5 Poses to Help Ease Back Pain

5 poses to help ease back pain

By Gwen Lawrence | Apr 6, 2016
Special to espnW
Each month, yoga coach Gwen Lawrence shows us five yoga poses designed to keep athletes in the game. To enable you to keep your workouts on track, this month she focuses on keeping the back strong. As always, consult a doctor before you begin any new exercise program.

Beyond increasing flexibility and strength, yoga helps keep your body in alignment while increasing your awareness of it, giving you a better chance to spot injuries before they happen. The back — particularly the lower back, which so often gets overstressed from poor posture or overwork — is an area that can benefit greatly from that prevention.

Here are some basic yoga poses that can help you keep your back pain-free while helping you stand a little taller.

Lying spinal twist

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence
Pain and discomfort is so often felt in the back because of lack of mobility in the spine. These twists are the best way to sink in and improve the back’s rotation.

Keys to the pose:

* Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat.

* Draw your knees into your chest and cross the right thigh over the left thigh in a full cross (not a figure-four cross). Flex the feet.

* Slowly drop the crossed legs over to the left, trying to get the right knee as close to the ground as possible.

* Reach the right arm, palm face up, breathe and hold for three to five minutes, then slowly switch sides.

Supported plow pose

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence
Plow pose addresses several issues when it comes to opening up the back. Plow pose is a complete back-body stretch from the base of the skull to the calves to the Achilles tendon. It’s a user-friendly way to elongate the hamstrings, and happy hamstrings help take pressure and tension off the lower back.

Keys to the pose:

* Lying on your back, test to see if your feet easily touch the floor over your head (if they do, great; if not no worries). In this pose, you will bend the elbows and place your hands flat on your back, creating that support.

* Snuggle your shoulder blades under your body, closer to each other to take pressure off the neck.

* Allow your chin to come to your chest as far as you can.

* Straighten the legs as much as you can and flex your feet to get the best hamstring stretch possible.

* Breathe and hold the pose for two to three minutes. Come out of it nice and slowly.

Cobra push-ups

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Cobra push-ups are challenging for the arm muscles, especially the triceps, but that is a happy byproduct of your work. The main reason for doing this move is to open the entire front side of the body from the tops of the feet through the chin. This type of move counteracts the closing off and shortening of the front body you accumulate during desk time, driving and poor posture.

Keys to the pose:

* While lying on your stomach, be sure to place your palms flat, fingers spread directly under the shoulder joint on the floor.

* If you are more advanced, your legs will be straight as you lower to the ground.

* Inhale and straighten the arms, then squeeze the shoulders together behind you and create a proud chest.

* Do not let the head sink into the shoulders, create a long neck.

* Feel the length from the tips of your toes to the top of your head.

* Look up, exhale slowly and lower down to the stomach. Repeat for one minute.

Supported bridge pose

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence
All your previous hard work leads to this extraordinary restorative pose that helps open the spine area and passively stretch the deep hip flexors. That helps release pressure on the low back, allowing for better rotation and overall range of motion in the spine. The best part is that you completely relax here, letting gravity do all the work for you!

Keys to the pose:

* Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat, push hips up and place two to three yoga blocks under the back of your hips. Relax all your weight on the blocks.

* Snuggle the shoulders under, with the shoulder blades closer to each other to protect your neck.

* Hold the blocks gently.

* Allow your chin to move toward your chest.

* Maintain flat feet and have them a comfortable width apart for you.

* Hold, breath for three to six minutes. Once done, remove blocks and slowly lower down.

Supported squat

Courtesy of Gwen Lawrence
The goal of this move is to get a deep opening in the hips and legs, not necessarily to build strength, which is why we will perform it up against the wall. If you have pins, plates, screws or staples in your knees, approach this move with caution and do not go down as far as shown.

Keys to the pose:

* Start with your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart depending on what feels most comfortable.

* Slowly slide down a wall, with your back as straight as possible.

* Go down as low as you can without your heels coming off the floor.

* Hands are in heart center to keep the knees tracking in the same direction as the flat feet, to protect the knees.

* With your back tall and hips low, hold your breath for one to two minutes, then push into your feet to slowly slide back up.

Gwen Lawrence owns Power Yoga for Sports and works with athletes in professional basketball, football, baseball, hockey and soccer as well as Olympians and collegiate champions. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @gwenlawrence and at www.gwenlawrence.com.