Regular yoga practice, with the guidance of an experienced teacher, is a great way to look after your spine and protect yourself from back pain and injury.
Sitting at a desk for long periods of time is a common cause of lower back pain; as is lifting and carrying heavy weights without the body knowledge and self-care to support such physical activity. Pain can creep up to the area around the thoracic spine, too; and to the neck, where the cervical spine and the muscles around it are particularly vulnerable when you spend lots of time looking down at a screen.
Many people have back pain. Sometimes this pain escalates and causes headaches, dizziness, and even nausea. Yoga classes are often advantageous, but it’s important to look after yourself day-to-day as well.
Try these five yoga postures every day to protect your spine.
1. Kumbhakasana (Plank)
Hold for 30 seconds initially, and gradually build to hold for 2 minutes.
A key to having a healthy back is a strong core.
The core isn’t just the abdominal muscles that make up a 6-pack; all of the major and minor muscles in the abdomen and back, as well as the glutes and the hip muscles, are part of the core. Thinking of your core as all of these muscles working together can help you to understand how to protect your spine in every position — whether you’re sitting, standing, lying down or on the move.
High Plank is a great posture to develop core strength and stability, as all core muscles work together to support the spine.
Tip: Have the hands directly under the shoulders and press the heels back away from you; scoop and lift the lower abdomen, and round the shoulders slightly as if you’re pushing something away from you.
2. Uddiyana Bandha Practice (Core Work At Your Desk)
Repeat five times before you allow the spine to settle into a neutral position again.
Uddiyana Bandha is the ‘core lock’ in yoga and is vital for generating heat, creating power, and supporting the spine. You can practice using this bandha to improve your posture while you’re sitting down.
Sit tall, with the feet flat on the floor. Gently contract the lower abdomen — a ‘pulling up’ sensation in the area underneath the belly button. Then use this contraction to draw the pelvis forwards, which will round the lower back. And then still maintaining that contraction, draw the pelvis backward, so the lower back hollows slightly.
Tip: Keep the shoulders still to encourage the movement to come from the lower abdomen.
3. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord Of The Fishes Pose)
Hold for five breaths on each side.
As well as strengthening the muscles, it’s important to create flexibility to prevent stiffness and reduce the chances of injury.
We don’t often twist as we move through every day life, and moving the spine in this way can help to wring out tension and improve mobility.
Sitting on the floor, keep the hips level and extend one leg while you draw the other foot in close. Twist towards the bent leg to look behind you. You can either place the opposite elbow on the outside of the knee, or simply use the hand to hold the knee. The other hand rests on the floor behind you for support.
Tip: Inhale and extend the spine upwards before you take the twist.
4. Padangushtasana (Hand to Big Toe Pose)
Hold for five breaths.
This is a simple forward fold to stretch the hamstrings.
Increased flexibility in the hamstrings can reduce stress in the lower back, as you’ll be able to move more freely without having to round the spine to compensate for hamstring stiffness.
Hamstring stretches are only good for the spine if you keep the spine long while you stretch; so rather than reaching all the way for your toes immediately, fold forwards only as far as you can without rounding the back.
Tip: Take the hands to the legs rather than to the toes to decrease the intensity of the fold.
5. Standing Lateral Stretch
Hold for five breaths on each side.
Finally, just as with the spinal twist, laterally stretching the back increases flexibility and range of movement.
Stand with your weight evenly distributed between the feet. Stretch the arms up overhead, interlace the fingers, and — without collapsing in the ribs — lean to one side. Tuck the chin up towards the top elbow.
Tip: Keep the core engaged to keep the spine long; lifting up and stretching, rather than stretching and collapsing.