I began my yoga journey much, much later than I should have. Entering my mid-forties with physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, I was carrying around at least thirty extra pounds that were nearly impossible to lose. Juggling a career, kids, and a home was an enormous challenge. From the first morning coffee to a glass of red wine each night after dinner, stress management was goal number one, but it was fast becoming a losing battle. Something had to be done.
One fateful fall afternoon, I had lunch with an old high school friend that I hadn’t seen in years. Much to my shock and dismay, she walked into the restaurant looking like she’d come straight off the pages of our high school yearbook. How could this “doll” be so spry and full of life, so youthful, so trim and slim, while I sat on the other side of the table looking schleppy? She told me that she had “found yoga” as a result of needing to manage a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis twenty years earlier. Through a combination of regular yoga and healthy diet, she had been able to manage her pain and her weight for years.
Before leaving the restaurant that day, she gave me a few resources to look at, and my journey began. Little did I know how much yoga was going to change my life as a result of that lunch date. I found relief from my back pain, the answer to those stubborn extra pounds, and peace of mind and a strength of resolve I didn’t know existed.
For those of you that are also struggling with “middle-aging” and pains that you can no longer ignore, I wanted to share with you some of the most effective postures that I’ve come to know and love in my practice, and how they have revolutionized the way I approach my health and my life. I encourage you to try these as soon as possible; it is a matter of quality life or “death” while living.
Here are yoga moves that help with lower back pain:
Twisting the spine offers great tension relief while easing the muscles around the spinal column. Simply lie on your back, arms extended out perpendicular to your body, and bend your knees in toward your chest. Slowly lower both your knees to one side while keeping shoulder blades in contact with the floor. Stay in this position anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes, then switch sides. This position is great for reducing lower back pain.
The sphinx is great for toning up the spine and stimulating the area of the back known as the sacral lumbar arch, which relieves lower back pain typically after one simple stretch. Sphinx pose promotes the natural curvature of the back, which is a very effective lower back pain treatment. Lie on your stomach and bring your elbows underneath your shoulders, pushing your upper body up off the ground. Extend the stretch as far as you can, then lower yourself back down to a supine position. Repeat two to three times, stretching a bit farther each time.
Thread the needle pose
If our hips are tight, they will pull on the muscles across the lower back, resulting in extra lower back pain. Thread the needle pose promotes loose, fluid hips and hip flexers, which will ease up pressure on the lower back. Lie on your back and bring your knees into your chest. Cross one ankle over a bent knee, threading your hands through and grabbing the hamstring, bringing in toward you for a deep stretch. Uncross the ankle and switch legs, pulling the other leg across and threading your hands through to pull the other hamstring toward you. Get ready for some back pain relief!
With this simple movement, you will be stretching and decompressing the entire length of the spine. Kneel down on all fours. While you inhale, drop your belly toward the floor and lift your tailbone towards the ceiling, and while you exhale, arch your back like an angry cat, extending the spine outward fully. Continue this cycle of movements for 6 to 8 repetitions. This is an all-encompassing move that will relieve even the most stubborn lower back pain.
Triangle pose is a fantastic strength building stretch for the torso, arms, legs, and back. Especially effective at targeting the muscles along your outer hip, it contributes to a strong and healthy lower lumbar region. Start in a standing position, feet wide and arms fully extended. Stretch your torso out to the side while fully extending your arm out to the side over your leg, reaching down to grab calf, ankle, or floor while your opposite arm goes to the ceiling. Hold this position with legs straight for as long as you can, breathing in slowly and exhaling fully as you stretch, strengthen and lengthen.
Child’s pose is actually an active stretch that elongates the back while reducing stress and tension all along the spine. Starting on your hands and knees, bring your buttocks down and back so that they are resting on your heels, lowering your forehead to the ground while your arms remain stretched out in front of you. Hold this position for several minutes if possible to stretch tight and sore muscles.
This is perhaps my favorite of all yoga poses. Down dog is an active relaxation pose, it reduces stress while at the same time working all large muscle groups in the body. From a hands and knees position, rise to an inverted V position, hands and feet pushing away from the ground. Your buttocks should be high in the air as you work to expand the area in between your shoulder blades and lengthen your hamstrings, which will aid in decompressing your lower back. Stay here as long as you like!
While it may not seem an obvious answer to lower back pain, the fact that pigeon pose stretches out tight hips contributes to loosening out the lower back as well. Start in downward dog position and bring one leg in, bent so that your ankle lands on the floor near your groin area and your knee is facing outward. Your other leg should be stretched out behind you as you push your upper body away from the floor with arms extended. Feel the stretch in your outer hip and groin area for several minutes before switching sides.
For me, finding an effective lower back pain treatment was essential to creating a quality life. I am healthier, happier, slimmer and trimmer than I have been in years, and I owe it all to my friend at that fateful fall luncheon who introduced me to the wonders of yoga. Give it a try–it will change your life!