Yoga for Back Pain: Prevent Pain By Improving Flexibility and Strength

1
Basic Flexibility for Pain Prevention

Woman with back pain
Tom Merton / Getty Images

This series of four poses was designed in collaboration with Back Pain Expert Anne Asher to prevent back pain by improving basic spinal flexibility, strengthening the core and the spinal support muscles, and becoming comfortable with the movements that control flexion and extension of the spine.

It's a short sequence that can do a lot for you if you practice it regularly. If you already do yoga, add these four poses to your routine. If you're new to yoga, try to commit to taking a little time each day to do these poses. If you already have back pain, be sure to talk to your doctor first to make sure that these exercises are compatible with your condition. 

For each of the following poses, you will find links to complete instructions and a detailed explanation of how the pose helps prevent back pain. 

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Cat-Cow Stretch Improves Spinal Mobility and Awareness

Cat-Cow stretch
Ben Goldstein

1. Begin the series by coming on to all fours with the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips.

2. We will do 10 cat-cow stretches to warm up the spine.

3. Inhale and arch your back (spinal extension). Hug your navel to your spine even though you are dropping your belly. Begin the movement from your tailbone and let it ripple up your spine so that the last motion is your head looking up.

4. Exhale and round your spine (spinal flexion). Again, move the navel toward the spine and initiate the movement with your tail. Your head drops as you take your gaze to your belly.

Anne Asher recommends this stretch for improving awareness of spinal mobility and core stabilization

3
Downward Facing Dog to Stretch the Hips and Hamstrings

Downward Facing Dog - Adho Muhka Svanasana
Ben Goldstein

1. Come back to a neutral spine. and curl your toes under.

2. Exhale and straighten your legs to push back to a downward facing dog.

3. Bend your knees, coming up onto the balls of your feet. Bring your belly to rest on your thighs and your sit bones up high. Then sink your heels, straightening the legs while keeping the high upward rotation of the sit bones. If you have very tight hamstrings, keep a slight bend in your knees.

4. Hold the pose for five breaths.

Asher likes downward facing dog as a stretch for the hips and hamstrings. It also strengthens your deep core muscles, which stabilizes your low back.

4
Cobra Pose Extends and Strengthens Your Back

Cobra or Upward Facing Dog
Ben Goldstein

1. Come back to your hands and knees.

2. Lower to your belly to the ground in the most comfortable way possible.

3. Once you are flat on the floor, place your forehead on your mat and your palms directly under your shoulders with your elbow hugging your sides.

4. Inhale to engage the muscles of your lower back and thighs. Press the tops of your feet into the floor and lift your upper chest off the ground. Take your gaze to the floor just in front of your mat to keep your neck long.

5. Make sure to keep your shoulders moving away from your ears. Keep little to no weight in your hands so that your back is doing the work. You may not be able to lift up as high, but it will be more beneficial.

6. Exhale and lower your forehead back to the floor.

7. Repeat this motion three to five times.

Why do cobra? Asher explains that extending the spine strengthens the back muscles, the abdominals, and the pelvic muscles. It's also a way to relieve disk pain. 

5
Child's Pose Stabilizes the Spine

Mid adult woman doing child's pose against white background
Westend61 / Getty Images

1. Press into your hands to straighten your arms as you bend your knees and push back to child's pose.

2. Separate your knees as wide as your mat and let your belly sink down between the knees.

3. Rest here five to ten breaths before coming back on to all fours and repeating the entire sequence.

Asher recommends child's pose to stabilize the spine after a backbend like cobra.

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