I remember reading a statistic that up to 70-90% of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives and when you think about it, that’s a lot of people! Unfortunately due to our modern lifestyles we often don’t move our spine through its full range of movements, causing our spine to become stiff and our bodies more susceptible to injury. Our spine is the thing that literally keeps us upright, so it is essential that we show it tender loving care to ensure it has the flexibility and strength for us to move through our lives efficiently and carefree.
This is where Yoga can be a great tool in providing a safe and fun way to allow our spines to become more flexible and build strength. The thing I love about yoga is that it uses a combination of stretching, strengthening and mindfulness in all its poses to give you an awesome, all round workout. Having experienced back pain myself, I have found great benefit from incorporating Yoga into my exercise routine.
Before we get into the yoga poses I want to quickly go through the 5 main movements of the spine that will allow us to understand why these yoga poses are so great for our spine. The 5 main movements of the spine are:
- Flexion: Bending of the spine
- Extension: Arching of the spine
- Rotation: Twisting of the spine
- Lateral flexion: Side bending of the spine
- Axial extension: Lengthening of the spine (think of a slinky stretching)
Now that we understand the movements of the spine let’s get into some yoga poses that will have our spines feeling great.
Child pose is an excellent way to improve the bending of your spine and stretch the muscles at that extend your spine. Simply start by kneeling on the ground, folding at your hips and bring your head towards the floor keeping your bottom over your heels. You can have your arms by your side or extend your arms if you want to add a shoulder stretch as well. Hold this pose for 1-2 minutes taking deep breaths as you do so.
Sphinx pose is an ideal way to improve the arching/natural curve in your spine and stretch the muscles at the front of your hips. Start by lying face down on your mat/floor, prop onto your elbows keeping your elbows underneath your shoulders and arch the spine keeping your hips in contact with the floor. Make sure you go to a point which is comfortable for you, if this position is not comfortable you can modify it by bringing the elbows slightly forward. Hold for 1-2 minutes taking deep breaths as you do so.
Performing cat/cows is a great way of improving the way your spine moves into bending and arching. Start off on all fours making sure your knees are under your hips and your hands are underneath your shoulder. Begin by dropping your belly and arching your spine and lifting your head as you do so (cow pose) and then rounding the spine and dropping the head (cat pose). Repeat 10-15 times in each direction and to further add to the practice, time your cat/cows with your breath by taking a breath in as you go into cow pose and breathing out as you go into cat pose.
This is an awesome way to improve the strength and flexibility with rotating movements in your spine. Start by lying on your back and bring yours arms out to the side in a T-shape. Next bring your knees toward your chest whilst maintaining the natural curve in your spine. Practice bringing your knees to one side as far as you can, ensuring your shoulders stay in contact with the ground and that you keep your gaze upwards. Repeat 10-15 times to each side breathing in as you bring your knees to the side and breathing out as you bring your knees back to centre.
Standing side bend pose:
As the name suggests, standing side bend pose is a fantastic way to develop the side bending motion in your spine and stretch the muscles in your side body. Start by standing with your feet hip width apart and reaching your arms towards the sky. Start by bringing your right hip to one side and arching your spine towards the left side, you can add to the stretch by holding onto your right wrist with your left hand and gently pulling down on your right wrist. Hold for 1 minute taking deep breaths as you do so and repeat on the other side.
There’s a reason why Downward Dog is one of the most well-known yoga poses, it’s a great all round pose and a fantastic way of enhancing the lengthening motion in your spine. Begin on all fours with your knees over your hips and your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Lift your knees away from the floor and reach your bottom towards the ceiling by bringing your weight onto your hands and feet. Try to think of length in your spine as you reach your tailbone away from your head, keep your knees as straight as possible without locking them and don’t worry if your heels don’t touch the ground. Hold for 1-2 minutes taking deep breaths as you do so.
So why not add these yoga poses to your morning routine, pre/post exercise workout or night time ritual to ease your back pain and get your spine moving in the way it was meant to be moved. If your lower back pain does persist, then it might be a good idea to see one of our great physio’s at BPS to get a thorough assessment and of your spine and get you moving pain free again.