Whether you have been outside raking leaves, playing with the kids (or grandkids!) or if you spent your weekend cheering on your favorite sports team, odds are, you’ve found yourself saying, “Oh, my aching back!” There is good news and bad news. The bad news is you are not alone. Back pain is one of the most common complaints and according to the Mayo Clinic, most of us will experience it. The good news is that relief is available and may not require a trip to your doctor or medications.
While no remedy is a miracle cure for every individual, many people find relief for back pain through yoga. Yoga is a 5,000+ year old practice that originated in India and has been embraced by over 20.4 million Americans. While there are many benefits to practicing yoga, relieving low back pain is one plus that many practitioners have experienced.
The following Restorative Yoga sequence of poses (asanas) are suggestions that may help bring some relief to your low back.
Supported Child’s Pose (Salamba Balasana)
- Begin with a blanket in a Foundational Fold (fold in ½ vertically, then in ½ horizontally 2x), roughly in the center of the mat. This will provide cushioning for the knees. It’s not required, but most students find it a nice, supportive addition.
- Kneel on the blanket, bringing the big toes together and sliding the knees apart until they are wide enough to snuggled the short edge of the bolster inside.
- Slowly begin to lower down onto the bolster from the belly, ribs, heart center and finally the head comes to rest on the bolster, allowing whichever ear is most comfortable to come to rest.
- Ideally, the head, heart and hips would be in alignment. If the head is lower, another folded blanket may be placed on top to lift the torso slightly.
Hold 5-8 minutes.
- Turn the head to the opposite side half way through.
- Use a Foundational Blanket folded in half or a rolled up mat to create some space in the back of the knee for students who have knee issues.
- A mat square or hand towel can be rolled and placed on the front side of the ankle if the student is experiencing discomfort.
- A sandbag can be placed horizontally across on the low back/top of pelvis.
Supported Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyandrasana)
- Begin with a Foundational blanket in the center of the mat with stripes going left to right across the mat horizontally.
- Place bolster on the mat, going the same direction as the mat, just in front of the bolster.
- Use a second Foundational blanket folded in half the long way or in a Long Tri-Fold Blanket as a mini bolster and keep it close by.
- Sit comfortably on top of the Foundational blanket with one hip up nice and close to the short edge of the bolster.
- Draw the knees up to roughly 90 degrees and place the second blanket in between the knees, shins and ankles for comfort.
- Place the hands on either side of the bolster.
- Inhale to lengthen. With the exhale, gentle twist toward the bolster and slowly lower down, bringing the belly button, last rib and heart center to rest on top of the bolster.
- Hands and forearms rest on the floor next to the bolster.
- Same ear (as the hip that is up close to the bolster) resting on the bolster will be a gentler sensation on the neck for most students, while the opposite ear coming to rest will provide a deeper twist and sensation for most students.
Hold 5-8 minutes, then switch sides.
- A blanket, block or bolster may be placed under the arm (that is on the same side as the legs) if it is hovering/lifting/not resting flat on the floor.
- A sandbag can be placed on the top thigh to enhance the twist.
Supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
- Begin by placing the bolster at the foot of the mat; horizontally spanning the mat from left to right.
- Place a Foundational Folded blanket on the mat just behind the bolster with the fringed edge on the bottom and toward the bolster to avoid uncomfortable pressure points from the knots on the fringed edge.)
- Create a Long Rolled Blanket and place it on top of the Foundational blanket with the open edge of the roll toward the corner that was created by the Foundational blanket and the bolster.
- Position yourself so that you are sitting on top of the bolster with their feet on the floor in front of their mat. Slide all the way to the front edge of the bolster—almost as if you were about to slip off of the front edge—this will leave room for the hips to rest on top of the bolster as you begins to lay back.
- Place the hands on the Foundational blanket or mat as support as you descend, slowly lowering the shoulders to the mat.
- The Foundational blanket serves as a cushion for the shoulders, the head is on the mat. The rolled blanket fills the space in the lower/mid back, while the height of the bolster provides a lift of the pelvis creating a release in the lower back.
- Arms reach wide out to the side; palms face up.
- Hold 5-8 minutes.
- A flat hand towel or blanket may be placed underneath the head if there is evidence of discomfort in the neck.
- Students may extend legs straight for a deeper sensation; however, this variation should be used mindfully for students with low back issues.
- Blocks can be placed under the soles of the feet if the back is showing signs of “breaking” or sharpness/compression in L5-S1.
- For students who are managing low back concerns, they may enjoy using a folded blanket under the pelvis in a height that is lower than the bolster.
Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)
- To get into Legs Up the Wall, sit with one hip all the way up close to the wall and then slide forward toward the long edge of the mat.
- Place hands next to the hips and slightly behind. Use them for support as you shift and swivel on the hips, bringing the shoulders to the floor, swinging the legs up toward the sky.
- If the sitting bones are away from the wall, shift and shimmy the hips and walk the shoulders toward the wall until the sitting bones make their way to the wall.
- Arms can extend wide out to the sides like a “T,” down by the sides or wherever comfortable.
- Hold 8 minutes. *May also be used as an alternative to Savasana.
- If hamstrings are too tight to fully extend the legs up the wall, students may opt to take the hamstrings out of the pose by placing the legs on top of a chair. In this case, place a blanket over the seat of the chair for warmth and comfort. Another option would be to stack two bolsters on top of each other instead of using a chair.
- A blanket with a partial roll may be placed underneath the neck for support.
If legs tend to roll out to the sides and be unruly or distracting, we may opt for straps around the thighs and mid calves.
To ground the hips and release the low back, a sandbag may be placed on the soles of the feet. Straps around the legs may also be used in conjunction with the sandbag.
- To take Legs Up The Wall into more of a Supported Shoulder Stand, we can find the foundational pose of Legs Up The Wall and then slide the feet down the wall, pressing into the wall and lifting the hips high enough to slide the bolster (or folded blanket) underneath the hips.
ENHANCEMENTS FROM TRADITIONAL SAVASANA
- A partially rolled blanket may be placed behind the neck to fill the space between the cervical spine and the floor. The remaining flat portion of the blanket would provide a soft cushion underneath the back of the head.
- A blanket roll may be placed behind the knees instead of a bolster with the optional additional blanket roll underneath the ankles.
- Legs can drape over a bolster with the option of a rolled blanket underneath the ankles.
- Legs on a chair.
- Add an eye pillow.
- Add essential oil temple to deepen relaxation.
The sequence of yoga poses described are suggested for use to relieve low back discomfort and are therapeutic and restorative in nature. When exploring your options for yoga classes, it is important to educate yourself before entering into a yoga studio and unrolling your mat.
- If your lower back is in need of TLC and you have never done yoga before, look for classes that list Gentle, Restorative or Therapeutic in their names.
- Upon meeting your teacher, be sure to inform them of any injuries or health issues you may have so that they are able to specifically address your needs.
- With Restorative Yoga, it’s important to remember that less is often more. These poses are meant to relax and restore the body with minimal effort, so give your body permission to do so!
Finally, when you decide to venture into a yoga studio, don’t be intimidated! Studios are used to seeing new faces each day, and you can be sure that you won’t be the only one! Plus, the staff and teachers are there to help and they want you to have the best experience possible. Their intention is that you leave feeling well, healthy and ready to take on the day!