8 out of 10 Americans will experience back trouble at some point in their lifetime, according to the latest back pain statistics.
If you’re one of them and it’s hampering your daily activities, then yoga can be a beacon of hope!
Throughout this article we’ll cover gentle stretches and more invigorating movements to suit yogis at all levels.
We’ve listened to the experts and gathered recent research to understand the practice’s healing potential for your back discomfort.
1. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
You’ve likely heard of the downward dog!
It’s a position that can really build strength in your abdominal muscles which are essential for the support of your lower back.
Experienced teacher and studio owner Kanta Barrios explains:
It strengthens the legs, arms, back and core. Stretches the hamstring and calf muscles, opens the hip joints, and optimizes the curves and length in the spine. All key elements for a healthy pain free back!
Research published in 2009 looked at how the practice could help manage chronic low back pain in minority populations.
Participants were involved in classes for 12 weeks, following a sequence that included downward dog.
Results showed that the sessions decreased pain and reliance on medication.
Watch Dr. Tatonté Venable demonstrate how to safely perform downward dog:
2. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
The upward facing dog can also be highly effective for a sore back. Expert yogis recommend the motion as it acts as a spinal decompression exercise.
They believe that by stretching your abdominal muscles it aids you in developing a strong torso, which can lead to relief from back discomfort as well as associated problems like sciatica.
When performed regularly it’s thought that upward facing dog can improve your overall, long term spine health.
A study published in the International Journal of Yoga in 2017 aimed to understand how we can fix the bad posture brought on by a sedentary lifestyle.
Urdhva mukha svanasana was highlighted as one asana that can be particularly effective in activating the back muscles.
Making it ideal if you’re looking for alternative ways to build muscle, and increase your strength!
3. Camel (Ustrasana)
Camel is a challenging yoga asana for beginners however when mastered it can be powerful.
It opens up the front of your body, which is also thought to benefit your digestive system.
Read this inspiring yoga quote from Iyengar founder, B. K. S. Iyengar, who wrote about ustrasana in his book, Light on Yoga:
People with drooping shoulders and hunched backs will benefit by this asana. The whole spine is stretched back and is toned. This pose can be tried conveniently by the elderly and even by persons with spinal injury.
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4. Cat – Cow (Marjaryasana / Bitilasana)
Many suggest the cat for those suffering from lumbar pain, which is typically married with the cow.
The cat-cow is also suggested as an effective asana for fatigue.
It involves rolling your shoulders back, lifting your hips and rounding your spine, effectively opening up the spine which can offer a release.
Licensed chiropractor, Dr. David Oliver, explains that you shouldn’t power through any pain you experience when adopting the position.
When you start feeling twinges in your back, that’s the time to stop!
Over the course of a few days you’ll start to see your range of motion expand and you’ll then hopefully be able to practice without any discomfort.
Watch an example of how the stretches can be used for a stiff back:
5. Eagle (Garudasana)
An improvement in your balance is one of the many benefits of yoga practice.
However maintaining your balance to perform positions such as this one can be difficult for those with back issues.
Luckily the posture can be easily adapted by trying it in a seated form.
Eagle can also improve your sense of energy and self-esteem, making it a great yoga pose for depression and anxiety.
6. Extended Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana)
Extended triangle is effective for relieving daily aches and pains.
The transition can relax your muscles and joints, easing stiffness in the back as well as other sites of chronic discomfort.
Utthita trikonasana has also been shown to work wonders for lower back pain.
Watch how to practice the exercise effectively:
7. Fire Log (Agnistambhasana)
Tight hips have long been considered one of the causes of back trouble. If you feel you need to work on tightness in your hips then agnistambhasana can have many perks.
It looks simple and serene, yet experts explain that it’s highly effectively in lengthening your hip flexors.
This extension supports your lower back and stops you from pulling muscles in the future.
Guru Subhash Mittal advises that those with a bad back avoid the forward bending variation of the movement.
He explains that this variation is stretching the spine in a way that could lead to further discomfort for those already suffering.
8. Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Professionals suggest legs-up-the-wall for those with swollen feet and ankles at the end of a busy day, as the position helps to recirculate the blood flow.
It can be a particularly powerful yoga pose before bed!
However the position can be painful if you’re suffering from spinal discomfort.
Luckily you can give your tailbone extra support by adding a bolster and still benefit from this position.
Legs-up-the-wall with a bolster is recommended by renowned yogi Gail Boorstein Grossman, in her book Restorative Yoga: A Relaxing Way to De-stress, Re-energize, and Find Balance.
She suggests that the viparita karani asana can be as beneficial on your nervous system as taking a nap.
This rejuvenation leaves you better able to manage the symptoms of your condition.
9. Locust (Salabhasana)
Locust is seen as an easy asana to ease into more complex positions.
However its power shouldn’t be underestimated, especially when it comes to strengthening your spine.
The position, when practiced regularly, works to build muscles within your back.
Locust was used in a research project conducted in 2009.
The focus of the study was to understand whether yoga could be an effective treatment for lower back pain.
Results concluded that the practice provides an inexpensive way for patients to live with their pain.
10. Sphinx (Salamba Bhujangasana)
This is one of the most gentle backbends you can practice making it an ideal low intensity asana.
Though it’s a gentle backbend it still has many merits.
A journal titled Yoga Therapy for Management of Neck and Low Back Pain concluded its 2015 findings by recommending the sphinx posture in particular.
Yoga by Karina explains that it’s also a wonderful asana for building flexibility.
11. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
If you’re aiming to avoid backbends then this motion can prove to be a wonderfully restorative middle ground.
Use it to counter back bends in your practice, allowing your body the time and movement to regain balance.
When performed correctly it allows you to rest your lower back whilst still strengthening your spine.
Balasana was used in a 2016 research project which sought to understand exactly how yoga relieves low back pain.
After just 12 weeks, the practice was shown to reduce the pain levels of the participants involved.
12. Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
The movement of the supine spinal twist eases the pressure on your lower back.
Certified Health Coach Anne Asher warns that though the supine twist is a powerful movement, it’s essential that it’s performed safely.
She suggests consulting your healthcare professional in advance as sometimes it can lead to a herniated disc.
Watch physical therapist Dr David Lee as he demonstrates how to perform a supine twist to improve the mobility of your spine:
13. Plank Pose (Phalakasana)
It might seem counterintuitive to practice the plank when you’ve thrown your back out, however it can be very worthwhile.
The plank helps you to build strength in your back (as well as your core, arms and wrists).
Keep your position firm, make sure shoulders and hips are in line and ensure you relax your shoulders to get the most from the form.
If you feel like switching it up a little then side plank has been proven to correct spine curvature by up to 32%!
Just adopt the posture once a day, for three days a week, for as little as three months to start to see improvements.
Get flexible fast!
Stretching and becoming more supple can boost your back health.
Get started with our list of the 10 best flexibility poses.
- Barrios, K. (2019). How Downward Facing Dog Pose Can Help with Back Pain [Online]. Available from: https://www.kantabarriosyoga.com/blog/how-downward-facing-dog-pose-can-help-with-back-pain [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Saper, R.B. et al (2009). Yoga for chronic low back pain in a predominantly minority population: a pilot randomized controlled trial [Online]. Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2792123/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Beisecker, L. (2016). Cleaning Up Bad Habits: Upward-Facing Dog [Online]. DoYou. Available from: https://www.doyou.com/cleaning-up-bad-habits-upward-facing-dog-33361/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Rathore, M., Trivedi, S., Abraham, J. and Sinha, M. (2017). Anatomical Correlation of Core Muscle Activation in Different Yogic Postures [Online]. International Journal of Yoga. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433114/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- B. K. S. Iyengar Yoga (2023). B. K. S. Iyengar - References - Books: Guruji [Online]. Available from: https://bksiyengar.com/modules/Referen/Books/book.htm [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- BackCare (2020). Exercises for back pain [Online]. Available from: https://backcare.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/901-Exercises-for-back-pain.pdf [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Oliver, D. (2020). Cat And Cow Stretch (Video) – Best Way To Stretch Your Spine [Online]. Back Intelligence. Available from: https://backintelligence.com/cat-and-cow-stretch/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Barthen, R. (2015). Yoga Pose Eagle Variation: Enhance Your Sexual Vitality and Open Your Joints [Online]. Conscious Lifestyle Magazine. Available from: https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/eagle-pose-variation-yoga-sexual-vitality/ [Accessed 11 july 2023]. ↩
- Crow, E.M., Jeannot, E. and Trewhela, A. (2015). Effectiveness of Iyengar yoga in treating spinal (back and neck) pain: A systematic review [Online]. International Journal of Yoga. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4278133/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Plastaras, C.T. et al (2015). Yoga Therapy for Management of Neck and Low Back Pain [Online]. Journal of Yoga & Physical Therapy. Available from: https://www.longdom.org/open-access/yoga-therapy-for-management-of-neck-and-low-back-pain-2157-7595-1000215.pdf [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- A. Vogel (2023). Are tight hip flexors ruining your posture and causing low back pain? [Online]. Available from: https://www.avogel.co.uk/health/muscles-joints/joint-pain/hip-pain/are-tight-hip-flexors-ruining-your-posture-and-causing-low-back-pain/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Sportskeeda (2022). How to Do Fire Log Pose (Agnistambhasana) in Yoga: Tips, Technique, Correct Form, Benefits and Common Mistakes [Online]. Available from: https://www.sportskeeda.com/health-and-fitness/how-do-fire-log-pose-agnistambhasana-yoga-tips-technique-correct-form-benefits-common-mistakes [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Mittal, S. (2023). Agni-stambhasana (Fire log pose) [Online]. Available from: https://yogawithsubhash.com/2015/01/06/agni-stambhasana-fire-log-pose/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Wei, M. (2020). Yoga for better sleep [Online]. Harvard Health Blog. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/8753-201512048753 [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Kelly, Z. (2009). Is Yoga an Effective Treatment for Low Back Pain: A Research Review [Online]. International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Available from: https://meridian.allenpress.com/ijyt/article-abstract/19/1/103/138169/Is-Yoga-an-Effective-Treatment-for-Low-Back-Pain-A [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Plastaras, C.T. et al (see footnote 10) ↩
- Yoga by Karina (2021). Yoga Tutorial: How to Do Sphinx Pose [Online]. Available from: https://yogabykarina.com/sphinx-pose-yoga-tutorial/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Riva G Yoga (2018). 4 Counterposes to Help Balance Your Practice [Online]. Available from: www.rivagyoga.com/blog/2018/4/12/4-counterposes-to-help-balance-into-your-practice [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Telles, S. et al (2016). A Randomized Controlled Trial to Assess Pain and Magnetic Resonance Imaging-Based (MRI-Based) Structural Spine Changes in Low Back Pain Patients After Yoga Practice [Online]. Medical Science Monitor. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5031167/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Washington, A. (2014). 5 Health Benefits of Supine Twist [Online]. DoYou. Available from: https://www.doyou.com/5-health-benefits-of-supine-twist/ [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- University of Rochester Medical Center (2019). Why You Should Try Yoga [Online]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=2767 [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Medical News Today (2014). A single yoga pose each day may improve spine curvature for scoliosis patients [Online]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/283689 [Accessed 11 July 2023]. ↩
- Wei, M. (see footnote 14) ↩