Updated on June 17, 2021.
According to the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, about 16 million adults in the U.S. have persistent or chronic back pain and are limited in some everyday activities as a result. Yoga for the back can help you and your clients remain strong, flexible and pain-free. Teach and practice the yoga poses below in the order they are shown. It is important not to hold your breath.
Yoga for the Back: The Sequence
Reclining Big-Toe Pose
- Hamstring stretch. Bend your left knee to the chest. Place a strap on the ball of the foot. Slowly straighten the left leg, stretching through the heel and ball of the foot. Stretch through the right leg, pressing your foot into the wall. Keep your right inner thigh pressing into the floor.
- Adductor stretch. Bring the left leg out to the side and up toward the head. Keep the right front hip lifting off the floor. Extend through both legs.
- Piriformis stretch. Hold the strap with your right hand. Begin to cross the left leg over the midline. Then roll onto the right hip, turning your right foot to the right with the little-toe side to the floor.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Gentle abdominal strengthener (not shown). After completing each side of reclining big-toe pose, lengthen through the heel as you lower the left leg from 90 degrees to 60, to 45, to 30 degrees, to a few inches off the floor. Then relax the leg onto the floor. Repeat with the right leg. This extends the legs and provides a gentle abdominal strengthener for those with back issues.
Right-Angled Wall Stretch
Place your hands at hip level and walk your feet back so that your body is at a right angle. Hands, shoulders and hips are parallel to the floor with the hips over the ankles. Push palms into the wall and lengthen your spine and hips away from the wall. Keep the low back in its natural concave curve.
- Cow tilt. Inhale as you lift the tailbone and sitting bones like a sway-back cow. Low back is in its concave curve. Lift through the crown of your head.
- Cat tilt. Exhale and descend the tailbone and sitting bones. Draw the navel to the low back. Lift your midback like a cat as the shoulder blades spread and your head releases down toward the floor.
Start on your hands and knees with your low back in its natural curve. Walk your hands one hand’s distance in front of your shoulders. Bring your knees off the floor and lift from your pelvis. Press down through your inner palms and lengthen from your hands to your sitting bones. Slowly straighten your legs as you lift the sitting bones high; keep the low back in its natural curve.
- Low lunge. Bring your right foot forward with your right knee slightly in front of your ankle bone and your left knee on the floor. Lunge forward to stretch the front of your thigh, where the hip flexors are located. (Use blocks if necessary.)
- High lunge. Curl the toes under and slowly lift the knee off the floor. Lift from the inner left thigh as you lengthen back through the leg toward the heel.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Place your feet 4 1/2–5 feet apart. Bring your right foot out to 90 degrees with your left foot turned in slightly. Place your hands on your hips and level your hips. Stretch the arms out to your sides at shoulder level. Bend your right leg so that your right knee is over the heel and your thigh is parallel to the floor, creating a right angle. Keep your upper body centered over your legs. Keep your back leg straight and press your back heel into the floor like an anchor. Turn the head to the right and look out over the fingers. Repeat on the opposite side.
Lie on your stomach with your arms stretched overhead on the floor. Inhale and lift the left arm and right leg. Extend from the left ribs to the fingertips and right hip to the toes, extending in opposite directions. Reverse and lift the right arm and left leg.
Upward-Facing Dog With Chair
Place your palms on the seat of a chair with the hands facing out. Bring the front of the pelvis to the edge of the chair. Lift up through the inner thighs and shins as you bring the tailbone in and down toward the floor. Lift the chest and extend through the crown of the head.
Standing Chair Twist
Place a chair at the wall with a block on the seat of the chair. Stand with the left side of your body at the wall. Lift the left foot and place it on the block. Bring your hands onto the wall at shoulder height. Inhale and lengthen the spine. Exhale and twist to the left. Press with the left palm to twist deeper and let the neck and head follow the twist of the upper torso. Reverse.
Seated Chair Twist
Sit sideways on a chair with your left thigh facing the back of the chair and a yoga block between the legs. Bring your hands onto the back of the chair. Inhale and lift the spine. Exhale and twist from the waist, ribs and spine. Push with the left palm into the chair as you pull the body around with right hand. Allow your neck and head to follow the twist of the spine. Reverse.
Yoga for the Back: Relaxation
Relax in savasana, or corpse pose, supported as needed.
Health Policy Institute. 2021. Chronic back pain: A leading cause of work limitations. Accessed June 16, 2021: https://hpi.georgetown.edu/backpain/.
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