Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that aims to transform the mind and body of the practitioner. Originally an eastern tradition, various forms of yoga have become increasingly more popular in the western world as yogis have grown to appreciate its unique calming properties and effectiveness in combating a myriad of chronic pain conditions. Increasingly, people are looking to use yoga for back pain, as they believe it may help bring relief. Those who suffer from lower back issues – which are one of the most common pain-related complaints in the United States – often use a sequence of yoga poses aimed at stretching the back and targeting fatigues muscles groups. Unfortunately, many of us work in industries that require us to sit long periods of time. Just think about how much time during an average day you sit staring at a computer screen or in a conference table at a company meeting. All this motionless sitting causes our hamstrings to shorten and puts undue stress on the lower back area.
To combat this common problem, yoga practitioners typically incorporate lower hamstring stretches into their daily routine. This is a very simple exercise that can be practiced in virtually any location. Simply like on your back and bend one knee into your chest. Then place a yoga strap or rolled-up towel around the ball of your foot. Straighten your leg in the direction of the ceiling and energetically press out through both of your heels. Hold this stretch anywhere from three to five minutes and then switch to your other leg.
Another popular exercise to combat back pain is the Sphinx pose – which is exactly what it sounds like. Lie on your stomach and gently prop yourself up on your forearms. Place your elbows directly under your shoulders and press firmly through your palms and the tops of your feet. As you do so you will typically feel a stretching sensation in your lower back. This lets you know the pose is stretching those tight muscle groups. Simply breathe through it, as the Sphinx pose allows blood flow into the lower back for rejuvenation and healing purposes. Hold this pose for two minutes.
Next up, yoga’s classic downward dog is another ideal pose for treating back pain. Downward Dog is a healing full body stretch that directly targets your back extensors, which are the rather large muscles located in your lower back that help to support the spine as well as enable you to stand upright and lift heavy objects. To try out downward dog start on your hands and knees, with your hands pushing into the ground directly under your shoulders. Next, gradually raise your knees away from the floor and raise your tailbone up. If you feel comfortable here, slowly push the heels of your feet down to the ground, which will provide an additional hamstring stretch. Hold this position for one to three minutes.
Cat and cow pose is another easy exercise to strengthen the back muscles, as this pose loosens the back muscles, which is perfect if you are already experiencing a bit of soreness. To move into this pose, again start in an all-fours position on your hands and knees. Your hands should push gently into the mat directly under your shoulders. Slowly move into cat pose by gently pressing your spine up and arching your back, just as a cat would do. Hold in this position for a few seconds, and then gradually move to cow by scooping your spine inward, pressing your shoulder blades back and gently lifting your head to gaze at the sky. Move naturally back and forth from cat to cow with deep breaths. This transition helps to move your spine through a neutral position, which does wonders to relax the often-tight muscles and ease lower back tension. Practicing these yoga postures regularly can be an excellent adjunct therapy to inversion therapy.