Back pain can take on a variety of different forms, from sciatica to mid and upper back pain, all the way into shoulders and neck. Pain around and along the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine can affect all sorts of movements including extension, flexion, lateral movements, and twisting. Fortunately, these exercises are all possible without any props or accessories. Allowing the body to move in different ways encourages parts of the back, spine, and hips to open.
Listen to the body. If any pain arises while moving through the stretches, back out and let that be okay. Understand that either side of the back may need very different things. For example, the body may be able to go deeper into a twist on one side than the other. This is quite common. Know that there are no expectations involved with any of the movements and that the intention is purely to help relieve pain without medications.
Yoga Steps to Alleviating Back Pain
- Child’s Pose
- Supine Figure 4/Twist
- Runner’s Lunge
- Wide-Legged Forward Fold
- Happy Baby
The Steps Explained
To enter child’s pose, come to a tabletop position on hands and knees, with wrists stacked under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Begin to widen knees away from one another. Shift weight back into the shins, allowing the arms to straighten against the ground. Palms should press into the floor and the forehead comes near or to the ground. There may be a stretching sensation along the erector spinae muscles that run next to spine.
Next, make the transition onto the back, in a supine position. For supine figure 4 and twist, let the entire back body rest against the floor with legs extended. Start to bend the knees to let the soles of the feet come to the floor. Raise the right foot off the ground, letting the outside of the right ankle rest against the top of the left knee. There will be a triangle of space between the legs. Press the right knee away from body.
The body might remain there, or begin to lift the left foot off the ground, threading the right arm through the space between the legs to let the hands meet on the left hamstring or the shin as the torso lowers back to the ground. There may be a sensation through the right hip. When it feels appropriate, release the left leg so that the sole of the left foot comes back to the ground. Bring the arms out to a wide “T.” Let both legs float over to the left side of body. The head looks out to the right, bringing the spine into a twist. As it feels right, let the legs move back toward neutral and both soles of the feet find the floor. Notice any difference between the hips and repeat with the opposite side.
Slowly, start to make the transition to a standing position. Take some time to become vertical. When ready, start to move toward the runner’s lunge by hinging forward at the hips to let the top half of the body hang heavy. Bend the knees deeply so that palms come toward or to the floor. Step the right foot back so that the body lands on the sole of the left foot and the ball of the right. If necessary, lower the right knee and the top of the foot to the ground. Bend and straighten the left knee until the muscles feel warm. Repeat on the other side.
Slowly, make the transition back to standing. Assume a wide stance, with feet significantly wider than hip width distance apart. Toes are turned out away from body. To find wide-legged forward fold, start to hinge forward at the hips until the spine is parallel to the floor. Press the tailbone back behind the body. As the hamstrings engage, start to round the spine forward and let the hands slide down the legs until they are comfortable. They may reach the floor. Let the body move as it pleases. To come out, bend the knees deeply and slide hands up to the hips. Hinge back to where the spine becomes parallel to the floor to let blood redistribute in the body. As the body feels grounded, hinge the rest of the way up to vertical.
For happy baby, assume a supine position with the back against the ground. Bend the knees and bring them toward the torso, letting the knees splay down the sides of body. The Hands may come to hamstrings, calves, or feet. The body might rock side to side to massage the muscles along the thoracic spine.
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