Unless you’ve injured it, you don’t really think about your lower back. You don’t even see it all that often unless you pull a contortionist act in front of the mirror. But maybe it’s time you did pay more attention to one of the most vulnerable parts of your body. Use yoga asanas to strengthen your lower back and protect your future self from groaning and moaning with lower-back pain.
Although it sounds delicious when you hear a yoga teacher say, "Now straighten up, one vertebra at a time," it won’t strengthen your lower back. If you have disk issues, that method may actually compound the problem. The secret to a stronger lower back is to straighten up from a bent-over pose like Standing Forward Bend with a straight back. In fact, you can use Half Standing Forward Bend pose to strengthen your lower-back muscles very quickly, along with Chair and Warrior III.
If you love a story with a good twist, then you’ll appreciate this one. Having strong lower-back muscles by themselves will not prevent injury or strain. You must develop your spine’s flexibility as well. A supple spine will allow you to move with fluidity and that coupled with your strength will offer more protection than just having one or the other. Start with gentle seated twists like Bharadvajasana I and Sage’s pose. How far you twist to either side is not as important as keeping your back straight and remembering to start the twist from your waist. Sit tall and breathe deeply as you train your back to become more limber.
Although mild back bends will strengthen your lower back, make sure you protect it as well. While in poses like Cobra, Locust, Bow and Sphinx, contract your buttocks, but as you do, always make sure to curve your tailbone down toward your pubis. That one little trick will save you from compressing your lower spine, so you can concentrate on strengthening the lower-back muscles.
Leg lifts, either singly or two legs at once, paired with a traditional asana or on their own, will strengthen your low back muscles. If you decide to perform leg lifts on their own, don’t forget to place your hands palms down underneath your upper buttocks. As with back bends, you don’t want to hurt your lower back on your way to strengthening it. You can also perform single leg lifts from poses like Bridge or Half Locust.
Linda Kaban is a certified yoga teacher and professional life coach who specializes in helping people achieve their fitness goals. With a bachelor's degree in the humanities, Kaban has been writing since 1998 and has been published in YOGALife magazine along with other healthy living publications.