9 Yoga Poses for Stubborn Back Pain

Back pain affects at least 16% of Australians today. In fact, it’s estimated that about 70-90% of people will have to contend with it in their lifetime. Back pain can be caused by disorders in the musculoskeletal or nervous systems, and it often takes a combination of medical treatment and lifestyle changes to really bid the aches and pains goodbye.

With regard to the latter, the flexible and relaxing nature of yoga can help! Here are some asanas you can use to stretch out your back and shake away your stubborn back pain. Remember to consult with a doctor before trying these or any other new exercise routines.

1 – Cat-Cow Pose

The Cat-Cow Pose is a sequence between two poses that stretches your spine, promotes balance, and improves flexibility. It’s especially helpful in cases of sciatica and lumbar pain.

How to do the Cat-Cow Pose:

  1. Begin on all fours.
  2. Move slowly into the Cow Pose: breathe in and arch your back, bringing your belly down towards the mat. At the same time, draw up your chest and lift your face towards the sky.
  3. Then, move slowly into the Cat Pose. Breathe out as you bring your belly up away from the mat. Round your back up to the sky, resembling a cat stretching its back. Allow your head to drop towards the floor.
  4. Do 5-20 repetitions of the sequence. Be mindful that you’re synchronising your breathing as you move from the Cow Pose to the Cat Pose and back.

2 – Seated Forward Fold

The Seated Forward Fold primarily stretches the hamstrings, but it’s good for lengthening cramped back muscles as well.

How to do the Seated Forward Fold:

  1. Begin by sitting on the floor, legs stretched out in front of you.
  2. Slowly hinge at the hips and reach as far as you can for your shins, then your ankles, then your feet.
  3. Be mindful you aren’t rounding your back just to get to your feet! Keep the torso straight. If you feel pressure on your back, bend your knees instead to reach your feet.
  4. Maintain for three breaths.

3 – Standing Forward Fold

This pose is a forward fold that stretches the hamstrings and the entire back, just like the seated forward fold. It’s executed in a standing position, inverting the head below the level of the heart and increasing circulation to the brain.

How to do the Standing Forward Fold:

  1. Begin in a standing position, feet hip-width apart.
  2. Bend down at the hips, and touch your fingertips to your toes.
  3. If comfortable, hold the backs of your ankles.
  4. Maintain for three breaths.

4 – Sphinx Pose

The Sphinx Pose reverses some of the damage done to the sacrolumbar arch when you sit for long periods of time. An incorrect sitting posture puts weight on the lower back and flattens out the lumbar arch, which causes back pain. The backbend involved in the Sphinx Pose restores the natural curvature of the lumbar arch and can relieve the pain.

How to do the Sphinx Pose:

  1. Begin by lying on your stomach, propped up on your elbows with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Slowly lift your chest forward and pull your elbows in so they’re under your shoulders. This will open up your chest and back.
  3. The backbend may be intense on your lower back, so go slowly. You may keep your elbows slightly in front of your shoulders at first and gradually pull them back once you’re more experienced.
  4. Maintain this position for three breaths. Release by lowering your upper body to the floor.

5 – Downward Dog Pose

The Downward Dog Pose is one of the most popular yoga poses. It opens the lower back, stretches and decompresses the spine, and strengthens your hamstrings and core. The head-to-the-ground position also promotes circulation and elongates the neck.

How to do the Downward Dog Pose:

  1. Begin on all fours. Raise your hips high, straightening your legs until your body is in an upside-down V position, keeping tension in your inner thighs.
  2. Relax your head and neck as they hang upside down. Doing so will open your shoulder blades and stretch your upper back.
  3. Maintain the pose for five to seven breaths.

6 – Bow Pose

The Bow Pose focuses on the back muscles and shoulders. It involves another intense backbend that draws your chest forwards and curves your lower back, improving posture and restoring the natural arches of the spine.

How to do the Bow Pose:

  1. Begin by lying face down. Slowly reach back and grab hold of your ankles one at a time.
  2. Push your chest forward and lift your thighs upward, pressing your feet back. Your body should resemble the shape of a drawn bow, with your arms and legs representing the drawn bowstring and your body being the curved bow.
  3. Maintain the position for three breaths.

7 – Child’s Pose

The Child’s Pose chiefly stretches the thighs and back muscles. It’s often used as a resting pose in between other poses, and as  a counter-pose to relax the back after doing intense backbends.

How to do the Child’s Pose:

  1. Begin on all fours. Widen your knees slowly while keeping your feet together, and lower your torso to the ground.
  2. Ensure that your abdomen is touching your thighs, your buttocks are resting on your feet, and your forehead is on the ground.
  3. Once in this position, reach your arms back, parallel with your legs, and take hold of your feet.
  4. Maintain the pose for 30 seconds or longer.

8 – Triangle Pose

The Triangle Pose stretches your back from the sacrum all the way to the neck. The side-to-side twisting as you touch one foot and then the other also encourages flexibility of the spine.

How to do the Triangle Pose:

  1. Begin by standing with your legs three feet apart. Turn your right foot out so the right heel is parallel with the arch of the left foot.
  2. Tilt your hips to the left and reach for your right foot with both hands. If you are unable to reach the foot, just go as far as is comfortable.
  3. Rotate your torso so it’s facing front, raise left arm and reach for the sky with the fingers of your left hand. Follow your left hand with your gaze.
  4. Maintain this position for three to six breaths. Release and repeat on the reverse side.  

9 – Eagle Pose

This pretzel-like configuration is another iconic yoga pose. The arm twisting counteracts the neck and shoulder strain from hunching over a desk or a computer. Meanwhile, crossing your legs and balancing on one foot strengthens the thighs, hips, calves and ankles. Sitting deeper into this pose opens the back, which is beneficial for conditions like sciatica, and chronic back pain.

How to do the Eagle Pose:

  1. Start in the Mountain Pose: a standing position with your feet hip-width apart, and your arms at your sides with palms facing forwards.
  2. Bend your knees then stand on your right foot. Lift your left leg and cross your left thigh over your right. Find your balance and maintain for one breath.
  3. Look straight ahead, and fix your gaze on a focal point to help keep your balance. If you’re having trouble, you can start by leaning your back against a wall until you develop enough balance to do it unsupported.
  4. Next, raise your arms and extend them in front of your body. Cross your left arm beneath your right and clasp your hands, palms together (or as close as you can get them).
  5. Bend your elbows so your forearms are pointing upwards and perpendicular to the floor.
  6. Squeeze your thighs and arms together as tightly as you can, keeping your center of gravity in the middle of your form. Maintain your gaze on the tips of your thumbs, then breathe evenly for up to one minute.
  7. Release your arms and legs slowly, returning to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the reverse side.

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