Gluts and back health: summer here we come!

A few weeks ago one of my students came into the group class and declared: “I want a beach body by August.” An unusual request in a back care yoga class, so there were a few seconds of stunned silence. Then I thought “great!” A beach body presumably has shapely arms, firm gluts and a toned abdomen. Strong Gluts, arm and abdominal muscles also happen to be important for back health, so beach body and back health work together very well. My blogs this summer will focus on these three muscle groups, making them ready for the pool or beach if you want, or simply toning them to support your back health. If we also do these exercises mindfully, they can have a positive effect on stress levels, and cultivate a healthy approach to our body. We are starting with the gluts today.

Neck pain: safe abdominal exercises

It takes some ingenuity to find exercises that can strengthen core muscles when you have neck pain. The traditional abdominal crunches, where you interlace the fingers behind the head to lift the head and shoulders, are often out of the question. Not being able to do abdominal exercises can be frustrating, especially if you have lower back pain, because these muscles are instrumental in keeping the lower back healthy. This blog presents two ways of working core muscles while leaving your head relaxed on the mat. I realise that these movements are not strictly yoga. However, doing the exercises with full attention makes them more ‘yogic’ than a headstand in which the performer is distracted and trying to outdo the yogi next to him or her. It is the attention that counts.

15-minute Back Care Basics

Everyone with back pain knows that there is no 15-minute fix; everyone doing yoga knows that 15 minutes a day is not long enough to really get into the practice. Nevertheless, when you have back pain, making time for daily stretches will help you. It is making regular, small changes that can make a big difference. This is what I observe with my students who schedule 10 to 15 minutes for their yoga routine in the morning or before going to bed. The 15-minute Back Care Basics described in this blog are designed to gradually ease lower back tightness and can make a difference if you do them daily.

Stretching leg muscles to relieve low back pain

If you are suffering from a tight lower back, stretching your leg muscles may be one way to find relief. The leg muscles, in particular hamstrings and quadriceps, are connected to the pelvis. When one or both of them are tight, they will pull on the pelvis and alter the way the spine is balanced on top of the pelvis. This misalignment may cause muscle tightness and pain. This blog discusses the importance of stretching leg muscles to relieve low back pain. I will demonstrate the easiest positions to do this and also explain how to stretch efficiently. Depending on the position and the method, your stretching efforts will be effective or have no impact at all.

The new treatment guidelines for low back pain, and how yoga therapy fits in

The current medical treatments of low back pain do not offer the right care and are a waste of resources. You may have heard this in the news, shortly after The Lancet reported it in a comprehensive review of low back pain studies on 21 March 2018. This leading medical journal announced that low back pain has increased worldwide and that the medical approaches used in high-income countries, most notably surgery, medication, injections and imaging, are not effective. The studies suggest that exercise and education, as well as psychological therapies, are most appropriate for the majority of low back pain cases. From my experience, I know how yoga therapy can help manage and even heal back pain. This blog takes a closer look at the new treatment guidelines for low back pain, and at how yoga therapy can offer what is prescribed: exercise, education and a form of emotional support.

How to do abdominal crunches in a safe way for your back

In my experience teaching yoga to people with back pain, I have seen the benefits of strengthening the abdominal muscles for posture and back health. It is important to do these exercises in a careful and safe way. If you would like to learn how to strengthen your abdominals without straining back or neck muscles, this blog is for you. Maybe, like me, you have tried sit-ups to strengthen your abs, only to find that this hurts your lower back and neck. The classic sit-ups, where the chest lifts all the way towards your knees, cause too much pressure on the spinal discs. Abdominal crunches, on the other hand, prevent this stress for the spine by keeping the lower back on the floor. But even these crunches can be done in a way that is stressful and inefficient. Read on to find out how to do safe abdominal crunches for your back. We will look at two different abdominal muscles: the rectus abdominis and the oblique abdominis.

Yoga therapy for back pain

Serious back pain can be debilitating. It often stops you from participating in the activities you love, makes you wary of going on long car journeys, play with your children or grandchildren, go to a movie or play, … It can affect your sleep and much of your life. Back pain troubles young and old: whereas for instance a herniated disc tends to manifest among younger people, arthritis mostly creeps up later in life. Back pain can have a wide variety of causes, such as bad posture, an accident, lifting, repeated bending, wear and tear, inactivity.


While a conventional yoga class can help release muscle tightness, it can actually make serious back pain considerably worse. Yoga therapy for back pain, on the other hand, adapts the poses to suit the particular back condition. The first task of a yoga therapist is to avoid movements that exacerbate the pain. This is based on knowledge about the cause of back pain but also depends on the individual. The second task is to teach the beneficial poses, those that can soothe tight muscles and strengthen weaker areas. Finally, a yoga therapist will include yoga techniques that relax the mind.

Never been good at balancing?

Many people believe they are not good at balancing. Why should you be good at standing on one leg anyway when daily tasks don’t really require this for any length of time? Isn’t it just something people need to do in gym classes and quirky yoga lessons? Rather on the contrary, so many skills are developed or fine-tuned when we balance, that steadiness on one leg is actually very important to keep practising. The different skills that are required, such as strength, agility, awareness of the body in space, stability and concentration, tend to deteriorate with age, and if we never practise balancing on one leg, we may feel increasingly unstable on two! If you believe you can’t balance easily, take this opportunity to challenge yourself and improve, because you can and you may even come to love it…

Lower back pain relief

If you experience dull and heavy pain in your lower back, one likely cause is tight and weak muscles: lower back muscles tighten and weaken as a result of inactivity and bad posture. Even stress or emotional problems can cause back muscles to tighten. Tightness in the lower back may eventually lead to serious joint derangements and is important to address. A tight and weak back responds well to gentle yoga stretches and to the calming effect of concentrating on the movements and breathing. Big stretches or forceful strengthening may put already tight muscles into spasm and more excruciating pain, so it is best to start with gentle stretching. The second video clip from my “yoga for abdominal strengthening” sessions demonstrates some yoga movements for lower back pain relief: a great way to give those lower back muscles some TLC.

video clip 1: safe abdominal exercises for back pain relief

Strengthening core muscles can be essential and yet quite hard to do when you have back pain. You may have heard that toned abdominal muscles support the lower back but how do you even start ‘toning’ when most movements hurt? My video clip demonstrates how to strengthen one set of abdominal muscles, the rectus abdominis, while keeping the back and neck relaxed on the floor. So when you have a moment at home, make yourself comfortable on a surface like a yoga mat or carpet, and let me talk you through these safe abdominal exercises for back pain relief.