Did you know up to 90% of Americans will suffer back pain at some point in their lives? Did you know that back pain is one of the leading causes for missing work and one of the costliest healthcare issues in America? If you’re nodding your head, it’s probably because you have suffered from back pain as well. Back pain has many causes ranging from the sedentary desk lifestyle to a previous car accident.
Upon being assessed by a doctor and/or physical therapist or chiropractor, many people find their spine is healthy; the pain is coming from the muscles around the spine and causing the vertebrae (back bones) and pelvis (hips) to move out of place, which is causing the pain. One of the most common recommended treatments for this type of condition is to try Yoga to strengthen your core and stretch the surrounding muscles as well.
Wait, how can Yoga strengthen your core? Isn’t it just a bunch of weird stretching exercises? Should I just do sit ups instead?
The doctor is recommending basic Hatha Yoga for back pain because Yoga is a smart approach to core strengthening while also stretching tight muscles. Think of your muscles like meat: do you want beef jerky, all dry and tight, or do you want Kobe beef, all fat and flimsy? You want neither of those! You want grade A filet mignon, lean muscle with a small bit of fat for protection and insulation. Yoga creates these kinds of lean muscles (although you certainly will need cardio and diet alteration to help with weight loss as Yoga most likely will not provide enough calorie burn).
First, let’s explain what the core is. Your core is made up of many muscles, not just your tummy. It is made up of:
Abdominal muscles: these include the rectus abdominus (6-pack), internal obliques, external obliques, and the transverse abdominus (the deepest muscle that wraps around your organs/spine like a girdle, creates waist definition). Most people lack strength in the transverse abdominus.
Spinal muscles: there are too many muscles supporting your spine to name them all here. However, Yoga niftily gets all of them strengthened and stretched by its flowing movements and carefully placed poses. This will improve the spine’s stability and decrease your injury likelihood.
Hip/glute muscles: you could argue that the hip & glute muscles also are part of the core. The hip and glute muscles hold the pelvis and lower back steady, resulting in less back pain and less likelihood of instability, which results in back injury.
Shoulder/upper back muscles: don’t forget about the neck! When the lower back gets out of whack, our necks can be at risk too by the laws of physics and overcompensation in the spine. Upper body work is essential to a healthy core.
The below routine is carefully designed to attack your back pain in a safe way. First, many of the poses focus on core strengthening from the Plank pose that gets every muscle mentioned above to the dolphin pose that really hones in on abdominals and shoulders. Next, there are carefully placed stretching and resting poses in between sets and moves to release tension from the muscles while also strengthening them for that long, lean muscle look and feel. The Child’s pose is the ultimate safety and rest pose for the spine; it is completely safe while stretching your back, hips, and quadriceps as a bonus. Finally, yoga attacks stress with its focus on the breath, a key component to relieving tension in the back. When you take deep breaths, you change the stress hormones of the body and halt the fight/flight response. With deep breaths, your body then recognizes that it’s time to stop releasing adrenaline and cortisol (both which can contribute to chronic disease and are known as the stress hormones) and instead to release acetycholine, which is a relaxant. Deep breaths aren’t just for show, they are an essential component to relieving your back pain.
Please proceed with caution. It is recommended that if you suffer from back pain, you receive clearance from a doctor before partaking in any physical activity. This routine in no way supersedes a doctor’s advice.
Yoga for Back Pain: Core Strengthening
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Take 10-20 breaths here to center yourself. Try to breathe in and out of the nose. Focus on clearing your body and mind.
Staying lifted through the whole abdomen and spine, feel only work in the core and shoulders. Hold for 10 breaths; repeat 3-5 times. Take CHILDS POSE (see below) in between for 5 breaths.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Bitilasana (Cow Pose)
Alternate with the below CAT POSE for 10 breaths; inhale with the Cow and exhale with the Cat.
Marjaryasana (Cat Pose)
Think about pressing your spine out in between your shoulder blades.
Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
Feel work in the side core and shoulder. Keep the entire body active; if necessary, push feet against a wall for support. Repeat 3 times per side, 5 breaths per time (6 side planks total). This can also be done on the elbow if wrist pain occurs.
Dolphin Plank Pose
Similar to Plank Pose above, this one is done on elbows to really heat up the core. Hold for 10 breaths, 3 times. Take CHILDS POSE in between each round.
Walk the feet inward from Dolphin Plank Pose to achieve this pose, strengthening and stretching the whole body. Repeat 3 times for 10 breaths each. Keep the core engaged!
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Take 5 rounds of Bridge Pose, 10 breaths per round. Hug the knees into the chest for 5 breaths in between each round to stretch the lower back.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Rest for 5 minutes in a laying down meditation post-practice.