Gentle Yoga Stretches for the Lower Back
Recently, many of us have had to deal with lock-downs, quarantines and a sudden transition to work from home. Longer periods of inactivity, prolonged sitting and improper desk setups at home, not to mention the stress of uncertainty, can be detrimental to the health of the back and spine. Here are three beautifully alleviating yoga stretches for the lower back that are practical, simple and suitable for any age, ability or skill level.
This blissful yoga flow is one of the best ways to relieve tension in the lower back. It consists of two poses: Marjariasana, from the Sanskrit Marjari, meaning ‘cat’; and Bitilasana from Bitila, meaning ‘cow’. Reversing the harmful effects of prolonged sitting or standing, it increases spinal flexibility, releases pressure and delightfully stretches the lower back.
- Begin on all fours. Keep the spine and neck neutral and long. Ensure that the wrists are directly under the shoulders. The knees should be hip-width apart and directly under the hips.
- On an inhale, consciously direct the tailbone upward, lengthen forward and lift the chest, gently arching the spine so that the navel drops down. Invite the stretch to gravitate up the spine and open the heart. Keep the chin parallel to the mat to avoid any strain on the neck.
- On an exhale, engage the abdomen, draw the navel in and round the thoracic spine as high as possible. Exhale completely.
- Repeat several times, allowing the flexing and extending movements to follow the flow of the breath.
Also known as the Baby Cobra, the Sphinx is a wonderfully restorative posture for the back. Unlike the full Cobra, it places a lot less pressure on the spine and is gentle enough for any skill level. The name comes from the Sanskrit Salamba, meaning ‘supported’ and Bhujanga meaning ‘cobra.’
- Lie face down on the mat. Bring the legs together and point the feet behind you.
- Lengthen the spine, peel the shoulders and chest off the mat and prop up onto the elbows. Ensure that the elbows are directly below the shoulders and the forearms are parallel to each other, palms facing down.
- Pull the shoulders down and back as the heart opens. The neck should be long and the chin parallel to the mat to avoid any unnecessary strain. Lengthen the tailbone toward the heels. Keep the legs engaged, but relax the lower back and buttocks.
- Take several deep breaths.
- On an exhale, slowly lower all the way down to the floor and relax.
3Modified Reclined Spinal Twist
(Jathara Parivartanasana Variation)
From the Sanskrit words Jathara, meaning ‘abdomen’ and Parivartana, meaning ‘revolved,’ this simple variation of the Reclined Spinal Twist is great for easing through lower back stiffness or pain. The fact that it is performed from a reclining position offers full control over the degree of intensity, thus making it an effective pose for both beginners and seasoned practitioners.
- Lie down on the back with the knees bent and the soles of the feet on the floor.
- Lift the feet off the mat and hug both knees into the chest. Lengthen the spine. Breathe.
- Release and adjust the knees so that they are at a 90-degree angle to the body. Stretch both arms out onto the floor at shoulder height.
- With both feet flexed to protect the knees, lower both legs down to the right toward the floor. Avoid tilting the head back or lifting the upper back/shoulder off the mat. If necessary, use the right hand to gently encourage the outer left knee further down, just to the point where you feel a nice soothing lower back stretch. Ensure that the right arm and shoulder stay on the mat.
- Turn the head to the left and gaze at the left hand.
- Take a few deep breaths, enjoying the pose.
- Release and repeat on the other side.
Remember that it is always best to practice these yoga stretches for the lower back under the guidance of a certified instructor. Each posture may require modifications or restrictions based on your health history and condition.