Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that strengthens the body, makes it more flexible, and also calms the mind. It involves gentle physical poses, deep and steady breathing and meditation practise. Yoga has been known to relieve back pain, mental stress, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, hypertension, and many other ailments. A major advantage yoga offers is that it can be taken up by people of all ages, as the movements and poses can be adapted according to a person’s ability to perform them, disability or special needs.
Yoga is practised through a series of poses known as ‘asanas’ that stretch the body’s muscles, while also increasing the range of movements and lubrication in the joints. Yoga asanas work to not only stretch muscles but also stretch the soft tissues like the tendons, ligaments and fascia sheath that surround the muscles.
Benefits of Yoga
- Strengthening of muscles – Holding positions and various movements in yoga increase strength in specific muscle groups. Many postures strengthen the muscles in the back along with the abdominal muscles. These muscles are central components of the muscle network of spine, and are required for maintaining fluid movement. Regular conditioning of these muscles also reduces back pain.
- Proper posture maintenance – Increased flexibility and strength of back muscles allow for a good posture. Many standing and sitting yoga poses build core strength. A strong core allows a person to maintain a straight posture. Good posture is important for maintaining the natural curvature of spine. Yoga also improves body awareness, which alerts the body more quickly if the back is slumping or slouching.
- Stretching and relaxation – Most yoga poses involve stretching of muscles, which reduces tension in the muscles that carry stress. Yoga requires a person to hold a pose for 10 to 60 seconds, during which some muscles stretch and others flex, causing relaxation in the muscle and joint. Stretching also increases blood circulation, allowing nutrients to flow in and toxins to be thrown out. This is especially helpful for those dealing with low back pain.
Yoga Poses that Strengthen Back Pain
- Downward facing dog – This pose targets the lower back extensors that support the spine and enable lifting of objects. Starting position is on hands and knees, with hands little ahead of the shoulders. Pushing back, the knees are brought away from the floor and tailbone is lifted towards the ceiling.
- Child’s pose – This active stretch helps elongate the back. The starting position is on all fours with arms stretched in front; the glute muscles should rest just above the heels. Holding the position for five to ten breaths gives a soothing stretch to the back.
- Pigeon pose – This pose stretches flexor and hip rotator muscles. Starting position is downward facing dog, followed by drawing left knee forward and turning it out to the left. The left leg is brought at right angles to the right leg, and both legs are on ground. The back right leg stays extended out straight. This is repeated with the other leg.
- Triangle pose – This pose strengthens the back and legs, while lengthening the muscles on the sides of the torso. Standing straight with feet together, the left leg is lunged backwards few feet and pointed out at a 45-degree angle. The chest is turned to the side and right arm is stretched towards the ground, keeping left arm aimed towards the ceiling. Both legs should be kept straight. The pose is held for five to ten breaths and repeated with other side.
- Cat and cow pose – These stretches loosen back muscles and also relieve a sore back. Starting position is on all fours. To ease into the cat pose, the spine is slowly pressed upwards, creating an arch in the back. Upon holding the pose for few seconds, the spine is scooped in to change over to the cow pose. In the cow pose, the spine is arched inwards, shoulder blades are pressed back and head is lifted up. Alternating between cat and cow pose brings spine into neutral position, while relaxing muscles.
- Upward facing dog – This stretch works the hamstring and back muscles, while relieving tense shoulders. Starting position for this pose is standing straight with feet kept shoulder-width apart and knees loose. Exhaling, the person must bend forward at waist, reaching the floor. Beginners who cannot reach the floor can stop wherever the hamstrings feel a good stretch. The pose should be held for five to ten breaths and repeated five to seven times.
- Cobra pose – This pose opens up the chest, stretches the abdominal muscles and engages the back. Lying on the stomach with palms facedown by the middle ribs, the chest is lifted off the floor using the strength of the back, not the hands. The legs remain extended straight out on the floor. The pose is held for five to ten breaths and repeated as needed.
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