forward, squeeze your ribs with your thighs, press the backs of your upper arms against the front of your knees, and touch your fingertips to the floor.
To exit, release the press between your arms and legs, and either stand up slowly to return to Mountain Pose, or move right to a seated position for the next pose.
<Learn more about Garland at Gaia.com.>
Yoga Pose 3: Seated Twist
Twists are great for spine health and for strengthening the network of muscles in your abdomen and torso. This pose is done seated on the floor, and if that doesn’t work for you, you can also do a modified version in a chair (ideally one with no wheels, unless you want to turn your twist into a spin).
Getting into the pose:
Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Then bring your right foot as close to your pelvis as possible, with the sole on the floor and your knee pointed up. Reach forward with the sole of your left foot, lengthening the leg. Press your right foot lightly into the ground.
Exhale and rotate your torso to the right. Wrap your left arm around your right leg, and press your right hand into the floor behind your pelvis to give a little lift to your torso.
Turn your head to the right to twist your neck as well, and find a spot to stare at.
- If you’re able to safely go deeper, you can cross your left upper arm over your right thigh and point your forearm and fingers straight up.
- Smoothe your breathing, lengthening your spine on each inhale and adding a little more twist on each exhale (relaxing into the twist rather than forcing it).
- Work towards a slight backward arch in your upper back, assisted by that right hand on the floor.
To exit the pose, exhale and release the twist, and extend your right leg in front of you again. Then repeat the twist on the other side. Once you’ve done both sides, return to a straight-legged seated position.
<See a great video on Seated Twist from Ekhart Yoga.>
Yoga Pose 4: Cat/Cow
Two poses in one! Returning to a hands and knees position, you’re going to move back and forth between rounding and arching your spine. The alternating motion lubricates and frees up all the tiny muscles that lie deep against your vertebrae. It also creates more openness in your chest, which can help elevate your mood.
Getting into the pose:
Start in a “tabletop” position, with both your thighs and arms perpendicular to the floor, your face pointed toward the floor, and your back flat.
To move into Cat pose, exhale slowly as you round your back up toward the ceiling and let your head relax down.
To move into Cow, inhale and gently lift your tailbone and upper torso, allowing your abdomen to sink. Extend your neck to lift your head so you’re looking straight ahead or slightly up (not straight up).
Finish back in tabletop with a few deep breaths.
- Keep those arms and legs still as you move your spine between the two poses.
- Don’t crank your neck down toward your chest in Cat, and in Cow, don’t bend it back to look up. Instead, in both poses, think about extending your neck in a relaxed way, with just a bit of curve.
<See a demo from the Huffington Post.>
Yoga Pose 5: Child’s Pose
A natural progression from Cat and Cow, Child’s Pose will provide a gentle traction for your back as well as a peaceful, cocoon-like sensation to finish your yoga session.
Getting into the pose:
From the tabletop position, lower your pelvis down and back toward the floor. Let your torso settle in between your legs, and rest your forehead on the floor. Depending on your flexibility, you might need a folded towel or small cushion either under your forehead or between your thighs and calves.
You can either rest your arms down by your sides, palms up, or you can reach them forward (beyond the top of your head), palms on the floor.
- Lengthen and widen your back as you breathe.
- If your mind wanders, keep bringing it back to the feeling of the stretch and your breath.
To exit the pose, lengthen your neck and back, and lift from your pelvis. If you need to, you can also place your hands on the floor by your shoulders and press to help yourself up and make your way back to standing.
<Want to go deeper? Learn more about Child’s Pose from Yoga Journal.>
An aching back doesn’t have to ruin your life. There are many solutions for back pain (we happen to believe that ergonomic office equipment is a great one).
Finding the right combination for you may take some experimenting, and we’re here to help! Click below to subscribe and get notified whenever we post new information to help you not only have a pain-free back, but one that remains strong and healthy for years to come.
Have questions or a great story about how yoga can help your back? Share in the comments!