Align the spine

Simple yogic postures to help you strengthen your spine

If you've been putting up with that nagging lower back pain, assuming that it will vanish on its own, it's probably time you did something about it. There are asanas that are specifically recommended, depending on the exact cause of your back pain. Some of the commonest causes include strain following overuse, misuse, poor posture or obesity, displacement of the disc between two adjacent vertebrae [slipped disc], osteoporosis or fibromyalgia.

Even if there isn't any pain, your back needs care and attention. Because it's like what celebrity fitness trainer Bob Harper has said: “You're only as young as your spine is supple.”

Below are some yoga asanas that can be safely practised by all to improve spinal flexibility and strengthen the lower back.

Marjarasana: The cat pose

  1. Kneel on the mat keeping some space between your knees and feet. Rest your palms on the mat such that they are in line with your knees and feet. Keep your back straight.
  2. Inhale, and extend your neck and hips upwards, drawing your abdomen towards the floor. This gives a concave curve to your spine. Be careful to not bend your elbows. Keep your breathing normal. Hold this pose for 3 – 5 breaths [one inhalation and one exhalation completes one breath].
  3. Exhale and move your head and hips towards the mat, while drawing your abdomen upwards. Your spine will assume a dome shape. Feel your spine lengthening and the spaces between the vertebrae opening up. Relax your shoulders and hold this pose for 3 – 5 breaths.

This gentle forward and backward bending of the spine helps relieve back pain.

Setubandhasana: The bridge pose

  1. Lie flat on your back, resting your hands on either side of your body. Bend your legs at the knees keeping your feet firmly on the mat.
  2. Grip both your ankles with your hands on either side. If it is not possible to reach your ankles, place the palms flat on the mat and as close to your feet as possible.
  3. Exhale and raise you hips, lower back and upper back [in that sequence] off the mat.
  4. Hold for 3 – 5 breaths. To come out of the asana, release the grip of your ankles, and gently rest your upper back, followed by lower back and then hips on the mat.

Jathar Parivarthasana: The lying down side twist

  1. Lie on your back with your feet together and hands tucked below your neck.
  2. Bend the legs at the knees, keeping feet on the mat.
  3. Exhale and turn your head to the right side and your knees to the left side. Try to touch the left knee to the mat. All the while, keep your feet, ankles, thighs and knees touching each other. Hold for 3 – 5 breaths.
  4. Inhale and bring your head and knees to the centre.
  5. Exhale and turn your head to the left side and your legs to the right side. Hold for 3 – 5 breaths. Inhale and come back to the starting position.

Uttanpadasana: single leg raise

  1. Lie on the back, keeping your feet together and hands at your sides.
  2. Bend the left leg at the knee, keeping the foot on the ground.
  3. Using the strength of the abdominal muscles, raise the right leg from the hip. Do not bend the knee. Try to bring the raised leg perpendicular to the mat. Hold for3 – 5 breaths.
  4. Slowly lower the right leg on the mat. Straighten the left leg and bend the right leg at the knee. Repeat the same with the left leg.
  5. While raising one leg, always keep the other leg bent at the knee. This reduces strain on the back.

These asanas also have benefits other than healing and strengthening of the back. Practise 3 – 4 rounds of each asana and hold the final pose for 3 – 5 breaths each time.

Remember

  1. If you have been experiencing back pain, first ascertain the cause. This will help decide the movements you should restrict and those you should do.
  2. If you feel discomfort during any stage of the asana, release the pose. Pain does not always mean gain. Do not practise yoga when your back pain is acute. Rest and wait for the pain to subside.
  3. While doing any asana, always do both, the right and the left side. Pay special attention during transitions from one side to another and to your breathing. Avoid doing jerky movements.
  4. Don't restrict caring for your back to the time that you spend on the mat. Keep checking your posture during the day and if you spend a lot of your time at the desk, invest in an ergonomically-designed chair. Poor posture is one of the commonest causes of lower back pain.
  5. Avoid all forward-bending postures, whether standing or sitting, if you have a slipped disc. Attempt sitting forward bends only with the knees bent.
  6. If you are practising yoga in a group, make sure you inform your trainer about your back pain. Do not do all the asanas just because others are doing them. Yoga is not a sport; avoid the competitive attitude during your yoga sessions, especially if you have any ailment.

Yoga mudra

  1. Sit on the mat with your legs crossed. Interlace your fingers behind your back and draw your shoulder blades close to each other.
  2. Point your chin upwards and inhale. As you exhale, lower your head and torso towards the mat, raising your hands behind you. Raise your hands only up to the level that it is comfortable to you. Finally, rest your forehead on the mat. Be careful to not raise your buttocks off the floor. Hold for 3 – 5 breaths.
  3. To release the pose, inhale and raise your head and torso slowly away from the mat.

This pose can be done in vajrasana [thunderbolt] , ardh padmasana [half lotus pose] or padmasana [lotus pose].

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Grazilia Almeida-Khatri
Grazilia Almeida-Khatri is a homoeopath, yoga trainer and a wellness coach. She endorses yoga as a way of life and conducts yoga retreats for individuals and corporates. She is also trained in Pilates by Michael King, who is based in the UK. Grazilia is a practitioner of the Body Mirror System of healing as taught by Sir Martin Brofman. She lives in Mumbai and offers consultations in person and also on Skype.

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