Summer 2018 lower back

There are few people who haven’t experienced lower back discomfort, if not downright pain, at some point of their lives. Humans simply aren’t built very well! The places where the spine changes its curvature – the cervical (neck) to thoracic (upper back) vertebrae, the thoracic to lumbar (lower back) vertebrae – tend to be our problem areas. Often, the neck and lower back will reflect each other’s level of ease, or lack thereof. The abdominals, especially the transversus abdominis, are also involved in keeping the back healthy, for when they are weak, the lower back muscles have to take on more than their fair share of work.

This week’s practice focuses on what to do to release the lower back. Since the hips and lower back are intimately connected, as we learned while exploring the psoas and piriformis during the hips practice (password: “sleepy”), you’ll find we revisit several of our hip asanas again. Practice on for a lower back easing restorative session!

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Windshield wipers: Start lying back in constructive rest, and windshield wiper your knees slowly side to side to warm up your lower back.

Block under sacrum: From constructive rest, push your knees forward, which will pull the hips off the ground, and place a block under your sacrum. Use the height of block appropriate for your practice that day. Relax your hips completely onto the block and feel the delicious stretch through the lower back. If you’d like to add a little extra stretch, touch your knees together without moving the feet (you can lift the heels, though). When coming down, remove the block and lay down the vertebrae one at a time, starting at the top of the spine.

Feet remain hip width apart and parallel. Sternum is lifted.

Lower back bolster: Roll up a blanket bolster and place it behind you. Lie down, with the bolster nestled into your lower back. Your hips might not touch the ground – don’t force them down, but do allow the spine to melt over the bolster. Windshield wiper the knees from side to side, again without moving the feet.

Relax spine like a wet noodle over bolster.

Side bolster twist: Roll onto your side while still on the bolster, and nestle it in the soft space between your hip and lower ribs. You might want to move the bolster around a bit unit it feels comfortable. Tuck your knees up, place the foot of the top leg above the knee of the bottom leg, and encourage the upper thigh to roll out. Then reach the upper arm up and out while rolling onto your shoulder blades. (Caution: if your piriformis is extremely tight, this asana might provide too much stretch; begin with thread the needle instead.)

Make sure that your outstretched hand does not drop lower than your shoulder (bottom photo). Place a block under the arm if your shoulder blade does not touch ground yet.

Salabhasana/locust: Lie on your belly, place your forehead on the ground arms next to you. Press the tops of the feet and ankles into the ground (ankles won’t touch, but just have the intention), and make the sacrum heavy; engage your abdominals while relaxing your glutes. Lift upper body (keep those glutes from engaging!) – you may leave the hands on the floor for assistance or lift them next to your body. This pose strengthens the back muscles, which is also important for keeping the lower back happy.

The photos below are from when I could still lie on my belly… 🙂 Sphinx pose (bottom photo) is also a good back muscle strengthener.

Salabhasana/Locust (variation) and Sphinx: both of these asana ask the mid-spine to extend. Keep neck long on both.

Janusirsasana/head to knee pose: Take a seat, stretch the legs out in front of you, then bend one foot in towards the other thigh. Hold the outside of the foot with the opposite hand, or use a belt. Twist slightly towards the leg, so that the spine and leg are lined up one on top of the other, then extend the spine, as you bring the belly to the thigh first, then the lower ribs, then chest, and finally head – this might be a multi-year process! Eventually, you may place the hands one on either side of the foot, as in the photos below.

Tip the pelvis forward in this asana, or place a blanket under your hips if that is a challenge.

Janusirsasana variation: Begin the same way as for janusirsasana, seated with legs in front, one bent. Take hold of extended foot with opposite hand, but instead of keeping the back straight and bringing the belly/lower ribs/chest/head to the leg, round the spine and pull away from the foot until you feel a lovely stretch through your entire back.

Draw abdominal muscles in to enhance this rounded back stretch.

Uttanasana with back against wall: Stand in front of a wall, then take a forward fold. Walk in as close as your back allows, plant feet hip width apart and parallel, and lean into the wall while extending the spine. This is a fantastic pose if you can really let go and trust the the wall is going to hold you up!

Keep front of thighs engaged, heel firmly planted. Release into pose completely.

Simple one-legged twist: Lie back and cross one bent leg over the other straight leg. Keep shoulders down. Twist to the point where that the asana feels good for you. Relax muscles lining the spine and breathe well.

Keep knee bent, or straighten leg for additional twist and stretch.

Finish with savasana and enjoy the after effects of a happy lower back! 🙂

~namaste,

Sylvia

 

Author: Sylvia Vitazkova, PhD, CYT

Dr. Sylvia K. Vitazkova is a certified yoga teacher, life coach, horsewoman, and conservation biologist. Sylvia’s formal study of yoga began while she was an undergraduate at Cornell University, and intensified when she began to practice Ashtanga Yoga in 1997 while attending Columbia University for doctoral studies in biology. Sylvia soon realized that she wanted to help others experience the consciousness and transformation that her own practice fostered in her and began to teach in 1998, subsequently studying in Mysore, India, in 2002. Sylvia continues to evolve her practice by learning from senior teachers, the most influential of whom has been Barbara Benagh. Her teaching focus is on correct alignment, the joy of being fully present in one’s body, and the psychological and spiritual context within which the physical practice is embedded. Parallel to being a yoga teacher, Sylvia had a full-time career as a professor of Conservation Biology, having taught undergraduate and graduate courses, including a course she created on nature and spirituality, which brought her two areas of expertise together. She has conducted and published the results of her research on wildlife in the tropics, and has been involved in the creation of a number of conservation studies programs. Sylvia’s experience in mentoring students naturally led her to life coaching, in which she became certified through George Mason University in 2014. A lifelong connection with horses has been woven throughout these experiences, from her first pony while a child in Africa, to teaching at riding camp in the U.S., then Claremont Riding Academy in NYC, to the current and ongoing exploration of how yoga can be a tool for better and more connected riding. Sylvia now leads InBodied Living LLC, a wellbeing organization and consultancy, with her partner, James Houston.