According to the American Chiropractic Association, it is estimated that as much as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in their lives. Low back pain in particular is the single leading cause of disability worldwide.
These alarming numbers speak to the importance of taking care of you back now, before it sidelines your life. Apart from maintaining a healthy diet and weight, regular exercise, and practicing proper posture, yoga can be an extremely effective tool for preventing and mitigating back pain. This ancient practice is also known for strengthening your back, which goes hand in hand with prevention of back issues.
One study published on NCBI concludes the efficacy of yoga for relieving back pain:
“Yoga appears as effective as other non-pharmacologic treatments in reducing the functional disability of back pain. It appears to be more effective in reducing pain severity or “bothersomeness” of CLBP when compared to usual care or no care.”
In this post we consulted with Josie, our friend and certified yoga instructor, to come up with 10 beginner friendly yoga poses that target your back- both to relieve your back tension and pain, and to strengthen the muscles in that area. Practice these poses often, whether next to your desk at the office, or at the comfort of your own home.
As always, if you already suffer from back problems, consult with your doctor first on whether it’s safe to practice yoga (or any physical activity for that matter).
1. Forward Fold Half Way (Ardha Uttanasana)
Benefits: Strengthens the back and spine which ultimately improves posture. Relieves tension in neck and back. Tones abdominal muscles and stretches and lengthens the front and back torso.
a. Stand on a mat with feet slightly apart and hands on your hips
b. Inhale, lifting the breastbone and then fold forward, arching your back
c. Bring your fingertips to the floor
d. Place hands on shins and lift halfway up
e. Exhale and release as you stand upright.
2. Upward Facing Dog (Ūrdhva Mukha Svānāsana)
Benefits: Strengthens the back and align the spine. This is important as a spine out of alignment puts stress in other parts of the body and creates a domino effect.
a. Lie face-down on the floor with your legs spread a few inches apart
b. Straighten your arms and lift your torso and legs a few inches off the floor
c. Press palms down onto floor, dropping shoulders and lifting chest forward
d. Lift thighs and legs off the floor
d. Hold for up to 3 breaths
e. Bend knees and slowly lower your torso and forehead to the mat
3. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Benefits: Reduces stress and fatigue, stretches the muscles of the back torso and can help relieve neck and back pain.
a. Start on all fours
b. Spread your knees apart, all the while keeping the big toes touching
c. Rest your bum on your heels
d. Sit up straight, bow forward, placing your torso between your thighs
e. Let your forehead touch the floor and hold for at least a minute
4. Low Plank (Caturanga Dandasana)
Benefits: Tones all core muscles including the lower back. Strengthens the muscles surrounding the spine and improves posture.
a. Lie face down with elbows directly beneath your shoulders
b. Clasp your hands in front of your face
c. Rise up on your toes. Only your forearms and toes must be touching the floor
d. Your body needs to hover a few inches off the floor
e. Draw your navel toward your spine, tightening your buttocks
f. Hold for at least 10 seconds and then lower yourself to the floor
5. Cow Pose (Bitilasana)
Benefits: Improves blood circulation, strengthening the back and improving body balance. For acute back pain, this yoga pose brings blood flow and healing nutrients to the spine.
a. Get down onto all fours
b. Knees to be set directly below hips and wrists, elbows and shoulders in line to floor
c. Center head in neutral position and look at the floor
d. Allow your stomach to sink to the floor and lift head to look straight forward or slightly upwards
e. Return to the neutral all-fours position
6. Supine Twist (Supta Jaṭhara Parivartānāsana)
Benefits: Stretches the back muscles and realigns the spine. If you battle with back pain, this pose is worth considering as it will stretch all the muscles running along the spine. For people who sit at a desk all day, this twist pose is a must.
a. Lie on your back
b. Palms facing down, bring arms out to the sides in a ‘T’ position
c. Bend left knee, placing left foot on the right knee
d. Drop left knee over to right side of body, twisting spine and lower back
e. Keep shoulders flat to floor
f. Hold for 6 – 10 breaths
e. Repeat on the other side
7. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Benefits: Builds back strength and protects the health and flexibility of the spine. This flexibility eases pain and improves posture. Soothes the sciatic nerves for people with sciatica.
a. Lie on the mat with your back on the floor
b. Arms must be on the sides of your thighs
c. Bend both knees, placing feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart
d. Press the feet into the floor, lift the chest, back and hips off the floor
e. Maintain the pose for 30 seconds
f. Bring your back down
8. Low Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Benefits: Decreases stiffness of the lower back, increasing flexibility, toning the buttocks and strengthening the spine.
a. Lie face-down with legs a few inches apart
b. Place hands under your shoulders with fingers pointing toward the top of the mat
c. Press down through the tops of your feet
d. Lift head and chest gently off the floor
e. Draw your shoulders back and away from your ears
f. Straighten your arms, lift chest off the floor and press tops of thighs down into the floor
9. Seated Side Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Benefits: Strengthen the back muscles, with added benefit for the soft tissue surrounding the spine.
a. Sit up on a mat, legs stretched out in front of you
b. Bend the right knee and place right foot on the ground outside of your left thigh
c. Keep left leg stretched out in front of you, or bent inwards
d. turn your torso to the right. Wrap your left arm around your right leg or straightened and inside it, and place your right hand on the ground behind the bottom part of your spine
10. Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
Benefits: An intense hamstring stretch that’s also good for lengthening your back which brings relief to the lower back.
a. Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you
b. Inhale as you reach straight up so as to lengthen your spine
c. Exhale, reaching to grab your big toes and feel a gentle stretch in your hamstrings
d. Breathe fully as you lengthen your spine. Hold for 30 seconds.
The epidemic that is back pain in modern society will afflict 8 in 10 of us at some stage. Pause and think about that for a moment.
Many people resort to pain killers and other pharmaceutical drugs to manage back pain, though the better word is “suppress”. Overtime as the efficacy of the drugs wear off, we end up where we started, but compounded with an addiction to the drugs.
When it comes to back pain, a much better approach is prevention, by strengthening the back and muscles around the spine to ward off all types of back injuries. Yoga represents the perfect beginner friendly exercise routine for that purpose. For people already suffering from back pain, the low impact nature of these yoga routines can also help sooth and quicken your recovery, by bringing much needed oxygen, nutrients and blood to the injured areas. And to engage the core and improve your posture even while you sit, invest in an ergonomic office chair or good kneeling chair.
Start practicing these routines today and reap the benefits for the rest of your life. Namaste!
- 5 Alexander Technique Exercises You Must Try For your Posture and Back Pain
- Best Ways to Sit with Lower Back Pain
- 7 Reasons you Have Neck and Shoulder Pain at the Computer (How to Fix It)
- Best Ergonomic Chairs Reviews and Buyer’s Guide
- Best Office Chairs for Back Pain
- Best Office Chairs for Sciatica
Thank you for taking the time to write this Jon. I have been doing the Suryanamaskar off and on but was missing out on some of the other poses that you have mentioned. This helps a lot, and now I have something handy, so I can do my exercises whenever I want.
I tried yoga at a studio in the past but was unsuccessful in carrying on. Because I was in a class with people who had been doing yoga for years, I always lagged and it felt awkward. It also became difficult to attend the classes all the time with my erratic work schedule.
This is such a great compilation of all the basic yoga poses, and you are right, they are excellent for beginners. I started with yoga a year ago, and it has helped with toning my body and overall pain relief in a big way.
However, I would suggest that if possible, a person should take a few classes with a professional just to get the right postures. Even doing a simple aasan incorrectly can be harmful in the long run. For me, the biggest challenge is motivation to get up and do it.
Hey Jon, I’m Anita, and I wanted to thank you for the article. As a stay-at-home mom and author, my back has been killing me from all the sitting and bending down throughout the day. I’ve been to the doctors, and I don’t want to take any medication for it. It’s quite alarming since I am only in my early 30s. I’ve obviously known about yoga, but I always figured that it needs to be done in a studio, which I couldn’t do because of being stuck at home.
I’ve tried a few of these poses over the last week, and can instantly feel my muscles relax and stretch. I haven’t tried the twisting poses for now. I guess, once I’m more flexible, I can try those.
I am taking it slow right now, but like should I follow the order of the poses in the article, so can I do whatever I like, whenever I want?
Jon Muller says
Sorry to hear about your back pain. You can the poses in any order and as your body allows. And when you feel pain, stop!