When I teach, I always greet my yoga participants with an invitation to throw me some pose requests because let’s face it, the class is about and for them and not me. Sometimes I get pose requests and sometimes they are shy. When they are shy, I sometimes prompt them with “well what are your favorite yoga poses” and that gets them going. I do the best I can to honor each request and I’ll thread the requests in the class where appropriate.
If I had to rate/trend what I get requested the most, it would be people asking me if I could do something for the back. So with that being said, I thought I’d share some of what I do when I get “SOMETHING FOR THE BACK” requests. I do a whole vinyasa practice with them and insert these poses where appropriate.
Poses for the Back:
1. “Rag Doll” and then “Hands Clasped Around Elbows” – Approach by doing a forward fold but allow arms to dangle freely vs. touching the mat with your hands. Surrender your head, maybe gently swaying from side to side. Notice your back gently stretching and elongating. Stay as long as you like.
2. Cat and Cow – Start movement from your pelvis and try to go slowly, articulating each vertebrae as you arch your spine. Going slow is better than going fast.
3. Extended Child’s Pose – After staying in this pose for a moment, try walking hands over to the right, hold and then over to the left and hold. Finish back in center. Notice how the slight angle of the arms changes the stretch.
4. Eagle Arms or Eagle Hug – You can do eagle pose or put eagle arms/hug into other poses such as Warrior I or Warrior II. If you lift the elbows slightly when you inhale, you get a wonderful stretch of the upper back between the shoulder blades.
5. “Revolved Head to Knee Pose” and “Revolved Straddled Head to Knee Pose” – I have two variations that I do. This is a wonderful stretch for the low back but it is felt more “off of the center” vs. the direct center.
Variation I: Open your legs in a straddle position and bend one leg in where the foot is towards the opposite groin. Flex your extended leg’s foot. Place the (same) forearm of the extended leg either on the shin or on the mat inside of the leg. Rotate arm so that palm is facing up. Lengthen your spine, and then lift opposite arm up towards the ceiling. Rotate this arm so that palm faces your ear then side bend towards extended leg. Slightly rotate your torso towards the ceiling and look at your elbow above your head. (If you can bind your hands with your leg, more power to you, but it isn’t necessary to feel the benefit).
Variation II: Take the straddle position and pursue the same sequence as Variation I without the opposite leg bent. I like to do a seated straddled forward fold between sides.
6. Marichyasana III – This is a nice gentle twist for mild back pain. Keep in mind that the bent leg is not crossed over the extended leg as that would be a “Lord of the Fishes” variation. The twist is a closed type.
Anyways, I tell my clients that a big part of yoga is about restoring balance to our bodies. All day long, we mistreat our bodies. General causes for back pain are just in the way we hold our bodies. For instance, many of us sit in front of a computer all day long as part of our job or as a student and as such our bodies are hunched for hours at a time. Some of us pursue numerous crunches in an effort to have the perfect abs. Often our backs are neglected so those strong abdominals pull on the back. A few of us ladies are brave enough to wear those platform heels. Some of us carry a heavy load on our hip or shoulder which pulls the spine and torso out of whack. Those heavy loads might be groceries, a purse, or even our kids (including those not born yet).
Suggestions to Lessen the Evils We do During the Day/Offer Some Relief:
1. Get up from the computer and do some stretches. A gentle back bend while standing, maybe even the Rag Doll, some side stretches, and even a little twist while sitting in your computer chair.
2. Can you take a little walk around the office, school, or home? Justify it with this: Some people take a smoke break so why not a stretching break. A few minutes here and there throughout the day would make a noticeable difference.
3. Switch the load to the other side of your body. Maybe rethink your bag. I see lots of people using those roller bags around the office.
4. And then there is the whole, bend your knees and squat down to pick up that heavy load. I can’t stress that enough!
So insert some of the above poses in your practice if your back is bothering you. Don’t be shy when your yoga instructor asks for pose requests! Be mindful of how you are carrying your body and make the necessary adjustments and don’t stay in that hunched position all day long.
Happy Back Relief!