If you're suffering from back pain, you might feel like the last thing you want to do is get on a yoga mat and twist yourself up like a human pretzel. If your back pain is caused by normal daily activities or stiff muscles, though, practicing yoga can actually be a great way to relieve it.
Cat and Cow
One of the simplest and gentlest yoga exercises for back pain is the combination of poses called Cat and Cow. Start on your hands and knees, with your knees directly below your hips, your hands directly below your shoulders and your back flat. For Cow pose, inhale as you raise your hips, chest and head toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to soften and drop. Then exhale as you move into Cat pose, curling your back upward and allowing your head to curl down. Repeat with your breath for as long as you like, then straighten your back again before coming out of the pose.
Plow pose is good choice for a deeper stretch, especially for the lower back. Lie flat on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Lift your hips and stretch your legs out over your head, trying to bring your toes to the ground behind your head. You can keep your legs a bit bent or straighten them in this position. Breathe deeply, trying to relax for a minute or more before allowing your back and legs to roll back down onto the mat.
Including at least one twist in your practice is a good idea, since twists stretch the spine in different directions. The reclining twist is one of the easiest and most restorative. Lie flat on your back with your arms out to your sides. Bring your knees to your chest and, on an exhalation, gently lower both bent legs to one side until your lower leg rests on the ground and your upper leg rests on the lower. Relax in this position, breathing deeply for several minutes. Then lift your legs to center and drop them to the other side for an equal time before returning to the starting position.
While they're not as relaxing as stretches, strengthening exercises are also important to help prevent back pain in the future. Locust is a good introductory strengthening pose for the back. Lie face down with your arms at your sides and palms facing up. On an exhalation, lift your head, upper torso, arms and legs off the mat. Look forward and lengthen your arms and legs. Try to breathe in the pose for 30 seconds or longer, and repeat once or twice if you feel able. If your hips or legs feel uncomfortable on the floor, you can place a folded blanket underneath your torso for this exercise.
Laura Gee has a B.A. in history and anthropology, but now spends more time blogging and producing web content. She has worked and/or trained as an illustrator, crafter, caterer, yoga teacher, child-care provider and massage therapist, and she loves to travel when she gets a chance.