Discomfort in the lower back is no fun and is definitely one of the most common complaints out there. Since massages are expensive and aren't always convenient, here are some yoga poses you can do at home or anywhere that you have a space to yourself in order to get some relief.
1. Hamstring Stretches.
Using a strap (or, if you don’t have one, use a regular towel or belt from home), lasso the right foot with your strap while extending the left leg down in the opposite direction. Take advantage of these forces of opposition: flexing the bottom heel, driving it away from the body, and “kicking” the top heel towards the sky. Put as much bend in the top knee as necessary to prevent tugging in the lower back. You want to feel the stretch in the meat of the leg, not the tendons behind the knee. Repeat on both sides, holding for about a minute on each.
Why this works: Let’s talk fascia. The fascia is everywhere, but on the back of the body it’s continuous from the head to heel, covering the calf, hamstring, sacrum, and the erectors, all the way up to the back of the head, like a stocking. With this stretch, you’ll loosen that portion of the fascia, which will put some slack on the lower back to relieve some of that discomfort. By releasing the back and spine here, we can allow the discs to reset.
2. Low Bridge.
From lying down flat, bring the feet hip-width apart, as close to the butt as possible as long as it’s comfortable to do so. Place a block width-wise between the upper thighs near the pelvis, and squeeze the block hard. Place the arms down at the sides, pressing the palms into the floor. Lift the hips off the floor and avoid putting pressure on the neck. Keep your bridge low, so the ribcage remains pretty low. Relax the upper glutes near the sacrum and engage the lower glutes, which feels like squeezing your sit bones together.
Why this works: By engaging the lower glutes (think of squeezing the area that granny panties would go to!) and releasing the area around the sacrum, you allow the lower back to open up and unravel all the muscles that are usually tight in that area. It’s not going to feel like the deepest bridge you’ve ever done and will be more subtle than you might be used to. Remember, this is about feeding the back so we can do more rigorous practices that serve us.
3. Lying Supine Twists.
Lying down with a long straight posture, stack the knees over the hips. Let them drop to one side, and gradually unfold the opposite shoulder away from the knees. Sometimes it feels better to anchor the knees or shoulders to the mat, but that’s your choice. Gently engage the belly and breathe, switching sides after a minute or so.
Why this works: This twisting action helps to maintain the health of our spinal discs, and the feel of this pose is all about release. The muscles in the lower back are stimulated and lengthened in this pose, which assists us in our ability to move more freely. I’m sure I won’t bring every yoga teacher along with me on this one, but for twists in general, as long as it feels good, keep doing it however you’re doing it. Don’t worry about forcing your knees to the floor or pressing both shoulders into the mat. If you have a gentle, free-feeling twist, you’ve got the right idea.
4. Child’s Pose with Arms Down.
From kneeling, bring your feet together and knees apart. Drop your hips back towards your heels and pitch the chest forward, laying the chest down between the thighs. Bring the forehead down to the floor. Rest the arms down at the sides with the elbows soft and palms facing up. Lengthen the tailbone away from the pelvis and breath, holding the pose as long as you like.
Why this works: Restoring the length in the spine as well as bringing symmetry to all the muscles on both sides of the spine that support our every day movement. The placement of the arms is a matter of preference and will be totally subjective. In my and many of my students’ cases, the arms being down at the sides offers a different release of the spine and low back then with the arms stretched overhead. But, remember, yoga is meant to feel good. So if it feels good for you to have them up, keep them stretched overhead.
Let me know how this works!