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Practicing yoga with back pain

Updated: Mar 17, 2019

As luck would have it, as soon as I decided I was going to ramp it up and really deepen my practice so that I can write and demonstrate how amazing yoga is for everyone, I hurt my back.

Yoga is not the root cause of my recurring back pain. Having babies is. Ever since I had two babies 22 months apart, my back has been pretty worthless and yoga, through helping me build gluteal strength and core strength and pelvic floor strength and stretching my hip flexors, has actually improved my back considerably. Despite all that, about once a year this horrible nerve/sciatica thing happens and I am left flat on my back for a few days.

Luckily, yoga can be practice flat on one's back and in bed! The following stretches really help my back--in bed or on the mat*--when combined with slow, deep breathing (more on this soon!)

*If you can, I really recommend doing these poses on the floor and getting out of bed as much as possible, so that you don't get too stiff. I actually slept on the floor last night and, while I still feel pretty bunged up, it's definitely improved.

Cobra Pose

1. Start on your belly

2. Bring your hands to either side of your lower ribs

3. Extend your legs and feet back behind you

4. Inhale and press into the bed (or mat) with your hands, roll your shoulders back and down to open your chest and lift your torso slightly off the floor.

5. Hold for 30 seconds or as long as is comfortable, inhaling deeply for a count of five, exhaling slowly for a count of six.

6. Return to lying on your belly.

Illustration courtesy of (my reluctant photographer was losing her patience with my insistence that she photograph me in the way I wanted and stormed off before we finished our session. She obviously needs to practice more yoga!)

Cobra pose decompresses the spine and makes more space for the sciatic nerve to move between the discs

Upward Facing Dog

If cobra pose isn't too painful, you can move into a deeper back bend with Upward Facing Dog.

1. Start on your belly and place your hands next to your ribs, as in Cobra Pose.

2. Stretch your legs and feet back behind you with your feet about hip width apart.

3. Inhale and press into your bed or mat with your hands, rolling your shoulders back and opening your chest. Draw your shoulders away from your ears as much as possible.

4. Straighten your arms and press the tops of your feet your feet into the mat or bed, lifting your thighs up into the air.

5. Keep your elbows hugged into your side and rotate your elevated thighs in towards each other. Firm your butt.

6. Don't force a deeper back bend...just listen to your body and go with what you can do!

7. Inhale and exhale deeply as in cobra pose above and try to hold the pose for 30 seconds before returning to your belly.

Firming the glutes and thighs in this pose helps to relieve Sciatic pain.

Knees to Chest

Giving yourself a hug is also a good way to stretch out your back and relieve sciatic pain.

1. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet on the floor or bed.

2. Inhale and on the exhale bring your knees in towards your chest.

3. Tuck your chin (unlike me in this picture!!) and hold onto your calves closer down to your ankles to press your lower back into the bed.

*If this is too intense of a stretch for your back, you can start in the first position on your back with your knees bent and feet on the bed and then, on the exhale, instead of hugging your knees in, engage your core muscles and press your lower back into the mattress. Hold for 30 seconds or as long as you can.

You can also rock from side to side or up and down in this self-hug, depending on how it feels to your back.

Thread the Needle

This is a nice stretch for your back and a great hip opener, which helps to alleviate sciatic pain.

1. Come onto your back with knees bent and feet on the floor.

2. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, keeping your foot flexed. This might be enough of a stretch for you and, if so, stay here!

3. If you feel like you could go a little deeper, inhale and on the exhale lift your left foot up off the ground and draw it closer to your chest by holding on around the back of your thigh. Keep this foot flexed too!

4. Tuck your chin (I clearly need to work on this!).

5. Stay here for 30 seconds or so before bringing your left foot down and uncrossing your right leg.

6. Repeat on the other side.

It's nice, when you come out of this pose to 'windshield wipe' your legs before moving into the other side. Take your legs hip or mat width apart and drop them over to the right, back up and to the left a few times, massaging your lower back and sciatic nerve.

Although, at the moment, I feel like someone has beaten me around my kidney area with a a baseball bat, yoga in bed (and ice and ibuprofen) has definitely helped and maybe tomorrow I'll be back to shuffling around again.

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