I’d like to discuss a physical limitation of mine that comes and goes and one of the ways I deal with it. Ironically, it doesn’t tend to limit my ability to run – on the contrary, running usually provides some temporary relief – but man, when it flares up, I have to brace myself just to get up from my desk at work and use the bathroom. (And ladies, we know how often that happens in a day…)
I’m talking, of course, about low back pain. Fortunately, the nature of my back pain is muscular and not from a bulging disk, so the “fix” is whatever I’m able to spend time and money on to restore flexibility. My massage therapist has worked out kinks in my quadratus lumborum (QL for short) that have been so bad in the past that I needed help getting dressed for work because I had to actually roll out of bed completely straight and, once upright, couldn’t bend to put on pants and shoes.
A professional massage can work wonders in situations that extreme. However, if you’ve been dealing with a less extreme but persistent twinge on either side of the lumbar spine, then certain yoga poses – especially yin poses that you hold for a few minutes – can slowly stretch those bunched-up muscles back out and restore the range of motion so that you can resume normal movement and activities.
As Tim Ferriss might say, I’m not a certified yoga instructor, nor do I play one on the Internet. However, as a regular person with about a decade of yogini cred and about four or five years of recurring low-back pain, I have a pretty good idea of what will help if you also suffer from low back pain.
Here are a few of my favorites!
Photo from galleryhip.com
To do this pose, start by pressing the soles of your feet together so that your legs form a diamond shape in front of you. Take a deep inhale, and on the exhale, gradually lower down so that your head hangs in the space above your mat. (If this hurts your head or neck, prop your head on a block or another 6-8” high object.) Hold for three to five minutes, then slowly rise back up (so those freshly loosened back muscles stay that way!). That’s it!
Photo from yinyoga.com
This one’s just like the butterfly above but with one foot tucked into the opposite inner thigh and the other leg (the one with the foot pressing into it) straight out in front. You just get in position, lower down on the exhale and hold for, say, three minutes only if you hold a full butterfly for five. This is an asymmetrical posture, so you will most likely feel it more on one side of your back than the other (and probably also in the outstretched leg).
Photo from gratitudeplanet.com
Two names, one pose. Most seasoned yogis will be familiar with “plow.” “Snail” is what we call it in yin class. This one’s a bit much for some people, and options are available depending on your purpose for doing it. The “full expression of the pose,” as yoga instructors like to say, is where you start from a supine position, go into a shoulder stand and then bring your legs and feet down in front of your head (which stays on the mat) as far as they will go. If your feet touch down, great! But they don’t have to. If your legs and feet dangle in that space, then the weight of your extremities suspended in midair will still provide a back stretch. If the pose is altogether too much and you feel like you can’t breathe or if you’re struggling with something else, then heed whatever warnings your body gives you and try one of the variations. For a low-back stretch, the variation is simply to sit on your mat, straighten both legs in front of you and then lower your head and back. Like Butterfly, but with your legs straight. Prop your head on a block if it hurts to let it hang.
Photo from yogatrail.com
Many people’s favorite yoga pose besides savasana! Start by sitting up on your knees. With knees either pulled together or winged out, gently lower down with arms outstretched and hands reaching for the front of the mat. Hold for however long feels good. Simple yet effective!
Photo by Do You Yoga
I never knew this was a thing until I joined the ranks of low-back pain sufferers. If you have low back pain, then regular savasana (Sanskrit for “lie there at the end of class for a couple of minutes and either doze off or run through your grocery shopping list”) can put pressure on the curve of your low back, causing you to tighten back up. If I can help it, I always either do legs-up-the-wall savasana (exactly what it sounds like; plan for it by snagging a wall-adjacent space before class starts) or with a bolster under my knees so that the thighs are raised a few inches. Either of these options will allow the back to stay flat on the ground and relaxed.
So the main point of this article is simply to let you know that if you have low-back pain, it can be remedied with conservative therapies like yoga. I recommend the above poses within a regular all-levels yoga class or, if the classes are available in your area, a regular Yin practice. (In Columbia, Brenda teaches a very popular Yin class at the Müv Fitness on Forest Drive every Sunday at 4:00, and a couple of regular Yin classes are also taught at Amsa Yoga just off Garners Ferry Road.)
For more info and videos of Yin poses, check out this website.
Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It 🙂
If you suffer from low-back pain and you’re not already doing yoga on a weekly basis, start now. If you’re already going to a chiropractor, start going to weekly (or twice-weekly) yoga classes anyway. If the cause of your back pain is a bulging disk, always let your yoga instructor know before the class starts so that she can offer modifications that won’t aggravate it.
After a few weeks of regular attendance, you may find that you’re ready to ditch the chiro, and your back and purse/wallet/health insurance will thank you for it!