Completely You: Lifestyle
4 Stretches That Stop Back Pain
By Derek Beres for Completely You
One of the top complaints I hear from new yogis is lower back pain.
In fact, many people begin yoga at the urging of their doctor for this
exact reason. Back pain is often caused by another region of the body —
tight hips or shoulders could account for aches felt in the lumbar
region. The good news: A lot of lower back pain can be cured with a
basic regimen of stretching and breathing.
Of course, I’m not a doctor — and you should always check with yours
before beginning any exercise program. That said, we live in a society
that does not value proper body alignment. We drive all the time or
slouch at our desks for hours on end, so it’s no surprise that we end up
with aches and pains. That’s why stretching is an important component
of any effort to alleviate back tension and create an overall healthy
The following poses will help loosen up your muscles and offer
relief. Start by doing each pose three times in succession for at least
five breaths each, three times a week, and increase the frequency if
you’re seeing good results.
Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)
This pose increases back, neck and shoulder flexibility.
1. Begin on your hands and knees, with your shoulders directly
above your wrists and hips above your knees. Find length in your neck by
extending your head forward while looking straight down at the floor.
2. As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling as you tuck
your chin toward your chest, making sure to keep your shoulders and
knees in position. Release your head toward the floor, so there is no
tension in your neck.
3. As you inhale, come back to a neutral position on your hands
and knees, gazing on the floor just in front of your fingers, keeping
your abdominal muscles engaged. Repeat this stretch at least 10 times.
Seated Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This pose opens your hips and shoulders and strengthens your mid-back.
1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
Bend your knees, putting your feet on the floor then slide your left
foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip.
2. Laying the outside of your left leg on the floor, step your
right foot over your left leg; your right knee will point at the
3. Exhale and twist toward the inside of your right thigh. Press
your right hand against the floor behind you, setting your left upper
arm on the outside of your right thigh. Pull your front torso and inner
right thigh snugly together, pressing your inner right foot into the
floor. Lean your torso back slightly, and continue to lengthen your
tailbone into the floor. As you inhale, feel a little more lift out of
the floor, and as you exhale, sit still and twist deeper. Stay in this
position for one minute while taking controlled inhalations and long
exhalations. Repeat with the other leg for the same amount of time.
Bridge Pose (Bandha Sarvangasana)
This pose opens your shoulders and hips, and strengthens your quadriceps.
1. Lying supine on the floor, bend your knees and set your feet
down directly underneath your knees with your heels as close to your
sitting bones as possible.
2. As you exhale, press your inner feet and arms into the floor,
pushing your tailbone upward toward your pubis, firming your buttocks
without feeling like you’re gripping too hard. Lift your hips off the
floor into a bridge while keeping your thighs and inner feet parallel.
3. Clasp your hands below your pelvis and extend through your arms
to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders — you want to press
your forearms into the ground to avoid tensing your neck. Lift your
buttocks until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor.
4. Keeping your knees directly over your heels, push them forward
away from your hips and lengthen your tailbone toward the backs of your
knees. Lift your chin slightly away from your sternum and, firming your
shoulder blades against your back, press the top of your sternum toward
your chin. Remain here for at least thirty seconds and release. Repeat
two more times.
Reclining Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
excellent hip opener, this stretch targets both your hamstrings and hip
flexors, and is great for easing the lower back.
1. Lying on the floor, with both legs extended straight out, bend
your left knee and draw your thigh into your torso, hugging it into your
belly. Press through your right heel to keep your bottom leg grounded
2. Straighten your left leg up toward the ceiling, holding onto
the back of your thigh or calf muscle, pressing your left heel directly
upward. Broaden your shoulder blades so that you’re not gripping around
3. As you press your heel upward, release the head of your thigh
bone more deeply into your pelvis and draw your foot a little closer to
your head. Take this slowly, as it will increase the stretch on the back
of your leg. If you’re shaking a little, that’s fine, but the feeling
should be manageable. Remain here at least 45 seconds and breathe
deeply, then switch legs.
is Completely You’s Getting Unstuck blogger. A journalist, yoga instructor and DJ/music producer, he has written for such publications as Departures and The Huffington Post. He teaches yoga at Equinox Fitness and Yogis Anonymous, and is one-half of the music production team EarthRise SoundSystem. For more info, visit DerekBeres.com.