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Avoid Back Pain! Practice These 5 Yoga Poses For a Strong and Healthy Spine

Jessie Wren
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Knowing how your spine works is crucial for a safe yoga practice. It is common for many yogis to have back pain or to get injured, because our bodies tend to compensate for weak muscle groups, which causes us to “dump” into certain areas or strain ligaments and muscles.

For example, in certain yoga poses, if you have weak abdominals, your body will compensate by dumping the pressure into the low back, which in turn will turn into back pain – and in some cases injure your spine.
 
The spine is the foundation for most, if not all, yoga poses. Learning how the spine functions, along with how to properly protect it, will help prevent future injuries.
 

The 411 On Spine Anatomy

The spine is made up of four regions: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back), and the sacrococcygeal (sacrum). Each region has its own curvature and vertebrae.
 
lumbar spine
 
The cervical spine (the neck) is the most mobile part of your spine. Because it has the most movement, a common mistake is overuse or over-stretching in this area. Since the cervical spine is the most flexible part of the spine, it is subject to the most injury. Therefore, it is essential to not over-twist or over-bend this area.
 
The thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae, and they attach to the ribs, which protect your heart. This is the least mobile part of the spine, so it is safe and most beneficial to move this area as much as you can, which is challenging since the vertebrae are attached to bone.
 

The spine is made up of four regions: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back), and the sacrococcygeal (sacrum).

 
The lumbar spine (lower back), like the neck, is also very mobile. It is made up of the lower five vertebrae and it is an area where students tend to dump their body weight, often leading to lower back issues in the future.
 
Now that we’ve covered the basics of spinal anatomy, let’s apply that to your yoga practice!
 
 

Relieve Back Pain With These 5 Yoga Poses For a Strong, Healthy Spine:

 

1. Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

Salabhasana strengthens the back and core muscles. This yoga pose has the lowest risk and impact in the backbend family.
 
locust
 
How to get into Locust Pose:

  • Lie flat on your belly and interlace your fingers above your sacrum
  • Straighten and engage the legs and lift them, along with your chest, off the yoga mat
  • Press your belly button into the mat
  • Gaze directly in front of you to keep the natural curve in your neck
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and draw them away from your ears

 
Risk Factors:

  • Squeezing the butt too tight to compensate a weak lower back will negate the entire purpose of the pose!
  • Shortening the back of the neck by lifting your gaze too high will compress the cervical spine. No bueno!

 
 

2. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog)

Up Dog is important to understand because it is a foundational yoga pose. This pose expands the chest and opens the lungs while strengthening the muscles of the spine, arms and shoulders.
 
Upwardwarddog_yogiApproved_1
 
How to get into Upward Facing Dog:

  • Start on your stomach and plant your palms alongside your ribcage
  • Press down evenly through the base of each finger and your entire palm
  • Shoulders should stack directly above the wrists
  • Lift your entire body so only your palms and the tops of your feet are on the mat
  • Engage legs as much as possible to bring compression out of the lower spine
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together to find openness across your collarbones
  • Relax your buttocks and engage your thighs
  • Gaze straight ahead – not toward the ceiling – so your neck is a continuation of your spine

 
Risk Factors:

  • If your hands are not directly beneath your shoulders, or if you do not evenly distribute the weight in your palms, this can lead to a wrist injury.
  • Looking up toward the ceiling can compress the cervical spine (neck), so be sure to avoid that by looking straight ahead.

 
 

3. Dhanurasana (Floor Bow)

This yoga pose is meant to open the chest and stretch the entire front body. Floor Bow helps relieve minor back pain while strengthening the back muscles and improving your posture.
 
bow
 
How to get into Dhanurasana:

  • Starting on your belly, grab the outside of each ankle
  • Kick and lift into your hands as you lengthen your chest toward the ceiling
  • Draw the knees and feet toward each other so they are hip distance apart
  • Draw your ankles in and keep your feet actively engaged

 
Risk Factors:

  • If your legs are too wide apart, this will compress your lower back.
  • If you don’t kick actively into your hands, your knees are at risk for injury.

 
 

4. Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

If you are not comfortable with Floor Bow, Camel Pose is a great alternative because the ground supports your legs, making it easier to keep your legs properly spaced. This posture also improves flexibility in your thoracic spine, which is an important goal.
 
camel-pose-asthma
 
How to get into Camel Pose:

  • Start kneeling with knees hip-width distance apart
  • Press your hands into your low back and press your hips forward
  • Drop your head back as you shift your gaze towards the ceiling
  • Two options: stay here for the gentler version, or if you want to go deeper and it’s available, reach down and grab onto your ankles
  • Hold your head steady and avoid allowing it to fall all the way back (see photo)

 
Risk Factors:

  • Your neck is at risk for injury if you allow your head to fall back too far.
  • Lower spine is put at risk if you dump your body weight into it.
  • If knees are spread too wide, you risk injury here as well.

 
 

5. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose)

This is a great pose to extend and bend all four regions of the spine, really tying everything together. It opens the entire front body, and extends the back body simultaneously.
 
wheel pose - heart opener
 
How to get into Wheel Pose:

  • Hands are shoulder-width distance apart, palms are flat, and fingers point toward the feet, which are hip-width apart
  • Press down evenly through the four corners of each foot and make sure your shoulders are stacked above your wrists
  • Press up into a wheel shape using your leg and bicep strength
  • Push into your arms and legs simultaneously as you press up to prevent injury
  • Continue to press and lift using your hamstring and glute strength and not dump the weight into your lower back (you don’t want to compress this area because it already has a natural inward curve)

 
Risk Factors:

  • If your arms internally rotate, you risk shoulder injury.
  • If you do not remain active in this pose, you risk dumping the weight into your low back.

 

Educate Yourself, Practice Yoga, and Keep Your Spine Healthy to Avoid Back Pain!

You might notice that in most of the cues for backbends it is essential to avoid dumping your weight into your lower back (or lumbar spine). This is vital in 95% of backbends. Most students are very bendy in their lumbar spine, and since there is already a natural curve in this area, the tendency is to overcompensate for other areas in the body that are weak by dumping all the weight into the low back.
 
It is important to train the muscles around your upper spine to be able to support you in backbends so your body does not naturally dump into the lower spine.
 
The key principle to keep in mind when going into backbends is to keep the natural curve in your spine. Usually students tend to overarch, over-bend, and dump into the weaker areas. Remember to apply these important tips and cues – they will transform your yoga practice and increase your spine’s overall strength and wellbeing.
 

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Jessie Wren

An Arizona native, Jesse finds peace within her yoga practice, and spreads light through her yoga teaching and writing. She loves connecting with herself and others through meditation, asana, and a healthy lifestyle. You can find Jesse traveling the world, writing about inspiration, and taste-testing every sushi restaurant ever.

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