Group yoga classes can be tricky to navigate when you’ve got back pain. With so many instructors focused on guiding you to your “edge,” some poses may end up doing more harm than good.
Caitlin Casella, a YogaWorks teacher and teacher trainer who has dealt with SI joint pain and low back pain, frequently teaches therapeutics in her classes and recommends that students with back pain find a class or a teacher that emphasizes strength and stability, so that they can work to create a support structure for their joints to avoid discomfort and pain.
“Don’t be so concerned about flexibility. Be more concerned about getting stronger, more stable, and improving the quality of breath when you rest,” Casella says.
The following sequence will encourage you to find length on all four sides of your body as you stabilize your core and back muscles. Move slowly through this sequence once, and pause in each pose for at least 10 breaths. Feel free to linger a little longer in child’s pose, supported bridge, and constructive rest. Here, 7 poses that will have you saying om instead of ouch.
Extended Child’s Pose with Blocks
Child’s Pose is grounding and lengthens the sides of your body. “It provides gentle traction on the spine, and brings awareness to the midline of the body,” says Casella.
Come onto hands and knees. Place two flat blocks shoulder-distance apart at the front of your mat. Bring your palms onto the blocks, and press your hips back and down toward your heels. Press your palms into the blocks, straighten your arms, and lengthen through the sides of your torso. (Check out this gentle yoga routine for more poses to try.)
This move strengthens the core stabilizers, hips, shoulders, and back muscles, says Casella.
Move the blocks to the side. Come forward onto hands and knees. Draw your abdomen in toward your lower spine to support the center of your torso. Adjust your weight so you can reach one arm forward and the opposite leg back. Reach your inner thigh up toward the ceiling. Turn your palm to face the center line, and lift the thumb side of your hand toward the ceiling as you maintain the lift in your abdomen. Repeat several times on each side.
Lunge with a Twist
This open twist strengthens the core stabilizers and warms up the spinal joints and legs.
From hands and knees, step your right foot forward and place a tall block under your left hand. Press into the ball of your left foot to straighten your left knee. Place your right hand on your hip and twist to the right (toward your bent knee). Imagine a line from your tailbone to the crown of your head, and rotate along that axis.
To transition out of the pose, bring both hands to the floor. Come back to your hands and knees. Repeat on the other side. This transition is much easier on the back than stepping forward from Downward-Facing Dog.
Triangle Variation at the Wall
You’ll “lengthen and strengthen the side body, arms, and legs,” with this move, says Casella. (Here are 7 incredible benefits of stretching every day.)
Stand with the right side of your body next to a wall. Step your feet wide apart with parallel feet. Turn your right toes 90 degrees toward the wall, and angle your left foot in slightly in the same direction. Bring your right hand to the wall and crawl it up to lengthen your side body. Lift and elongate through both sides of the waist. Stretch your left arm alongside your ear, root down through the sole of the left foot, and lengthen up through the left fingertips. Work to evenly lengthen the front, back, and both sides of your torso.
Puppy Dog at the Wall
Puppy Dog provides gentle traction on the spine, and brings awareness to the midline of the body. “It’s a refreshing pose after sitting for long periods of time,” Casella notes.
Bring your hands to the wall at chest height, shoulder-distance apart. Walk your feet away from the wall until your arms are straight. Bring your feet hip-distance apart. Place a slight bend in your knees. Press your hands into the wall, and pull your hips away to lengthen your torso. Put your head and neck in a position that follows the line of your spine.
Note: If you don’t have access to a clear wall, you can also place your hands on a chair, bench, or table.
Supported Bridge Variation
This supportive posture lengthens the front of the spine, and makes space for breath in the chest region.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent. Bring your feet parallel and hip-distance apart, with your heels directly under your knees. Press your feet down and lift your hips. Place 2 blocks on the middle height running head to tail under your hips. Bring the blocks as far to your outer hips as they can go without you falling through the blocks, so they lift and support your pelvis. Bring your arms to rest down by your sides, or place them in cactus shape. Let your belly rise and fall as you breathe. Soften your abdomen.
To transition out of the pose, lift your hips up to move your blocks off to the side. Lower your hips to the floor.