Attack of the Back!
The U.S. back pain market is said to approach $23 billion dollars by 2018. That is a lot of money that we could probably find plenty of ways to make better use of ... if only we could collectively get our backs under control.
A big part of the problem is that we now sit more then ever, commuting, working and scrolling, leading to some pretty wicked back problems which I am now suffering from for the first time in my life.
Yoga is often recommended for bad backs, but I'll let you in on a little secret ... it can often make your back pain worse if you're not careful! At I.AM.YOU, my yoga studio in NYC, we deconstruct the muscles involved in back attacks, and reconstruct with the right yoga sequences.
When performed correctly, there are optimal yoga poses that can not only relieve, but prevent, back pain going forward. Here are four of my faves for back pain, which I have used on hundreds of students, including myself.
Sequence begins at top left.
1. Squat (Malasana) Variation
Start with your feet and knees touching and squat low. Open your knees as wide as you can while keeping your feet together. Drop your forearms between your legs and let your head hang, freeing up the back of your neck. Optionally, you can place a blanket under your heels if the don't touch the ground or need the extra support for your body weight.
Breathe deeply for 5-20 breaths. This stretches the erector spinae muscles, which extend the entire vertebral column.
2. Boat Pose (Navasana)
A strong core means a strong back, and less back pain!
From a seated position with your hands to either side of you, engage core as you extend the feet long in front of you, lifted to about 45 degrees. Bring your arms parallel on either side and breathe deeply for 5-20 breaths. If it's too much for you, invite a bend in the knees to help find stability.
Think of this pose as free back pain prevention.
3. Wide-Legged Boat Pose
From Boat Pose, reach for your big toes or grab hold underneath your thighs. Open your legs wide and lift your chest from the sternum. Optionally, you can carefully drop your head back and send your gaze upward.
Hold here 5-10 breaths to really open up your outer thighs.
4. Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana)
From there, gently release your legs to the ground, making any minor adjustments necessary. Be sure to remove the fleshy parts away from the sit bones as you begin to draw your forehead toward the ground, reaching long out of your waist. You can rest the forehead on a block if it doesn't quit reach the floor.
Stay here for a while if you can, up to 30 deep breaths, stretching your QL muscle group in the lower back, the sacrum, as well as the glutes.
Photos courtesy of the author
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