Most of us have experienced sharp pain in our low back at some point in our lives, or even an aching soreness that can last for days. Whether we’re active or more sedentary, lower back pain continues to plague us. Active types can sometimes focus too much on ab work, which may tighten your front, but at the cost of losing strength in your back. Those with more sedentary lifestyles that include long hours commuting and sitting at a desk can find that our lower backs become even more stressed as our hamstrings and psoas muscles become shortened due to sitting.
Whether it’s because of tight glutes and abs or a weak core, our lower backs are suffering. But through lengthening the spine and the muscles around the entire core (think front to back), and the hips and legs while strengthening those exact same muscles, we can protect our lower back from injury. Try this back opening and strengthening sequence to free yourself from lower back pain!
Standing in tadasana or mountain pose, root down through your feet, lengthening your spine on an inhale. On the exhale, slowly start fold forward, bending your knees as much as needed until your torso is hanging heavy over your legs. Root down through the balls of your feet as you tilt your tailbone up to the sky. Relax the shoulders away from the ears. Take a hold of opposite elbows while you breathe space in between each vertebra. Allow the lower back to soften. Hold for 5 – 10 breaths. On an inhale, slowly rise up, stacking your vertebra one by one.
Coming to hands and knees, spread your fingers wide, making sure your wrists are underneath shoulders and knees are underneath hips. Lengthen the spine, keeping your neck in a neutral position. On an inhale, slightly drop your belly towards the floor, tilting the hips up as you send the chest through the hands and look up for cow. On your exhale, slowly push the mat away, tucking your chin, hugging belly into spine as you curl the spine up towards the sky. Repeat 10 times, following your own breath, massaging your spine, and loosening up your back, hips, and chest.
From downward dog, inhale to plank (one straight line with your entire body, hugging the belly into the spine, keeping the hips aligned with the shoulders), then exhale to your belly. Bring your chin to the mat, elbows underneath shoulders, palms on the mat, fingers spread wide. On an inhale, push down into your hands and tops of your feet, keeping your elbows on the mat, as you bring your chest forward. Engage your core while slightly squeezing your glutes to protect your lower back. Hold for 5 breaths.
Lay on your back, releasing arms to sides like a “t” and bending knees at a 90-degree angle. Keeping your knees together, slowly release them to the right side, stacking your right hip under your left and then taking your gaze over your left shoulder. On an inhale, come back to center and on your next exhale, release to the left side, looking over your right shoulder. For a variation and more intense stretch in the hip, especially the TI band, cross your right leg over your left leg at a 90 degree angle and release to your left side, then repeat with the left leg over your right to your right side. Try to keep your shoulders on the mat for both variations.
Spread the knees out wider than hip width apart, bringing hips to heels, chest towards the ground, arms spread out in front of you. Breathe into your back body as you feel your spine elongate, your sacrum widening, and your hips melting. You can bring your forehead to a block. Rest for 10-15 breaths.
From child’s pose, curl the toes under, extend your arms out in front of you, spread the fingertips wide, and lift your hips to the sky. Don’t worry about your heels touching the ground. Instead, bend the knees, focusing on keeping the length in the spine as you send the hips back towards your heels, offering a full body stretch. Hold for 5 breaths.
Legs Up the Wall
Bring your hips as close to the wall as possible, either keeping them level on the floor or elevating them with a bolster or blanket. Bring your legs straight up the wall with your arms out to your sides. Close your eyes for 10 – 20 breaths, allowing your lower back to completely relax as stagnant fluid drains from your feet.
If you’re experiencing chronic pain, it’s important to speak to your doctor before practicing yoga. Various poses including deep forward folds can aggravate conditions such as sciatica and slipped discs. With any practice, listen to your body and if you’re in pain, stop immediately. As I tell my students, go to your own personal edge where you feel the stretch but you’re not in pain. Every day is different.
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