The 5 Best Yoga Poses for Back Stiffness
Simple and Effective Poses to Loosen and Stretch your Spine, for Beginners to Even the Most Competent Yogis...
Yoga is a weird and wonderful thing. It’s good for the body, it’s good for the mind, it’s exhilarating but also relaxing. You can do it in aerial hammocks, on mats, on the beach, in the park, in your bedroom. It helps with recovery from injury like no other exercise, and it is great for any stiff or tight bits you may have.
Before I go into the best yoga poses for back stiffness, it’s important to note that yoga as a whole is AMAZING for your spine. I get quite a tight back from sitting hunched over my laptop if I’m working on music or from flying and travelling a lot. My spine is the most flexible part of me, personally, but it it is also the part I find I need to stretch out the most.
There is not many things more satisfying than stretching out your spine when it’s stiff and here are the best yoga poses for it:
Cat - Cow
I LOVE this pose, I do it in all my classes. Yoga, aerial, pilates, pre & post natal. It is simple, it’s effective, everyone can do it no matter what level of yogi you are. Young, old, pregnant, overweight, this little move works by mobilising your spine. A gentle flow between the two poses that is generally used in a warm up to a class, but I also do this first thing in the morning or after a long journey to bring a little flexibility to my spine. Combining the movement with breath allows you to calm your mind and relax.
In an all fours, table top position, stack your joints so your wrists are under your shoulders and your knees are below your hips, inhale to hollow out the lower back and send your naval toward the mat (you can do this pose from seated or in your aerial hammock , but for this article lets assume we are practicing the most obvious mat version) on your exhale, spread your shoulder blades, sending the crown of the head toward the mat and arching your back as though you are an angry cat (hence cat pose). Repeat this with your breath however many times you feel necessary.
Half Lord of the Fishes
This weird little spine twist is another of my favourites, I included it in my exam class when I did my yoga teacher training but very quickly regretted the decision as the instructions to teach the pose are pretty convoluted and easy to muddle when you’re under pressure.
A lot of my students work office jobs and come to me with complaints of stiff necks, so I ALWAYS add spine twists in my warm up and cool down of my classes. This beautiful little pose sits in my seated series toward the end of my class. You can simplify the pose so that it is possible to do in any situation, also.
Sitting evenly, place both feet in front of you on the mat, knees bent. Take your right foot and place it underneath the arch made by your left leg. Inhale to raise your right arm and as you exhale, gently twist your spine, gazing over your left shoulder and taking your right elbow to the outside of your left knee. Take your left arm behind you so it almost acts as a secondary spine, for support. With every inhale, lengthen through your spine and with every exhale gently push the left knee away, deepening the spinal twist and taking your gaze further over the shoulder.
Wheel pose, the evolved form of Bridge Pose (should Yoga be referred to in Pokémon terms) is the pose that got me into yoga in the first place. My ultra bendy spine can pretty much make a circle backwards. It’s pretty cool. But before Wheel Pose comes Bridge, a slightly more intense pose then the previous two I have mentioned, but still one for all levels of yogi.
This therapeutic backbend can be many things: rejuvenating, reduces anxiety, back pain, fatigue, relieves period pains, improves digestion and helps alleviate stress. You can do this pose supported with a bolster or block or you can simply use your amazing body all on its own.
Lay on your mat, on your back, knees bent, feet about hip-width apart and flat on the floor, facing straight ahead. Your feet and knees should be parallel, like train tracks, and should remain like this for the duration of the pose. Keeping your spine and neck long and your head centred, place your arms down by your sides. As you inhale begin to roll up through the spine one vertebrae at a time, lifting your pelvis, followed by your abdomen, followed by your chest. Hold this pose for 8 to 10 breaths and then slowly roll down through the spine on to the mat.
Release your spine after a backbend by hugging your knees in to your chest and rocking from side to side to massage your spine on the mat.
Downward Facing Dog
I’m going to be honest with you guys, I really hate this pose. As a Yoga teacher, I probably shouldn’t say that, but I really do. Some of the classes I have taken as a student, teachers will say “now rest in Downward Dog” rest? This is a hard ass pose, ain’t no resting going on here.
BUT it is a great pose for many things, stretching the shoulders, hamstrings, and calves (which I always struggle with), strengthening the arms and legs, and it is GREAT for back pain.
Starting in an all fours position on your mat, tuck your toes under and send your sit bones toward the sky. Keeping the lower spine neutral, feet hip width apart, try to straighten your legs and feel your heels pulling down toward the mat (if you can’t get your feet flat, do not worry!). Spread your fingertips wide and push down with your palms, shoulders away from your ears, gazing at your naval.
Camel pose in its full form is probably for more experienced yogis, but can also be practiced with your hands in the small of your back for a less intense and full on backbend.
When I used to do Bikram Yoga regularly I always looked forward to camel, largely because of the spinal extension and how nice it felt, but also because camel pose is known as ‘the emotional pose’: it can make you cry, and has with me several times. I’m one of those girls that loves a good cry.
Along with strengthening and extending the spine and making me cry, camel pose also relieves lower back pain, cures constipation, improves posture, reduces fat on your thighs (hello, doing this one every night!) and opens the hips.
Kneeling on the floor with your knees hip width apart and the tops of your feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis and slowly arch your back, gazing up toward the sky. As you inhale lift your heart by pressing the shoulder blades against your back ribs. Now lean back against the firmness of the tail bone and shoulder blades.
Should you feel confident enough, you can extend your arms and hold on to your ankles, making your body resemble a shape similar to a capital D. Hold for however many breaths feels comfortable to you.
When coming out of camel pose, make sure your movements are slow and smooth; the pose has a tendency to make you feel dizzy.
So, there you have it! My 5 favourites for curing back stiffness! Go bend away that tight, painful spine.