Back Care – Yoga Style
Taking care of your back is not simply about ensuring that you are sitting and standing correctly. Nor is it about doing an endless number of stomach crunches. The abdominal muscles quite often get most of the attention, but they form only a small part of the core system that contributes to a strong and stable back.
The muscles of the core run the length of your trunk and torso, from your erector spinae in your neck and upper back, right down to your obliques. A strong core, across all of these muscles in your waist and upper-torso, distributes the stresses of weight-bearing and thus protects the back.
If you’re experiencing back pain and looking to boost your core strength some key yoga poses may offer the solution. Try these three poses to develop controlled movement from a base of strong muscles in the back, abdomen and torso. As your core strength gets stronger your overall posture, sitting or standing, will experience the benefits.
Note: As with all exercise, you need to listen to your body, keep the back of the neck and spine lengthened and the rib cage lifted. Remember to breathe as you work with the different poses.
If you have ever practiced yoga, you will be familiar with plank pose. The plank exercise is truly the starting place for those looking to improve their core strength, and best of all, it’s remarkably simple to perform.
Yoga Teacher: Jessica Dewar
1. Begin in the plank position, balanced on your elbows and toes, with your hips raised and back straight from head to toe. Keep your head relaxed. You can make use of a yoga blanket (link) for added stability and comfort if needed.
2. Breathe easefully.
3. Hold the pose for 10 seconds to two minutes as strength permits. Make sure that you remain straight in the plank position, taking care not to sag or bend at the waist or knees. As you get stronger, gradually extend the time you stay in the pose until you achieve 2 minutes.
Plank with leg/arm lift: While holding yourself in the standard plank pose, slowly lift your right foot and/or left arm until it is horizontal with the ground. Hold for two to five seconds, before slowly lowering and repeating on the opposite side.
Side Plank: Begin by lying on your right side on the floor, resting your torso on your right elbow. Lift through your waist so that your body is straight from head to toe and balanced on your right elbow and the outside of your right foot (for more balance, you can place feet in line with each other with the outside edge of you right foot and the inside edge of you left foot on the floor) . Hold for ten to 60 seconds, before relaxing and returning to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Open Leg Balance
Great for the lower abdominal muscles, legs, and back extensors, this intermediate-difficulty Yoga pose is similar to yoga's Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose), and perfect for building greater strength deep within your core muscle group.
1. Raise the legs, one at a time—upper legs are approximately at right angles to the lower legs—arms are extended out, parallel to the floor.
2. Hold for five to twenty seconds using your abdominal muscles to maintain your balance on your sitting bones and preventing yourself from rolling onto your spine.
3. To increase the intensity of this pose sit on the ground with your legs flat against the floor; use a yoga blanket for added grip and comfort as necessary. Bend at the knees, sliding your feet up towards your body, while taking care that they remain together. Allow the knees to open naturally.
4. Rock back slightly, so that your weight is transferred to the base of your sitting bones and your legs are slightly lifted from the ground. Extend and straighten one leg at first, pause and focus your balance, before extending the second leg until both legs are as close to straight as you can manage.
5. Place your arms to the inside of your legs, reaching down to grasp your feet or your ankles. Draw in your abdominal muscles, taking care to lift the lower abs. Hold for five to twenty seconds.
Yoga Teacher: Keey Thomson
(You can also do a variation of this pose using a yoga strap looped around the balls of your feet and going into the pose holding the strap with both hands.)
Coming out of the pose; slowly come back to the ground, bending one leg before the other. Repeat 3 or 4 times.
Bridge Pose or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
The Bridge pose is a tremendously effective pose for strengthening the lower back, the gluteus, and upper leg muscles. To make the pose more comfortable for the neck, you may like to place a folded blanket under your shoulders and have your neck and head just back from the edge of the blanket.
1. Lie on your back on the floor. Bend your knees with feet flat on the floor, parallel and hip distance apart. The lower legs should be approximately at right angles with the upper legs.
2. Pressing the feet and arms into the floor raise your tail bone up. To open the chest more you can clasp the hands together below your hips and maintain the pose resting on your feet and shoulders.
3. Stay in the pose anywhere from 10 seconds to 3 minutes. Slowly come back to the ground, bending one leg before the other.
4. To intensify the pose, extend one leg at a time parallel to the floor and hold from 10 to 90 seconds.
5. Coming out of the pose, slowly lower your hips back to the floor.
6. With your arms around your knees, bring the knees into the chest and squeeze—stretching and releasing the lower back muscles.
As in all forms of exercise, know your body’s limits and never force anything. Rather than going for the maximum amount of time holding a pose first up, gradually build up the length of time you hold a pose, incrementally.