Yoga is an amazing practice to keep your back muscles strong, thereby improving or helping to maintain good posture.
Yoga asana is also an amazing way to keep the spine hydrated, supple, mobile and ultimately healthy; combatting things like degenerative disc disease that occurs with the aging process.
When thinking about keeping the back safe, your mind may have immediately gone to considering back bending poses such as Wheel or Upward Facing Dog, but also remember that we strive to keep the back safe in poses like Warrior II and Mountain Pose as well.
4 General Tips
Here are four general tips on how to keep your back safe overall, and some poses in which to use them.
- Engage your abdominal core.
- Lengthen through the spine. Zip yourself up and stack the vertebrae from bottom to top.
- Engage your gluteus muscles
- Properly warm up (especially when attempting deep back bending poses like Wheel).
Chair Pose – Utkatasana
It is a very common thing, in chair pose, to be concentrating on everything other than the integrity of your back. You may be focused on reaching your arms longer and higher, or you are possibly trying to strengthen your quads and glutes and sit back lower and farther into your chair.
Protect your lumbar spine and low back by engaging your core. If you tend to let your belly sag forward in Chair Pose, your lumbar spine follows and creates a major strain on the low back.
Sometimes you will hear teachers give a direction like “tuck your tail”, which can be really confusing as we try to figure out which way “tuck” indicates as a motion. Instead, I often ask myself and my students to consider what would happen if I were to give them a poke in their abdomen. Ideally, the poke will find engaged muscles and if not
Wheel Pose – Urdhva Danurasana
Sometimes a back bending pose, or a struggle to get into one or stay in one, is not really about your back.
It can be related to tight front hips, computer slouch of the upper back, tightly formed facet joints (between two vertebrae), or a weak abdominal core. In order to keep your back safe in wheel pose, make sure that you are properly warmed up. Ideally you’ve gone through a few poses such as cat and cow, some sun salutations, and maybe some hip opening poses like half pigeon.
In wheel pose, keep your back safe by engaging your glutes, which can take strain away from the low back. Also, lengthen your spine by pushing toward your head from your feet, to keep from crunching any one part of the spine.
Upward Facing Dog (or Cobra) – Urdvha Mukha Svanasana
Again, warm up to Upward Facing Dog pose. In your very first vinyasa of the practice, I recommend starting with baby Cobra or Cobra and let your spine warm to the full back bending power of Upward Facing Dog.
As you lift your chest up and shine your heart forward, lengthen your spine; do not just bend it to lift up. Additionally, really engage your glutes in this pose to protect the low back as a lot of compression can happen here if you’re not being mindful of the potential to crunch here.
Keep in mind that the body works in concert. The skeletal and muscular systems are tied to each other’s daily functions, so if your back is aching, it may be related to muscle soreness or strength, or spine functionality.
Enjoy incorporating these tips to keep a healthy back during your yoga practice.