4 Stretches That Stop Back Pain

woman stretching her back

One of the top complaints I hear from new yogis is lower back pain. In fact, many people begin yoga at the urging of their doctor for this exact reason. Back pain is often caused by another region of the body -- tight hips or shoulders could account for aches felt in the lumbar region. The good news: A lot of lower back pain can be cured with a basic regimen of stretching and breathing.

Of course, I’m not a doctor -- and you should always check with yours before beginning any exercise program. That said, we live in a society that does not value proper body alignment. We drive all the time or slouch at our desks for hours on end, so it’s no surprise that we end up with aches and pains. That’s why stretching is an important component of any effort to alleviate back tension and create an overall healthy lifestyle.

The following poses will help loosen up your muscles and offer relief. Start by doing each pose three times in succession for at least five breaths each, three times a week, and increase the frequency if you’re seeing good results.

Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)

This pose increases back, neck and shoulder flexibility.

1.    Begin on your hands and knees, with your shoulders directly above your wrists and hips above your knees. Find length in your neck by extending your head forward while looking straight down at the floor.

2.    As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling as you tuck your chin toward your chest, making sure to keep your shoulders and knees in position. Release your head toward the floor, so there is no tension in your neck.

3.    As you inhale, come back to a neutral position on your hands and knees, gazing on the floor just in front of your fingers, keeping your abdominal muscles engaged. Repeat this stretch at least 10 times.

Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)

This pose opens your hips and shoulders and strengthens your mid-back.

1.    Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your knees, putting your feet on the floor then slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip.

2.    Laying the outside of your left leg on the floor, step your right foot over your left leg; your right knee will point at the ceiling.

3.    Exhale and twist toward the inside of your right thigh. Press your right hand against the floor behind you, setting your left upper arm on the outside of your right thigh. Pull your front torso and inner right thigh snugly together, pressing your inner right foot into the floor. Lean your torso back slightly, and continue to lengthen your tailbone into the floor. As you inhale, feel a little more lift out of the floor, and as you exhale, sit still and twist deeper. Stay in this position for one minute while taking controlled inhalations and long exhalations. Repeat with the other leg for the same amount of time.

Bridge Pose (Bandha Sarvangasana)

This pose opens your shoulders and hips, and strengthens your quadriceps.

1.    Lying supine on the floor, bend your knees and set your feet down directly underneath your knees with your heels as close to your sitting bones as possible.

2.    As you exhale, press your inner feet and arms into the floor, pushing your tailbone upward toward your pubis, firming your buttocks without feeling like you’re gripping too hard. Lift your hips off the floor into a bridge while keeping your thighs and inner feet parallel.

3.    Clasp your hands below your pelvis and extend through your arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders -- you want to press your forearms into the ground to avoid tensing your neck. Lift your buttocks until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor.

4.    Keeping your knees directly over your heels, push them forward away from your hips and lengthen your tailbone toward the backs of your knees. Lift your chin slightly away from your sternum and, firming your shoulder blades against your back, press the top of your sternum toward your chin. Remain here for at least thirty seconds and release. Repeat two more times.

Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
Another excellent hip opener, this stretch targets both your hamstrings and hip flexors, and is great for easing the lower back.

1.    Lying on the floor, with both legs extended straight out, bend your left knee and draw your thigh into your torso, hugging it into your belly. Press through your right heel to keep your bottom leg grounded and active.

2.    Straighten your left leg up toward the ceiling, holding onto the back of your thigh or calf muscle, pressing your left heel directly upward. Broaden your shoulder blades so that you’re not gripping around your neck.

3.    As you press your heel upward, release the head of your thigh bone more deeply into your pelvis and draw your foot a little closer to your head. Take this slowly, as it will increase the stretch on the back of your leg. If you’re shaking a little, that’s fine, but the feeling should be manageable. Remain here at least 45 seconds and breathe deeply, then switch legs.

by Derek Beres