You don’t have serious, crippling back pain, but your lower back often feels achy, tight and heavy. It is bothersome because it prevents you from enjoying your usual exercise, and from sitting or standing with ease for a longer time. The tightness may also be there when you get up in the morning. It worries you that nothing you tried so far has given lasting relief.
Help is at hand!
Tightness in the lower back can have many causes. It may be important to improve your posture, strengthen your abdominal muscles (cf. my blog on yoga abs exercises), strengthen your back muscles (see my blog next time!), stretch the legs, keep your spine mobile on a daily basis and take enough moments to relax the body and the mind. First and foremost, tight muscles have to be released before you attempt to strengthen them. The gentle yoga movements discussed here today can be very effective in releasing the lower back area. In order to get results, they have to be done regularly, preferably daily.
The exercises are not for you if your lower back muscles have “seized up” and it is very painful to move, or if you feel a sharp pain going down one leg. You may have a disc problem and/or pinched nerve rather than mere lower back tightness, and the poses below could make it worse. Instead, you could try the restorative pose in my blog that deals with herniated discs and get a doctor’s diagnosis. Once you have a diagnosis, individual sessions with a specialized yoga therapist can be very helpful even for complicated back issues.
When trying the movements below, be mindful of the sensations in your body and do not stay in a position when it hurts: a stretch is good but pain is not.
The position demonstrated in the picture is a nice stretch for the lower back muscles and can be deeply restful. It also stretches the ankles and the feet so if they are tight you may want to use a rolled towel or long cushion underneath the ankles. Have your knees hip-distance apart and the arms resting on the floor, either in front of you as on the picture, with the hands underneath your head or arms pointing back and alongside the body. If your arms are in front of you, bend them so the elbows rest on the floor and the shoulders can relax. If resting your head on the mat is impossible or uncomfortable, check out the variation with a chair in my blog about yoga for exhaustion.
The child’s pose is a beautiful position to feel the breath move throughout the whole back: breathe in and feel the back expand up and to the side, breathe out and allow the head, back and hips to relax downwards.
Knee to chest movement
Turn around to lie on your back. If your neck is tight use a pillow under your head. Bring both knees up to your chest and place one hand on each knee. When you exhale, allow the legs to come a little closer to the chest without curling the back off the floor. When you inhale, return the legs to the starting position. Resist pulling on your legs with the arms. Repeat for a minute or so in coordination with your breath. This is a gentle way to release tension in the muscles along the spine.
A twist can relieve mild back pain and is also good for core strength. Work gently and with the breath:
Keep your legs bent up towards the chest, feet off the floor, and your arms straight out to the side. With an exhalation move the legs to one side, keeping the legs together. Inhale and return them to the centre, exhale and lower them to the other side. Turn the head each time to look over to the other side (opposite to the legs). The idea is to keep both shoulder blades on the floor, so the knees may not reach the floor. This is not a problem: as demonstrated on the picture, support the legs with your hand on the side they are moving to. This will allow for a more restful and deeply releasing twist. Forcing the body in a position is counterproductive so please honour your limits and you will be surprised by a more rapid change.
If the movement feels comfortable you can also keep the legs on one side for a few breaths and the same length of time on the other side. Finish by hugging both knees in the centre, without curling the back off the floor.
Rest with the legs bent
Finally, take a few moments to rest with your legs bent (remember a cushion under the head if your neck is tight). The traditional rest position at the end of a yoga class is with the legs straight. However, this is not useful when you have lower back pain because the legs tend to increase the lumbar arch and hence tighten the lower back muscles. When you bend your legs, the feet a comfortable distance away from the body, the lower back will relax more. Furthermore, with the legs bent your abdomen is more relaxed and the abdominal breathing will be easier.
Do share your thoughts and experience below. And if you would like more individual help for your specific back issue, please have a look at my back care package.