Lower-back pain plagues just about everyone at some point. A widely cited Canadian survey from the late 1990s found that nearly 85 percent of adults will experience some kind of lower-back pain in their life. Whether you’re recovering from an injury or just deskbound and stiff, gentle stretching and strengthening can help alleviate pain. “Even a little yoga can go a long way,” says Alyx Walkinshaw, a yoga instructor behind the book and app Yoga for Seniors and Adults.
“I really identify with the beginning yoga practitioner and with making the practice accessible to everyone. No matter how busy you get, yoga can help bring you back into balance,” Walkinshaw says. Here, she walks us through a sequence of nine poses that will help mitigate and prevent persistent lower-back pain.
Roll Down/Roll Up with a Forward Fold
What It Does: This movement is a great way to warm up your entire spine, lower back, hamstrings, calves, and ankles. Start your practice here to open the areas of the body you’ll be working in this sequence.
How to Do It: Start standing with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your side. Keep your shoulders relaxed, and maintain a forward gaze and neutral chin. Bring a soft bend into your knees to protect your lower back. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, bringing your chin to your chest, and start to roll down toward your toes, letting the weight of your head guide you. Keep your knees soft the entire time. Once you reach a comfortable depth, feel free to bend your knees as much as you need until you can tent your fingertips in front of your feet. Let your head be heavy, and allow your shoulders to stay relaxed. Exhale through your mouth. Stay here for a few deep breaths. This forward fold will open and strengthen the lower back, upper back, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Inhale and slowly unravel your spine back up to standing. While you unravel, allow your toes to stay light, ground down through the four corners of your feet, let your head stay heavy, feel your shoulders move back over your hips, and return your gaze forward, standing up nice and tall. Repeat this four more times.
Wide-Leg Forward Fold
What It Does: This pose stretches the inner legs, back of the legs, and spine.
How to Do It: From standing, step your right foot to the back of your mat and turn your feet so they’re parallel with one another. You should be in a wide stance with your feet outside your hips, shoulders stacked over your pelvis, and arms open at your sides. Take a breath in to lift your chest, and exhale to hinge at your hips and lower your torso between your legs. Place your palms on the ground under your shoulders. Roll your weight inward and forward. Keep your feet either parallel or slightly turned in at the toes. To intensify the stretch, place your palms underneath the outside edges of your feet or to your ankles and use your upper-body strength to find more depth. You can stay here anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, coming in and out of the posture as many times as you need.
What It Does: This pose strengthens the legs while stretching the hamstrings and improving posture and balance.
How to Do It: From Wide-Leg Forward Fold, place your palms at your hips, soften your knees, and inhale back up to standing. Rotate to your right foot, walking your right leg a little to the right and stepping your left foot forward and to the left about three to four feet behind your right foot. Your toes should be in line with your knees and hips, pointing forward. Draw your right outer hip back and your left outer hip forward. Keep your feet flat and your legs straight but not locked. Hinge at your hips and lengthen your upper body over your right leg. Place your palms on a support or the ground on either side of your right foot under your shoulders. Inhale to lengthen the crown of your head forward, and exhale to bring your forehead closer to your right shin. Focus on elongating your spine in this posture and supporting your lower back by keeping your hips level. You can stay here anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, coming in and out of the posture as many times as you need. Repeat on your left side.
What It Does: Down Dog stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and arches of the feet.
How to Do It: From Pyramid Pose, step to the front of your mat and come to standing. Fold forward, bringing your hands to your mat, and step your feet back, lifting your hips toward the ceiling. Spread your palms open and wrap your inner elbows inward to frame your face as you lift out of your wrists. Allow the crown of your head to relax toward your thumbs. Draw your tailbone toward your heels while keeping the hips lifted. Keep your knees soft and focus on creating more space in your spine. Engage your thighs by lifting away from your knees, and allow your heels to fall behind your big and first toes. You can stay here anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, coming in and out of the posture as many times as you need.
What It Does: Dragon Pose is a deep hip stretch that gets right into the joint while reaching the groin.
How to Do It: From Down Dog, come onto your hands and knees and place your right foot on the ground in front of your hip. Your right hip, knee, and heel make a 90-degree angle. Move your left knee behind your left hip and lengthen the top of the shin and foot into the ground. Let your hand rest on top of your right thigh and sit up tall in the rest of your spine. To intensify the stretch, frame your right foot with your palms flat to the ground and move your upper body inside your right inner thigh. To intensify even more, place your forearms on the ground without losing the 90-degree angle from right hip, knee, and heel. Hold this for two to three minutes. Repeat on the left side.
Half Butterfly Seated
What It Does: Half Butterfly Seated is an easy way to stretch the lower back if you have tight hamstrings.
How to Do It: From Dragon Pose, come onto your hands and knees and take a seat, bringing your legs out in front of you. Extend your right leg out to the side and place your left foot at your right inner thigh. Turn your torso and upper body toward your right leg. Inhale your arms overhead, and exhale to let your upper body fold heavy over your right leg. Your chin can come to your chest, and your stomach can be nice and heavy. If this bothers your neck, bring your chin back to neutral. Allow your upper body to be heavy and let gravity take over. Stay here for one to three minutes. The longer you hold this position, the deeper the stretch. Repeat on your left side.
Deep Outer-Hip Stretch with Twist
What It Does: Deep Outer-Hip Stretch with Twist engages the outer hip, the lower back, and the quadriceps.
How to Do It: From Half Butterfly Seated, bring your right foot behind you toward your butt, flex your right toes back toward your right knee. Move your left foot away from your right inner thigh and forward, aligning the knee, shin, and heel with the top of your mat. Flex your left toes back toward your left knee. Breathe in to lengthen your spine up and out of your hips. On the exhale, lower forward onto your forearms, relaxing your head down. To intensify this stretch, move your upper body closer to your right knee. Stay here for five deep breaths. For the twist, sit back up with your shoulders over your hips, and place your right palm at your left knee and your left palm behind you to the left of your left hip. Inhale to lengthen up through your spine, then exhale, using your arms to assist you in rotating your belly, ribs, chest, shoulders, neck, and head to the left. Stay here for five deep breaths. Repeat these steps on your right side.
Separate Leg Stretching
What It Does: Separate Leg Stretching strengthens the knees and stretches the hips, thighs, hamstrings, groins, and calves.
How to Do It: For this pose, you will use a strap or a scarf. From Deep Outer-Hip Stretch with Twist, lie down on your back with your legs extended in front of you. Bring your right knee into your chest, and loop your strap or scarf around the ball of your right foot. Extend your right leg straight up to the ceiling, and lower your grip on the strap until your elbows rest comfortably on the ground. Keep your hips, head, neck, shoulders, and entire back relaxed. Hold here for ten deep breaths, keeping your right leg as straight as possible. Now, use your right hand to hold the strap and move your left palm to the top of your left hip. Keeping your left hip grounded, take your right leg to the right as far as is comfortable, keeping the leg straight. Hold here for ten deep breaths. Repeat on your left side.
Folded Pose to Supine Twist
What It Does: Folded Pose is a gentle way to stretch the spine and release any tension, while Supine Twist gently stretches the glutes and lower back while lengthening the spine.
How to Do It: Come back to center. Draw your right knee to your chest, interlacing all ten fingertips at the shin. Hug your right knee around your belly and hip and into your right shoulder while keeping the hips grounded. Hold for five breaths on each side. On an exhale, cross your right knee over your body to your left, stacking your right hip over your left hip. Extend your right hand to the right, palm facing up. Keep your right shoulder heavy and your gaze to the ceiling or to your right palm. Stay here for ten slow, deep breaths. Repeat on the left side.
Remember to Take Savasana!
Lie down on the ground and allow your legs to become heavy. Relax your feet and toes. Allow your lower back, mid back, upper back, shoulders, back of your neck, and head to rest heavy on the ground. Extend your arms away from the midline of your body and soften your hands and fingers. Close your eyes and relax the muscles in your face. Stay here for at least three minutes, letting all your hard work settle in. If this is uncomfortable, taking savasana with your knees bent and feet flat is another option and a great way to support your lower back and allow your pelvis to release into the floor.