Back pain is one of the most common reasons that people turn to yoga and one of the most common injuries that people experience. Back pain can range from a mild sensation from tension or muscle soreness to shooting pain or muscle spasms from a disc injury.
The below practice is safe for those with most disc injuries, however if you have a serious injury check with your doctor before practicing the below postures. For lumbar disc injuries, such as disc herniation, bulging disc, or any other stage of degenerative disc disease, do not practice seated forward bends for long periods of time as these postures can worsen already injured disc conditions.
Supine hamstring stretches should be substituted so that the back is fully supported.
These below postures rely on support from props such as a wall, blocks, blankets, a bolster, and a strap. If you do not have these props available, usethese alternative props:
- Wall: if no wall space is available, a couch or chair can be substituted.
- Blocks: two sturdy blocks are recommended, but if these are not available, you can use books, or a cardboard box (fill it with clothes, books, or somethingelse to make it sturdier).
- Blankets: two blankets are recommended. Beach towels could also be substituted.
- Bolster: If a bolster is not available, a couch cushion or firm pillow could be a good replacement, or a stack of blankets.
- Strap: if you do not have a strap, a belt, robe belt, tie, or a scarf can be substituted
Wind Removing Pose & Supine Twist
Wind Removing Pose, or Pavanamuktasana, is a gentle pose that helps with digestion, mildy stretches the back and hamstrings, and opens the hips. Wind Removing Pose on the right side compresses the ascending colon, while the left side compresses the descending colon. It’s important to work with digestion by practicing the right side first.
To get into this pose:
- Begin by lying flat on your back with your legs out like in Savasana.
- Bend your right knee and hug it in towards your chest.
- Clasp your hands around your shin if that is available, and if not hold on with one or both hands however you can reach.
- Aim your right knee towards your right underarm. Your leg should squeeze against your side body, just outside of your ribcage.
- Keep your shoulders as relaxed as possible, and use your biceps to pull the knee close to you.
- Breathe deeply into your belly, especially into the right side of your belly.
- Hold this shape for 1-3 minutes.
Supine Twist often feels really nice immediately after Wind Removing Pose. A bolster or a few blankets can be added to support the knee. Make sure that the sacrum and low back are perpendicular to the floor. This keeps the SI joints safe. This may mean that the opposite shoulder is not grounded – you can either reach this arm overhead with the palm flat and elbow up towards the ceiling, or support the shoulder with blankets. Teachers: have your students set up their bolsters to their left before putting them in Wind Removing Pose for a seamless transition, or while your students are in Wind Removing Pose you can set up their bolsters for them.
- From Wind Removing Pose on the right side, use the left hand to twist the right knee across the body and let it rest either on a bolster, blanket(s), or directly onto the floor.
- If your left shoulder is lifted off of the mat and doesn’t release down after a few breaths, either reach the left arm overhead with the palm flat on the ground and elbow pointing towards the ceiling, or place a pillow or folded blanket underneath the shoulder for support. When holding poses for long periods of time, it’s typically not a good idea to leave joints unsupported and at risk.
- Breathe into all parts of the spine. Breathe into the low back, mid back, and upper back equally – nourishing your spine with fresh oxygen and life-force energy.
- Hold this pose for 5 minutes or more.
Repeat both Wind Removing Pose and Supine Twist on the left side.
Supported Supta Baddha Konasana
Supta Baddha Konasana, or Reclined Bound Angle Pose, relieves tension in the hips, inner thighs, and low back. This supported variation can be held for as long as 20 minutes. For this pose, the recommended props are one bolster, 1-2 blankets, and up to four blocks. The minimum support for this pose is something under the knees, either blocks or blankets. This pose left unsupported allows the weight of the femurs or thigh bones (the heaviest bones in the body) to weigh heavy against the SI joints which can cause joint instability, or discomfort in the hips and/or low back.
To set up this pose:
- Set up two blocks, one on medium setting and one on tall setting at the end of the mat. Lay a bolster over the blocks, creating a ramp. If those props are not available to you, use a stack of blankets, cushions or firm pillows to create the same desired effect.
- Place a folded blanket halfway down the mat for cushion for the pelvis. This should line up with the end of the bolster.
- Sit on the blanket directly in front of the bolster ramp. You should feel the bolster behind you.
- Place the soles of the feet together, knees wide in Baddha Konasana.
- Next, use your second blanket to secure the feet together and support the legs. Fold the blanket in half, and then fold it in half once more. Now roll the blanket or fold it four times so that you have a long roll.
- Place the middle of the long blanket roll on top of your feet, tuck the ends under your shins, and tighten the blanket as much as you can so that you feel secure.
- Then lie back onto the bolster. Rest your arms by your sides with palms facing up. Some like to lay their arms onto pillows for even more support.
Psoas Release over a Bolster
The psoas muscle is the deepest hip flexor muscles and the main muscle that connects the spine to the legs. This muscle holds unprocessed trauma, fear, and stress. It is intimately involved in the fight or flight response and can become chronically tight if a person is often stressed, sits for long periods of time, walks or runs a lot, does a lot of crunches, or has digestive issues. A tight psoas can cause back pain by pulling on the back. It can also cause digestive issues, problems with menstruation in women, anxiety by blocking the diaphragm and not allowing a person to get a deep breath, and can cause many other problems.
To set up Psoas Release over a Bolster:
- You will need a bolster and a strap.
- Set up the bolster (or bolster alternative) halfway down the mat.
- Set up a strap (or strap alternative such as a belt) around your thighs above the knees. The strap should not be too tight but should feel snug when your knees are hip width apart. The strap is used so that your adductors or inner thigh muscles don’t have to engage to keep your legs hip width apart.
- Lie down with the bolster underneath your hips. Your glutes should rest on the bolster, while your lower back sinks down towards the ground.
- Keep your knees bent and feet flat on the mat.
- This pose is similar to supported bridge, but with the support lower so that your psoas muscles can release.
- Breathe deeply into the front of the hips. Allow your ribcage and the attachment of the psoas muscles to become heavy and sink down towards the earth.
- This pose is not meant to feel like a deep “stretch”, rather the goal of the pose is to get the often chronically tight psoas to simply let go. It may take several minutes for a tight psoas to release. Hold this pose for 5-15 minutes.
Supine Pigeon at the Wall
Supine Pigeon at the Wall helps to release the low back, and stretch the outer hips. The wall allows you to both relax and feel supported, and also give you something to push into to get a deeper stretch if desired.
To set up this pose:
- Set up your mat against a wall with the short end at the wall. You may want to lay a blanket on your mat for additional cushion for comfort. If you are on carpet, this may not be necessary.
- Sit sideways with your hip against the wall, perpendicular to the wall. Lean back and swing your legs up at the same time. You do not need to be all the way up against the wall for this pose. If the pose feels difficult, scoot away from the wall. If you want a deeper stretch, scoot closer to the wall.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the wall.
- Lift your right leg up, then cross your ankle over your left thigh. Dorsiflex your foot, or flex your toes back towards your shin.
- If this is enough of a stretch, stay here. If you need more, press your left foot into the wall to bring it closer to your chest. If you still need more, scoot closer to the wall.
- Hold this pose for 3 – 5 minutes per side.
Legs up the Wall
Legs up the Wall, or Viparita Karani, helps improve circulation, stretches the hamstrings, releases the lower back, releases tight SI joints, is soothing to the nervous system, and helps to improve sleep. This pose can be held for your long periods of time and can be done daily to help relieve back pain, improve sleep, reduce stress, and improve circulation.
To set up this pose:
- Just like in Supine Pigeon at the Wall, set up your mat with the short end against the wall. You may add a blanket to your mat for added comfort.
- Sit sideways next to the wall with your hip against the wall.
- Lay back and swing your legs up the wall at the same time.
- Scoot yourself as close to the wall as you can so that your legs are flush against the wall.
- A blanket or sandbag can be placed on top of your feet to keep your legs grounded and to add a bit of extra weight. If these are not available, wrap a strap or tie around your ankles to keep your legs from falling to the sides.
- Breathe deeply into your back and belly.
- Hold this pose for as long as you like, 5 – 30 minutes. Practice this pose daily to relieve and prevent back pain.