Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints that lead people to a yoga class. The lower back is naturally the most flexible part of the spine and since our modern lifestyles can lead us to excess stiffness in the mid and upper back, our naturally most flexible area ends up taking on too much. So how can yoga help?
Yoga Stabilises The Lower Back
When we sit for long periods of time, the less we utilise the stabilising muscles of the lower back and they begin to weaken. When the muscles are weak they struggle to do their jobs correctly and everyday movements such as picking things up or carrying heavy items can cause pain or injury. In a strength building yoga class, such as vinyasa or ashtanga, we work a lot with stabilisation so that we can strengthen in a safe way. Strengthening the muscles of the glutes and core also help to keep our spines healthy but we also want to stretch out those areas which become tight and restricted. We want to be mindful of finding a balance between flexibility and stability.
Yoga incorporates both internal and external hip rotation throughout asana and we can observe the effects of this on the rest of the body. To put it simply, when in external rotation, we are focusing on flexibility while perhaps lacking stability and when we are working with internal rotation, we are likely to have less flexibility and more stability, therefore this is where we can work to build strength and support for the lower back.
Yoga Builds Bodily Awareness
The mind-body connection that yoga is known for is arguably the most powerful way it can serve you. Yoga teaches embodiment, we learn to understand the signals our body is sending. We become intimate with our own experience and overtime can clearly identify the difference between a helpful stressor that builds resilience and pain that will only hinder. With this, we can make informed choices in our daily lives of how to move, sit and lie down.
Yoga Unlocks Space In The Spine
Modern day lifestyles can tend to normalise stagnancy in the spine. It’s not seen as unusual to sit at a desk from 9-5 with the back in almost the same position all day. This can lead to compression, stiffness and general harm to the posture since, as we tire, we will likely start to round.
Yoga reminds us of the many different ways our spine can (and loves to) move. By effectively ‘cross-training’ the back, it gets used to opening up in new ways as it releases the tensions that can build when it’s locked into one posture.
Yoga Teaches Us How To Truly Rest Our Spine
While it’s very important to learn how to switch on our muscles, it’s just as important to know how to switch them off and move into true rest. Every yoga class ends with savasana – the corpse pose. This is a time where we let go of all the holding and really drop into a sense of surrender. So much of our daily pains stem from working too hard, holding onto too much and creating unnecessary tension. When we learn to release, much of what we are holding can simply slide away.
Yoga Offers Many Safe, Neutralising Twists (Medicine For The Spine)
Twists are one of the most effective ways to neutralise the spine after spending time in either flexion or extension. The act of twisting is like rinsing out and returning to the centre. While in a yoga class, we are often more aware of what our body is doing than when at work for example, but we can take what we learn in class off the mat to support us throughout our days. Offer yourself daily doses of spinal medicine by noticing when you’ve spent a lot of time in flexion (perhaps a lot of sitting) or extension (perhaps a lot of standing) and make your way back to equilibrium with some gentle twists.
Here are some poses to try at home 🙂
5 Poses To Ease Your Lower Back Pain
Wide Leg Forward Fold
Taking the legs wider than hip distance apart, fold forward towards the floor. Option to clasp the hands behind your back for a shoulder stretch as well. The knees can be bent if the hamstrings and lower back are feeling tighter. A lovely stretch for the backs of the legs and beneficial for the spine to be upside down.
Engage the glutes! A great pose for strengthening the posterior chain which helps to support the lower back. Press the feet into the floor and drive the pelvis up. You can hold this position for several breaths or take 10-20 repetitions lifting up and down.
A great stretch for the groin and inner thighs. Helps to increase mobility for the ankles and hip flexors, and strengthens the glutes and releases the lower back. The heels don’t need to be on the floor, you could also place a rolled up towel underneath them for support.