Yogamama: Oh! My Aching Back
Four positions that will relieve lumbar pain and strengthen your core
By Karri Jinkins
Almost every week in my yoga classes I have at least one student who tells me they have lower back pain; last week there were five! Through my 15 years of teaching yoga and working with many different body types I have noticed that much of this back pain stems from three specific causes: weak core strength, tight hamstrings, and tight hip flexors.
In the West we are married to comfort, and we believe comfort means sitting on our behinds, even though it probably is the most unnatural resting pose for the human body (which is why some do their work standing up). There certainly plenty of research and funding that goes into creating that perfect chair so one can sit at a desk and work for hours on end (while typing this, I happen to be sitting cross-legged on the floor), but the goal will always be elusive, as long as we have spines.
Yoga can offer relief, with an easy and effective regimen, consisting of a 15-minute series of four postures that strengthen core muscles. Repeat as many times as you like, daily, and within a week you should notice substantial relief.
Bitilasana/Marjaryasana (cow and cat)
Begin on your hands and knees with your shoulders above your wrists and hip above your knees. Inhale, raise your head, chin, and tailbone toward the ceiling. Exhale, round your spine, and tuck your chin in gently as you draw your tailbone toward the ground. Draw your navel up and in gently.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (down dog)
From neutral position in cow and cat, exhale, slowly lift your knees off the floor, and lift your hips toward the ceiling. If your hamstrings are very tight, keep knees bent. If not, straighten your legs a bit and bring your gaze toward your upper thighs. Gently use your arms to press your hips up and back.
Start from neutral position in cow and cat. Walk your knees back about 12 inches. Keeping your arms straight, inhale, leaning your chest forward so you feel weight in your hands and arms, and your chest will be lifted. If you feel comfortable and strong here, exhale, lift your knees off the floor, and straighten your legs so you become straight and strong, and you will feel length from the crown of your head through your hips to your heels. You should engage your core muscles and legs here, so the weight of your body is evenly distributed as you press against the floor with your hands and feet.
Lower yourself onto your stomach from plank pose and rest. Bring your hands to your sides with your palms facing up. Inhale, raise your head, chest, and feet off the floor. Keep your legs straight and try to keep knees together. Hold this pose and breathe 5 to 10 breaths and exhale, then relax back onto your stomach with legs and head down. If this is too challenging for you, lift just one leg at a time with the chest and head and alternate sides. After you build your strength, begin lifting both legs simultaneously.
Karri Jinkins’s archetypes are Spiritual + Caregiver + Athlete. She has taught Ashtanga yoga and meditation for over 15 years, and is the cofounder of Yogamat Clothing, an eco-friendly, made-in-the-USA and sweatshop-free line of activewear. She enjoys many things other than yoga, not all of which are necessarily good for you. Contact her at: [email protected] or find her on twitter @karrijinkins.