In a time where many of us continually stoop over devices, sit in chairs that most likely don’t support the spine, and experience a variety of stresses from work to family to, dare I say, politics, it's no surprise that back pain, specifically the lower back, is both a common and unfortunate issue. Whether it is a result of taking a trip or fall, lifting something too heavy, or general life stressors, back pain is no joke.
We also may not realize that discomfort in the spine can affect the hips, knees, ankles, and feet, not to mention the neck and shoulders. The spine plays such a significant role in the body as it not only holds us upright, but it houses and protects our vital organs. It's important to have both a strong and supple spine; as the saying goes, “strong back, soft front, wild heart.” We need the back muscles to support our entire physical structure, and through that stability, we are able to experience more space.
It can feel overwhelming to consider the repercussions of being uneven or uncomfortable in the back, and so the first thing we must learn is simply to pay attention. When we are aware of our muscles and bones—even our organs—we may begin to notice how intricately connected our body is, and the interconnectedness of the mind will inevitably follow.
Alongside the act of being more alert, we suggest a simple yoga flow with these three asana postures to strengthen the spine and hopefully provide much-needed relief for lower back pain.
Cow & cat pose
Come onto hands and knees into a tabletop position—shoulders stacked over wrists with fingers facing forward and hips stacked over knees with the toenails facing back in line with the knees. Begin by simply equalizing the weight distribution, and draw the ribs away from the floor for a neutral spine. Keep the eyes soft. Inhale to widen the collarbones forward through the arms; lengthen neck forward and tailbone back, creating an arched spine without letting the belly completely drop or pushing the lower back down. Exhale to lift the belly and round the spine, pressing evenly into hands and shins to let the head drop, and separate the shoulder blades for a broad upper back. Keep fluctuating on the breath. If it feels good, roll it around in a circle and wiggle it out.
Most importantly, use the physical knowledge that you gain from practicing these postures in the way that you hold yourself throughout your day—whether standing, seated, or staring at your device. Pay attention to how it affects not only your muscles and joints but your mood and mind-body connection as a whole.
And remember—practice doesn't make perfect; it just makes for something to always return to and keep working on.
Bhujangasana, aka cobra, both lengthens and strengthens the spine simultaneously, which is necessary to not only feel better but to be able to stand and sit well.
Lie on the belly, forehead down, hands flat next to the low ribs with the elbows pointing straight up over the wrists. Bring the legs either fully together or about hip width apart behind you. Lengthen through the toenails and press the tops of the feet into the floor to elongate and firm the muscles of the legs—especially the sides of the knees. You can play with moving on an inhale or an exhale: Lift the heads of the shoulders away from the floor to tighten the muscles around the shoulder blades on the upper back, and lengthen the head and chest forward and up. Use the strength of the legs and the drawing back of the shoulders to both steady and elongate the whole body; let the breath travel through both the front and back of the body. Keep the eyes and the muscles around the forehead calm. You can try staying for a few breaths or lifting and lowering on each breath. Rest for a moment before coming back up off the belly.
Jathara Parivartanasana, also called a supine twist, is incredibly soothing and helps not only to mobilize the spine but also to quite literally unwind.
Lie on the back with the knees bent and feet flat. Open the arms wide to the side in a T-shape to extend the elbows, wrists and fingers in line with the shoulders. Experiment with both flat palms (stabilizing) and palms faceup. Draw the knees tightly into the chest, keeping the whole inner leg together. Bring the knees up toward the left armpit, keeping the right shoulder blade firm on the floor. For a more active pose, press the arms vigorously down into the floor and squeeze the legs together, floating them just off the ground. For a more restorative posture, place a pillow or bolster between the knees and shins, allowing the legs to come onto the floor, and bend the elbows to a 90-degree cactus shape, palms faceup. In the twist, let the breath move easily into the side and back of the ribs. If active: Inhale to twist, and exhale to come to center. If passive: Remain in the twist for a few breaths, and repeat on both sides.
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