The Best Back Exercises: How Yoga Can Help with Back Pain

Back pain is extremely common. It doesn’t discriminate when it comes to culture, fitness levels, career choice, or your overall health. And as you age, back pain may become part of your everyday reality. 

But just because it’s a common ailment doesn’t mean it has to rule your life and place a limit on your capabilities. Back pain can be managed and even banished with the help of yoga. 

If you’re looking to ease your pain, here’s how yoga-based back exercises can help. 

The Benefits of Yoga for Back Pain 

Yoga is a practice that is centuries old, but it has made its mark in the world of health and fitness. Today the practice of yoga can be harnessed to improve strength, flexibility, improve mobility, and alleviate pain. 

While yoga may not be the best option for very severe back pain, it’s a healthy practice that can be used to manage chronic aches and pains. 

Yoga helps to lengthen the spine, stretch and lengthen the muscles, and even re-align parts of the body that could be out of place.

Yoga’s focus on balance and flexibility encourages your body to build up a defense against what could be causing your back pain. More often-than-not, back pain stems from poor posture, weak abdominal and pelvic muscles, and very tight hips. 

By strengthening these key muscle groups, this helps to lighten the load on your back and reduce your pain. 

6 Yoga-Based Back Exercises to Alleviate Your Pain

If you’re looking to focus on a more restorative practice rather than a strengthening one, here are some of the most common yoga poses for back pain.

1. Cat and Cow Pose 

This is a great pose for an achy back, whether the pain is in your lower, middle or upper back body. It’s also a good pose to warm you up for the rest of your yoga practice. 

Begin on all fours on your yoga mat. Slowly move into cat pose by drawing in your belly-button and arching your spine to the sky.

Breathe in as you do so. Then hold for a few seconds. As you exhale, move into cow pose and release your core, relax your spine towards the ground, and press your tail bone towards the sky.

Make sure to engage your shoulder blades and lift your head upwards. Hold for a few seconds.    

Repeat this flow approximately 10 times through to relax your back muscles into a neutral position.   

2. Downward-Facing Dog 

This is a classic yoga pose that targets the hamstrings, and lower back extensors. 

Begin on all fours on your yoga mat. Then, move your hands a little further towards the front of your mat, away from your shoulders. As you straighten your arms and press backward, raise your knees off the floor and lift your tailbone to the sky.

To stretch out your hamstrings, gently press your heels toward the floor. For an extra lower-back stretch, bend your knees slightly and push deeper into the stretch. 

Hold this position for 5-10 breaths and repeat up to 5-7 times, depending on your lower back pain and stiffness.  

3. Upward-Facing Dog 

This pose is great for engaging the lower back and simultaneously stretching the abdominal muscles. 

Begin by lying flat on your stomach on your yoga mat. Place your palms facedown, just next to your rib cage. As you draw your legs together and press into the tops of your feet, lift your front body away from the ground.

Try to use the strength of your back muscles and not your hands to lift your chest. Make sure your legs and feet are extended behind you and flat on the ground. 

Hold this position for 10 breaths and repeat as many times as your back allows. 

4. Pigeon Pose

If you have tight hip flexor and rotator muscles this can only compound your back pain. Pigeon pose is a great way to warm and loosen these tight muscles and ease your pain. However, it’s important to proceed slowly with this pose if you are new to yoga or have severe back pain. 

Begin in a downward-facing dog position, but keep your feet together, rather than hip-width apart. Draw your left knee forward towards the front of your mat. Then, turn your leg out a little to the left so that it bends to a 45-degree angle.

Then slowly lower yourself to the ground. Keep your rear leg straight and stretched out behind you and support your torso by placing your hands on either side of your front leg. You should feel a good, deep stretch in the hip joints. 

Hold this position for 5-10 breaths and don’t forget to repeat on the other side! 

5. Thread the Needle Pose

This is great pose for those with lower back pain, tight hamstrings, quads, hips, and outer thighs. It’s also a simpler version of the pigeon pose if that is a little too severe on your back. 

To begin, lay on your back on your yoga mat with your knees bent and soles of the feet flat on your mat. Keep your feet hip-distance apart. Then draw up your right leg and place your right ankle over your left thigh.

Remember to keep your foot flexed throughout this pose for an extra stretch. 

Then, thread your right arm between the space of the legs and your left arm around the outside of your left thigh. Interlace your fingers behind the knee and draw the top of the thigh down towards your chest for a deeper stretch.  

Hold this position for 1-3 minutes, depending on what you can manage. 

6. Supine Twist

A deep twist of the spine is a fantastic way to alleviate tension and pain throughout the entire back as well as the neck. 

Lay down on your back on your yoga mat and keep your legs bent, soles of the feet flat on the mat. Extend your arms out to either side of your body, keep them at shoulder-height. Slowly bring your knees up to your chest, and twist them across to the left as gravity pulls them down to the ground.

Make sure to keep your neck neutral as you turn your head to look across your right shoulder. Keep both shoulders flat on the mat as you repeat this flow.

Hold each position for 1-3 minutes at a time and don’t forget to repeat on the other side. 

Looking for Yoga Flow Inspiration? 

I’m Centered is here to help you find relief from pain and tension with yoga-based back exercises, strengthening sequences, and more. 

Visit our London-based studio for yoga classes for all levels of practice, or check out our online yoga content for tutorials and classes.