Five Yoga Poses For A Better Back
Taking a few minutes to stretch your back could benefit your overall health
Back problems can be incapacitating, and no one knows this better than yoga instructor Bruce Bassock. A former financial trader, Bassock sat in the same position looking up at a screen for 20-plus years, until his own back pain led him on a mission to feel better. “I spent a week at the Ashram spa with my father and came back determined to be healthier and get rid of my chronic back pain,” Bassock says. The result? Bassock traded in his trading license for a yoga mat and became an instructor. He and his wife, Donna, are co-owners of Elements Yoga in Darien. Their studio has won the Moffly Media’s “Best of the Gold Coast” for 10 years running.
Understanding the root of back pain is important for prevention. Bassock describes the body like a pulley system. When muscles in your lower body become tight they can put stress on your lower back, causing pain and spasms. The more relaxed your muscles are, the more efficiently your digestion, blood flow, lymph and nervous system will function, Bassock explains.
The yoga sequence below is designed to create more length in the muscles that tend to be most at risk of being strained, and these poses will benefit those who have back pain from time to time. “Practicing this sequence regularly can prevent back pain and even heal it,” says Bassock. Please consult your doctor first if you have chronic back pain or an injury. Don't forget to breathe consciously during each pose, as this is integral to getting the most from each move. Taking mindful breaths will also help you calm your nervous system, quiet your mind and reduce tension.
1. Side Angle Pose: This pose creates heat by warming the muscles and opening your hips. It also helps lengthen the spine, creating more space between each vertebra. For those who experience back pain this is crucial.
How to Do It: Stand facing forward, then step your left foot way back and spin it to the floor. The back foot will be pointed towards the side wall. Your left foot should remain facing forward. Breathe in, and as you exhale, bring your right forearm to your front thigh (which should be bent at a 90 degree angle). Stretch your left arm over your ear and reach toward the front wall. Keep your muscles engaged as you stretch your entire body, lengthening the spine forward. Hold for 5 breaths. Slowly stand, move your right foot back to meet your left, and repeat the pose on the opposite side.
2. Triangle Pose: This pose lengthens the hamstring muscles and stretches the spine, as above. For those with back pain, open hamstrings are essential.
How to Do It: Take the same stance as above but with two straight legs and your right foot forward. Breathe in, and as you exhale stretch your arms straight out to the side, and slowly bend over to your right side. Place your right hand on the floor. If you can’t reach the floor, place your hand on a block or other object. Hold for 5 breaths, then slowly stand up. Repeat the pose on the opposite side.
3. Pigeon Prep Pose With Quad Stretch: This deep pose focuses on opening the hips and stretching the quadriceps, which can become extremely tight from sitting in the same position, driving a car, or running. As these muscles loosen, they will pull less on the lower back, which can help alleviate pain, including sciatic pain.
How to Do It: Come to a tabletop position (on all fours). Draw your right knee to the outside of your right wrist. Lengthen your left leg straight back and keep your toes curled into the floor. Square the hips to the front of the room, and if your right hip does not touch the floor, place a blanket underneath it. Extend your torso forward and prop yourself up on your forearms. Take 5 breaths here. Lift the torso up and place your right hand on your right thigh or the block for support. Bend your back left knee and take hold of your foot with your left hand. Draw the foot in gently towards your seat. Take 5 more breaths here, then slowly come out of the pose, and repeat on the other side.
4. The Maltese Twist: This gentle twist massages digestive organs, lubricates the spine and vertebrae, and increases flexibility in the muscles of the back.
How To Do It: Lay down on your back. Bend your right leg so that your right foot rests on your left calf, then slowly turn your lower body over to the left. Use your left hand to guide your knee towards the floor. If you can’t get your right knee to touch the floor, don’t force it. Stretch your right arm out to the side, palm facing upwards. Hold for 5 breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.
5. Legs up the Wall
This pose opens up the hamstrings and hips while supporting and alleviating any pressure on the lower back. This pose can also be very meditative, an important aspect in preventing back pain. In this pose, take the opportunity to close your eyes, let the busy ness of the day pass you by, and breathe generously.
How To Do It: Lie on your back, and place your seat up against a wall. Legs will be straight up in the air and resting on the wall. Slowly move your legs out into a "V" shape as far as you can, and flex your feet. Hold for 10 breaths and as you breathe, focus on how the stretch is elongating your muscles. Bring your legs back together, and repeat the pose 5 times.
Bruce teaches 6 classes a week and his Next Back Care Workshop is Scheduled for Thursday 9/18 from 7:30m - 8:30pm.
354 Heights Rd., Darien; 203-655-9642.