You know you’ve hit “old age” when your back starts to hurt. Or at least that’s the story you might be telling yourself. I used to think that, until at age 40 I started having lower back pain. 40 isn’t old, I was too young to be having back pain!
When I found out the cause of my back pain was weak glutes, I started using them whenever I could. Walking, swimming, yoga, hiking, I would turn them on as often as possible. It became my mission to strengthen my glutes and keep them supporting me, rather than hurting me.
In my almost 26 years as a yoga instructor and 20 years as an acupuncturist I have seen multiple causes of back pain, many of which a regular yoga practice can help. Here are my top 6 poses and how they can support your back, keeping it strong and stable.
Cat pose (Majariasana) and Cow pose (Bitilasana)
Each pose supports a healthy back in different ways. Cat pose strengthens the abdominals and stretches the back, Cow pose strengthens the muscles along the spine. They work together to loosen up the spine, making it feel less stiff and more supple.
How to: Start on your hands and knees (Table pose) with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Spread your fingers and press the palms into the floor. Inhale. As you exhale, start to round the spine from the tailbone to the head. Feel the pelvic floor and abdominals engage as you do this. This is Cat pose (Majariasana). As you inhale, lift the tailbone, drop the waist, and pull the chest forward through the arms. This is Cow pose (Bitilasana). Move back and forth between these poses to warm up the spine.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Low Lunge is a pose that stretches the hip flexors, which when tight, can pull on the lumbar spine (lower back). You can read more about that in my post “Here’s Why Sitting Might Be Causing Your Back Pain.” Stretching these muscles can give your lower back some relief, especially when you have back pain when you stand up after sitting.
How to: Start in Table pose and step your right foot forward so that your ankle is directly under your knee, and in front of your right hip. Activate the left glutes and gently press the hips forward. You can place your hands next to your right foot on the floor or blocks, place them on your thigh, or raise them upward. Lift upward through the chest. Stay here for 5 breaths, feeling the stretch in front of the left hip. Repeat with the left foot forward.
Half Split (Ardha Hanumanasana)
Half Split stretches the hamstrings which, when tight, can cause the pelvis to tilt posteriorly, eventually straining the lower back. These muscles also get tight when you sit a lot, or when you don’t use your glutes while walking and moving. The hamstrings are secondary hip extensors and will overwork if your glutes are underused. This pose will relieve the hamstring tightness, allowing your pelvis to be vertical, and return the lower back to a neutral/vertical state.
How to: From Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana), press the right heel into the floor and straighten the right leg as far as it will go. Activate the quads in front of the right thigh to support the knee, preventing hyperextension. Tip the pelvis forward with a straight spine (flat back) until you feel the hamstring stretch behind the thigh. your hands can be on the floor or on blocks. You can also hold onto a wall or chair if the floor is too far away. Hold 5 breaths then repeat with the left leg forward.
Note: If your hamstrings are very tight, you might work with a bent knee and over time straighten the leg. It’s more important to feel the stretch than have the leg fully straight.
Standing Crescent Moon (Indudalasana)
This pose stretches both the erector muscles along the spine, the side body, and the deeper lower back muscles. If you have one-sided lower back pain, chances are some or all of these muscles are involved. Be sure to stretch to both sides, as many times the side with the pain is not the side that is the source of the problem. Also, when one side stretches, the other side strengthens. It’s a win-win.
How to: Stand in Mountain pose with your feet hip distance apart or together. Sweep your arms overhead and interlace your fingers. Press your palms upward as you move your shoulder blades downward and apart. Gently guide your palms to the left while pressing your right foot into the floor. Try to keep the hips directly over the ankles. Hold 5 breaths then repeat to the other side, interlacing the fingers by shifting everything over by one finger.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
This pose strengthens the muscles along the spine as well as the glutes, pelvic floor, and inner thighs. It can be done with or without binding the hands. With Yoga Mudra (the hand bind), there will be more of an upper back back bend to strengthen the spinal muscles and open the chest and shoulders. Without the back bend, this pose simply strengthens the lower body. Both variations are valid and useful.
How to: Lie down on your back with your knees over your ankles, feet flat on the floor. Feet are between hip and shoulder distance apart in a comfortable, parallel position. Engage the pelvic floor and lower abdominals keeping the pelvis neutral. Press downward through the heels and lift the hips upward, engaging the glutes. You can stay just as you are, reaching the fingertips toward your heels with your palms facing upward, or you can take yoga mudra (see bottom photo). Stay 5 breaths, then roll down one vertebra at a time.
Click here to watch a video where I guide you through all 6 poses in a short yoga practice.
Registration is now open for Safeguard Your Back After 50! This 4 week Online Course gives you the intellectual and practical knowledge you need to understand why you have back pain and what you can do about it. Get live support as well as short yoga practices that build strength and improve mobility to feel stronger and more stable in your lower back. Click here for more information or to sign up! Course starts January 29, 2024
If you are more interested in a purely self-study format, Save your Back after 50 is a mini-course that will be available starting February 1. This mini-course has specific videos to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the core and lower back, plus access to Beginner Yoga and Mindful Core Classes for 30 days. Click here to join the waitlist and save $30 off the course price!
Start your 10 day Free Trial at Purple Room Yoga! Get access to all online live and on demand classes for active adults over 50 who are looking to stay active for life! Yoga for beginners through experienced students, stretching, meditation, and mindful core classes to keep your body functioning and feeling its best. Click here to get your free Trial, here for the full schedule of live online classes, and here to see the On Demand Video Library.