Most (all?) of us have experienced discomfort in the lower back at some point in our lives. Human bodies evolved from four-legged ancestors and our lower backs are weak points in our anatomy. Add to this the unnatural lifestyles that many of us endure (sitting for extended periods of time, lack of activity), weak core muscles, along with incorrect alignment when trying to lift a heavy object, and one has the “perfect storm” for back problems.
Thankfully, yoga offers many asanas and practices that can help keep our lower backs healthy and happy. Below are three of them – half pigeon pose, block under sacrum, and lower back bolster.
Half pigeon pose
You might be wondering why a hip stretch, half pigeon pose, is included as a pose to relieve the lower back. The piriformis, which often becomes quite tight in riders and other athletes, is stretched with this pose. The piriformis attaches to the sacrum. If the piriformis is very tight, it could pull the sacrum out of alignment, causing agonizing pain in the lower back. We want to keep this muscles strong and supple.
Nota Bene: if you have problems with your knees, it is best to practice “thread the needle” instead.
Block under sacrum
This pose offers delicious relief for a strained lower back by gently stretching the muscles along either side of the lower spine using traction and the pull of gravity. This allows more space between the vertebrae of the lower back – too much compression and tightness in the muscles of this area is one of the main causes of lower back pain. In addition, this pose allows the psoas muscles to stretch gently.
Blanket roll under the lower back
This pose, best done once the lower back has released a little using the block under the sacrum, allow the muscles in this part of the body to be supported and to relax. If your lower back is very tight, the blanket roll needs to be tiny, as the pose will feel much too painful – think of trying to bend a board over a cylinder. Give the body time to adjust.
Nota Bene: When coming off the bolster, engage your core muscles, tuck the tailbone under slightly, and move very slowly, otherwise the lower back could spasm back into its tight pattern. You have allowed the muscles to relax, so be gentle when asking them to engage again, as when rolling off the blanket.
There are many other ways to support a healthy lower back, including keeping the core strong, and using twists (future post!). One can begin gently with these fabulous three poses.