Many people choose to start doing yoga because it can help with back pain or other ailments. It can come as a surprise to some when their back pain is exacerbated – or they even develop back pain – after participating in yoga. Yoga is a great way to improve mobility and core strength which can reduce low back pain. So why does it work for some, but not others?
Well you could run into these problems if you are doing it without proper form, trying poses that you are not ready for, or are doing too much. To be clear, no activity is bad for you. There are a lot of factors that go into injuries and pain. Let’s break down some of the common poses that may be associated with low back pain.
Forward Bending Poses
Movements like the forward fold (Uttanasana) or downward dog create flexion at the low back. Flexion is not a dangerous movement, but some can be sensitive to this motion. While we want to own this position without pain at some point, in the meantime you may want to limit flexion or reduce it.
For some, a simple cue of making the low back flatter can help. For others, the issue could be tension in the hamstrings that pulls your pelvis leading to more flexion at the low back. The following adjustments could help provide some short-term relief in these poses.
- Make the low back flatter and bend more in the upper back and the hips.
- If your hamstrings are “tight”, slightly bend your knees to slack the hamstrings.
Backward Bending Poses
Movements like cobra and upward dog create extension at the low back. Extension can be a sensitive position for some people. Again, we want to own this position without pain at some point, but right now you may want to limit extension.
A cue of making the low back flatter can help some. But for others, the issue is tension in the hip flexors that pulls the top of your pelvis forward and creates excessive extension (arching) at the low back. Lacking enough extension in the upper back may also be a problem, limiting the ability to help take some of the demand off the low back.
- Bend backwards more at the upper back.
- Keep the hips down and extend more at the hips (where the thigh meets the glutes).
Lunging movements like warrior pose can create a hyper-extension (excessive arch) in the low back. This is something we want to avoid in general. When lunging we want our shoulders in line with your rib cage and in line with our pelvis (hips).
The back may hyper-extend if you have tightness in the hip flexors of the trailing leg. It could also be that you need to improve activation or awareness of your core and glute muscles. The core and glutes work together to counteract hyper-extension. Working into this position properly may even relieve hip flexion tightness because when you activate the glutes, the brain tells your hip flexor to turn off. This is called reciprocal inhibition.
- Keep the belly tight and squeeze the glutes with a slight arch in the low back.
Remember, anything is dangerous if done improperly. Yoga can be a great activity to improve mobility, strength, and mental health when performed and progressed properly. If you practice yoga in a studio under the guidance of an instructor, then bring your concerns to them and they may be able to help you with form or give you proper alternatives to poses.
Try these adjustments if you are dealing with low back pain that is preventing you from enjoying yoga or creating problems with everyday tasks, like driving or picking up your keys you dropped on the ground.
Low back pain is not likely to go away with rest alone, click the link below to learn how I can help you overcome this and get back to a pain free life and relaxing yoga sessions without the fear of re-injury.