Release tight muscles in your back and alleviate back pain with these yoga poses and sequences.
Ask the Expert: Which Yoga Poses Prevent Lower-Back Pain?
Although standing orients your spine into proper posture, standing for too long can cause back pain. Incorporating a yoga routine can help relieve pain.
Answers to your questions about detoxifying yoga, back pain, digestive distress, and more.
I switched to a standing desk, but I often get lower-back aches. Which yoga poses can prevent the pain?
Working at a standing desk orients your spine into proper posture—your chin is parallel to the floor and your belly is firm. But standing for too long (even with good posture) can also place pressure on your lower back, as it’s forced to engage muscles that run along the length of your spine. Incorporating a twice-daily yoga routine can help improve posture and relieve back pain. Practice upon waking in the morning and again in the afternoon. Start in Downward-Facing Dog, roll through to Plank, lower into Chaturanga Dandasana, and finish in Upward Dog. Repeat twice. When you’re at your desk, it’s wise to alternate sitting and standing, so use a desk with an adjustable height. Or if you have a standing desk, get a taller chair, so you can alternate sitting and standing every few hours throughout the course of the day.
Kenneth K. Hansral, MD
Orthopedic surgeon, Poughkeepsie, New York
The best pose for people who suffer from scoliosis?
Recent research published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine found that scoliosis patients who held Side Plank Pose for 90 seconds per day for about 7 months reduced their spinal curvature by an average of 32 percent.
(bah-ROD-va-JAHS-anna), Bharadvaja = one of seven legendary seers, credited with composing the hymns collected in the Vedas
Bharadvaja’s Twist: Step-by-Step Instructions
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Shift over onto your right buttock, bend your knees, and swing your legs to the left. Lay your feet on the floor outside your left hip, with the left ankle resting in the right arch.
Inhale and lift through the top of the sternum to lengthen the front torso. Then exhale and twist your torso to the right, keeping the left buttock on or very close to the floor. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor to keep the lower back long. Soften the belly.
Tuck your left hand under your right knee and bring your right hand to the floor just beside your right buttock. Pull your left shoulder back slightly, pressing your shoulder blades firmly against your back even as you continue to twist the chest to the right.
You can turn your head in one of two directions: continue the twist of the torso by turning it to the right; or counter the twist of the torso by turning it left and looking over the left shoulder at your feet.
With every inhalation lift a little more through the sternum, using the push of the fingers on the floor to help; with every exhalation twist a little more. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release with an exhalation, return to the starting position, and repeat to the left for the same length of time.
Contraindications and Cautions
- High blood pressure
- Low blood pressure
Modifications and Props
For an easier variation of this pose, sit sideways on a chair with the chair back to your right. Bring your knees together and your heels directly below your knees. Exhale and twist toward the chair back. Hold onto the sides of the chair back and lift your elbows up and out to the sides, as if you were pulling the chair back apart. Use the arms to help widen the upper back and move the twist into the space between the shoulder blades.
Deepen the Pose
You can increase the challenge in this pose by slightly varying the position of the arms and hands. First, exhale and swing your right arm around behind your back as you twist to the right. If you can, grip the left arm just at the elbow with the right hand; if you can’t, hold a strap looped around the left elbow. Then turn your left arm outward (so the palm faces away from the knees) and slip the hand under the right knee, palm on the floor.
If you tilt onto the twisting-side buttock (which compresses the lower back), raise it up on a thickly folded blanket. Consciously sink both sitting bones toward the floor.
- Stretches the spine, shoulders, and hips
- Massages the abdominal organs
- Relieves lower backache, neck pain, and sciatica
- Helps relieve stress
- Improves digestion
- Especially good in the second trimester of pregnancy for strengthening the lower back
- Therapeutic for carpal tunnel syndrome
A partner can help you learn to ground the opposite-side buttock. If you are twisting to the right, have your partner stand to your left side and place his/her left foot on the very top of your left thigh, with the inner edge of the foot in the groin. Apply gentle pressure at first, then increase the pressure as seems appropriate. Exhale into your twist but keep the top left thigh releasing away from your partner’s foot.
Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front. Exhale and draw your left leg into Virasana (Hero Pose), then your right leg into Padmasana (Lotus Pose). (See the caution given for Padmasana.) If the right knee doesn’t rest comfortably on the floor, support it with a thickly folded blanket. Twist to the right and with your left hand grip the outside of the right knee. With an expressive exhalation, swing your right arm around behind your back and grip the right foot. If it isn’t possible to grip the foot directly, use a strap.
Bend back into the shape of a bow to feel energetically locked, loaded, and ready to take aim.
Dhanurasana (Bow Pose): Step-by-Step Instructions
This pose is so called because it looks like an archer’s bow, the torso and legs representing the body of the bow, and the arms the string.
dhanu = bow
Lie on your belly with your hands alongside your torso, palms up. (You can lie on a folded blanket to pad the front of your torso and legs.) Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels as close as you can to your buttocks. Reach back with your hands and take hold of your ankles (but not the tops of the feet). Make sure your knees aren’t wider than the width of your hips, and keep your knees hip width for the duration of the pose.
Inhale and strongly lift your heels away from your buttocks and, at the same time, lift your thighs away from the floor. This will have the effect of pulling your upper torso and head off the floor. Burrow the tailbone down toward the floor, and keep your back muscles soft. As you continue lifting the heels and thighs higher, press your shoulder blades firmly against your back to open your heart. Draw the tops of the shoulders away from your ears. Gaze forward.
With the belly pressed against the floor, breathing will be difficult. Breathe more into the back of your torso, and be sure not to stop breathing.
Stay in this pose anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds. Release as you exhale, and lie quietly for a few breaths. You can repeat the pose once or twice more.
Contraindications and Cautions
- High or low blood pressure
- Serious lower-back or neck injury
Modifications and Props
If it isn’t possible for you to hold your ankles directly, wrap a strap around the fronts of your ankles and hold the free ends of the strap, keeping your arms fully extended.
Deepen the Pose
You can increase the challenge of Dhanurasana by performing the pose with your thighs, calves, and inner feet touching.
- Respiratory ailments
- Mild backache
- Menstrual discomfort
Sometimes beginners find it difficult to lift their thighs away from the floor. You can give your legs a little upward boost by lying with your thighs supported on a rolled-up blanket.
- Stretches the entire front of the body, ankles, thighs and groins, abdomen and chest, and throat, and deep hip flexors (psoas)
- Strengthens the back muscles
- Improves posture
- Stimulates the organs of the abdomen and neck
A partner can help you work on a preparation for Dhanurasana. Perform step 1 in the description above. Have your partner kneel on the floor behind you, with his inner knees bracing your outer knees. Inhale and lift your upper torso off the floor by pulling your heels away from your buttocks, but keep your thighs on the floor. Your partner should then take hold of the backs of your ankles. Hang your torso from your partner’s support, but be sure that he doesn’t pull you any deeper into the pose. When you’re ready for more, lift yourself up. Your partner’s presence is merely to support whatever lift you create on your own.
A variation of Dhanurasana is called Parsva (parsva = side, flank) Dhanurasana. Perform Dhanurasana according to the instructions in the main description above. Then with an exhalation, dip your right shoulder toward the floor, strongly tug your left foot to the right, and roll over onto your right side. Students often have a difficult time rolling over for the first few times they make the attempt. Don’t despair. You can practice rolling onto your side without holding your ankles. Just bend your knees and use your hands to help you get a feel for the rolling movement. Stay on your right side for 20 to 30 seconds, then, as you exhale, roll across your belly and over to the left. Stay here the same length of time, and finally roll back onto your belly with an exhalation. Parsva Dhanurasana gives a good massage to your abdominal organs.