4 Beginner Yoga Poses to Help Relieve Back Pain
Yoga can play a powerful role in relieving back pain. As a health coach at Hinge Health, I have the privilege of helping people overcome their chronic back and joint pain, so they can live happier, healthier, and more productive lives. By engaging our bodies, challenging our muscles, and moving in new ways, we can literally change the narrative of our pain stories and create a better outcome for ourselves.
The first step usually involves getting my clients comfortable moving their bodies in ways that they didn't initially think possible. If you feel intimidated by yoga, you’re not alone. You may believe that you have to be able to twist into pretzel-like shapes, wear skin-tight pants, and have impeccable balance to perfect the practice of yoga, but nothing could be further from the truth!
Yoga is truly accessible for every body type, every shape, and size, and is well-suited for all physical and mental conditions. Yoga is an effective practice for improving your strength, flexibility, and mobility, all the while fostering a greater sense of mindfulness. According to research published in 2020, 74% of individuals who practice yoga experience less lower back and neck pain.
The benefits of yoga for improving chronic pain
According to Harvard Health, there are three main ways yoga can improve chronic pain outcomes:
- It helps create a renewed awareness of the body
- It transforms your relationship with your body when you experience pain
- It helps build body confidence and acceptance
Hinge Health participants who incorporated yoga into their daily lives reported they are better able to control the degree to which pain interferes with their day-to-day activities. Other participants reported less frequent or less intense pain episodes because they could recognize body signals and adjust themselves to alleviate painful sensations. Research, published in the International Journal of Yoga, suggests people benefit from yoga because yoga enables changes in cognitions and behaviors towards pain patterns.
Catherine Bushnell, Scientific Director at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that practicing yoga in essence “has the opposite effect on the brain as does chronic pain.” To support this claim, brain imaging studies show that a mind-body practice such as yoga has a causative link to structural changes in the brain’s white and gray matter. These structural changes have been shown to counteract the neuroanatomical effects of chronic pain.
Getting started: 4 yoga poses to help relieve back pain
So, maybe this all sounds great. But where do you start? It can be daunting to try something new, especially when we have the fear of pain holding us back. Below are some of my favorite poses to try if you’re new to yoga and want to try it out as a way to help relieve your pain. Note: it’s best to practice yoga on a soft surface like an exercise mat or carpet, and modify poses as necessary to suit your body’s individual needs.
1. Name of Pose: “Child’s Pose” Benefits: Stretch targets lower back, upper back & shoulders.
How to do it:
Standing Child’s Pose:
- Stand upright a few feet away from a sturdy surface, like the back of a chair, or countertop
- Bend at the waist and lean your torso forward
- Reach your arms out in front of you toward the sturdy surface. Rest your hands on the sturdy surface for support
- Alternatively, you can start by standing upright close to the sturdy surface with your hands resting on the surface. Then, step back away from the sturdy surface, keeping your hands in place and lean your torso forward as you step back
- Breathe deeply and allow your belly to expand and your back to rise as you inhale
Extended Child’s Pose:
- Kneel with your knees shoulder-width apart and feet close together in a comfortable position
- Sit your buttocks down towards your heels
- Lean torso forward, reaching forward with your arms, and place your hands on the floor out in front of you
- You can rest your forehead on the ground
- Breathe deeply and allow your belly to expand into your thighs and your back to rise as you inhale
2. Name of Pose: “Bound Angle” Benefits: Stretch targets lower back, hips & inner thighs.
How to do it:
- Sit against a wall with legs straight out in front of you
- Bend your knees, and pull your heels toward your pelvis
- Drop your knees to the sides and press the soles of your feet together
- Bring your heels as close to your pelvis as you can, grasping your feet
3. Name of Pose: “Runner’s Lunge/Low Lunge” Benefits: Stretch targets the ankles, calves, hamstrings, hip flexors & groin muscles; Strengthens the knees, quads/thigh muscles, glutes & hips.
How to do it:
- Place both hands on the floor and step the right foot back, placing the ball of the foot on the floor and keeping the right leg straight
- Keep the left foot between the hands, which are shoulder-width apart, palms flat on the floor. The left knee is directly over the left ankle
- Look forward, keeping the chin parallel with the floor and extending the spine. Take a breath and while exhaling, soften the groin and let it sink toward the floor
- To exit, either step the left foot back to meet the right foot, and bring the body into a Plank position, or step the right foot up and bring the body up to standing
- Repeat on the other side
4. Name of Pose: “Supine Spinal Twist” Benefits: Stretch targets upper back, lower back, oblique muscles & outer hips.
How to do it:
- Lying on your back, bring your arms out to the sides with the palms facing down in a T position. Bend the right knee and place the right foot on the left knee
- Exhale drop the right knee over to the left side of your body, twisting the spine and low back. Look at the right fingertips
- Keep the shoulders flat to the floor, close the eyes, and relax into the posture. Let gravity pull the knee down, so you do not have to use any effort in this posture. Breathe and hold
- To release: inhale and roll the hips back to the floor, and exhale the leg back down to the floor
- Repeat on the other side
Yoga Breathing Basics
Since the aspect of controlled, purposeful breathing in yoga is just as important as the postures themselves, I encourage you to keep these “Breathing Basics” in mind as you begin your yoga journey:
- Try to hold each pose for 1-2 minutes
- Alternatively, you can hold each pose for 5 rounds of deep breaths (i.e. inhale slowly for a count of 4, then exhale slowly for a count of 4; Repeat 5 times)
Last, but not least, make sure to smile and keep this fun! While we should take the yoga postures seriously, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. If something feels awkward at first, embrace it! It takes time for our bodies to get used to new movements and positions, so be patient and be willing to laugh at yourself if you feel silly trying out yoga for the first time. We all need to start with the basics, but it’s worth a try. Your mind and body will thank you!
Jamie’s journey to overcome lower back pain through yoga
Here’s a story of how yoga postures can be easily added into daily life to relieve pain and discomfort. When I started working with Jamie as her Hinge Health Coach in our Low Back Program, she was discouraged by her lack of flexibility and worried about falling because her balance wasn’t good. Working long hours on a computer as a consultant, Jamie was often frustrated by the pain in her lower back from sitting at a desk all day with little time to get up and move..
At the age of 45, Jamie wished she could move around more freely and confidently in her own body. She wanted to attend fitness classes with her friends but was too embarrassed. “I can’t exercise around anyone or even chase my kids around the backyard…It’s too painful and it’s embarrassing, she shared. Thankfully, with some encouragement, Jamie recognized that she could take this seemingly hopeless situation into her own hands and do something different to relieve her chronic back pain.
Empowered by the Hinge Health mantra “movement is medicine,” Jamie slowly added in some yoga postures at the end of her daily Hinge Health exercises. As her Coach, I was able to provide supplemental resources, including some specific poses and modifications to get her started. With time, Jamie began to increase her range of motion, find stability and a greater sense of balance, and improve her flexibility. Jamie began with three poses and now has worked her way up to doing an entire 30-minute online yoga class at the end of her workday to relieve the stiffness she feels from sitting for so many hours. Furthermore, Jamie reported that she no longer worried about falling, nor did she have to decline playtime outside with her three young kids!
Jamie’s story is just one example of how therapeutic exercise can have significant benefits in terms of decreasing pain, increasing mobility, and improving function. The good news is that Jamie’s story can be your story, too.
Through sensor-guided exercise therapy and remote 1-on-1 coaching, Hinge Health offers a holistic approach to reducing chronic back and joint pain. To learn more how the three pillars of exercise therapy, education, and behavioral health drive long-term outcomes, request a demo below.
Liz Greenlaw is a Certified Health Coach at Hinge Health, as well as a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher, ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor and RRCA Level 1 Certified Running Coach. Liz graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce (Marketing/Management) and has been living with her husband in the Washington, DC area for the past 10 years. When Liz isn’t busy coaching or teaching, she loves doing anything active in the great outdoors, whether it be running, biking, kayaking, hiking, or practicing yoga on the National Mall. She’s on a mission to visit every U.S. state and as many National & State Parks as humanly possible!