7 simple yoga moves that can relieve low back pain. (Spoiler: your posture may be causing it!)
There are lots of reasons why people sign up to take classes at James River Yoga on Rivermont Avenue. But instructors Nancy Allen and Anne Alfieri say there’s one reason in particular they hear the most. “Complaints about low back pain,” Nancy says. “In general, people tell us they feel really stiff.”
That “stiff” feeling is likely the result of poor posture—which is one of the top causes of low back pain. Slumping at our desks, slouching in the Kroger checkout line, hanging over our phones—we’re all guilty of it!
Enter yoga: a discipline that improves alignment, core strength and flexibility—three key elements of good posture. “Yoga helps you to get strong enough to maintain good posture,” says Nancy. “And good posture is what prevents a lot of your pain, especially in the lower back.”
Ready to get started? It’s easy. All you need is about 10 minutes and some clear space on the floor to try out a few of Nancy and Anne’s basic moves.
While standing up, place a tennis ball under your foot. Press down on the ball and hold for about 10 seconds in different parts of the foot. Do this for about a minute. Switch feet and repeat. “You will notice when you finish the first foot, that leg will feel longer and looser,” Anne says. “The web of plantar fascia on the bottom of your feet is connected to your hamstrings, and back issues can stem from tight hamstrings. Because when your hamstrings are tight, your tailbone naturally curls under, throwing off your body’s alignment.”
Lie on your back and lift one leg into the air. Place a strap (or improvise with a robe belt, for example) on the ball of your foot and use the strap to provide some resistance. Gently press your foot up into the strap—do not pull the strap toward you. Make sure your shoulders are flat against the floor and your neck is relaxed. Hold for about one minute on each leg. “If you have really tight hamstrings, you might not be able to straighten your knee, and that’s absolutely okay,” Anne says.
Still lying on your back, with both knees bent and feet on the floor 4-5 inches apart, lift one foot and bring your outer ankle to your thigh. While keeping a slight curve in your back, gently push your knee out for about 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. “The hip muscles are attached to the lower back,” Anne says. “If you have tight hips that puts pressure on your lower back.”
With your hands and knees on the ground, exhale while curling your back so you look like a “Halloween cat,” explains Anne. Then inhale as you release your back and lift your head up to the ceiling. Repeat as many times as you would like, while focusing on your breath. “You can be creative with this pose, too. Wiggle your tailbone from side to side for example. This is all about relaxing your spine,” she says.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Hug a block between your knees and lift your tailbone off the floor. Hold this pose for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. “Using a block in between your legs keeps your hips from splaying out and engages all of the right muscles,” Nancy explains.
Lie on your back with your feet in the air and slowly lower your knees to one side so they are resting on the floor. Repeat on both sides. “This move keeps your spine supple, it helps to release muscles in the back body,” Nancy says.
Good Posture vs. Bad Posture
Below, Nancy demonstrates the right and wrong way to sit at your desk or kitchen table. It’s natural for us to hunch over, stick our heads out and roll our tailbones under—because proper posture requires more strength.
Focus on rolling your tailbone out, keeping your shoulders back and making sure your head is in line with your spine. Nancy and Anne recommend standing desks for those with office jobs or sitting for part of the day on a large exercise ball.