Before I turned 25, the idea of backaches was so foreign that I never understood why my older friends and families talk about them for back pain relief either using medicated plasters, painkillers, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or massages.
Now that I am in my 30s, I completely get it. Our bodies are so fragile, and lower back pain is a chronic syndrome for many of us living in the modern world. This can easily be caused by long periods of sitting, bad posture, excess weight, or trauma.
For me, my lower back pain was caused by a bad fall on black ice during my University days at the age of 18.
Since then, I had tried many methods to relieve this pain, including Chiropractic treatments, physical therapy, yoga, and others.
One of the best ways I know to manage my lower back pain is to do yoga stretches specifically targeted at releasing the muscles connected to the lower spine. If you are also suffering from lower back pain, below are several of my favourite beginner yoga stretches for lower back pain relief. I have sequenced them so you can either do the full sequence (takes around 15-20 minutes) or individual poses at any point in your day.
Because all these poses work on the lower back muscles, please do make sure you don’t force yourself into a pose, but focus on lifting and lengthening as you perform with good alignment.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor and do not have any medical certifications. The purpose of this article is to share my experience and journey to healing to inspire your journey. Please take what you need from this and leave what you don’t. Whenever you’re unsure, do consult your yoga instructor and/or look at the right way of doing the poses through videos.
Yoga Stretches for Lower Back Pain
Easy Pose [Sukhasana]
Easy Pose or Sukhasana is usually the starting point of many practices and is a basic seated yoga posture. This is done by sitting in a simple cross-legged position.
Although a very basic posture, Easy Pose is particularly good to practice if your hips are very tight. If you have a yoga block at hand, you can sit on the block so your hips are higher than your knees.
If you are always sitting on a chair, come down to the floor a few times a day and sit in Easy Pose. This can do wonders to your hips and encourage proper spinal alignment.
Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Easy Pose Side Bend Variation [Sukhasana]
Take the side stretch variation of Easy Pose.
- Extend your both hands towards the ceiling
- Lower the right hand and place it by your right body
- Bend towards the right, looking towards the extended left hand
- Open your chest to the ceiling and keep stretching across the entire left side body
- Root down through your sit bones
Hold for 3 breaths and switch sides, bending towards your left this time
Do 3 cycles of left and right side bends.
Staff pose [Dandasana]
Staff pose helps to strengthen the back, abdominal muscles and hip flexors to help with improved posture over time.
To get to Staff Pose
- Sit on the mat with legs in front of you.
- Make sure to sit on your sitting bones and root them into the ground.
- Flex your feet actively, pressing your heels down and straightening your legs.
- Draw your knee muscles towards your hips.
- Place your palms beside your hips, pointing your fingers towards your feet. Press into your palms to help you sit up straight.
- In case your palms do not press flat onto the ground, you can place a block below each palm so you can press yourself up to more comfortably.
- Be careful not to overextend your chest and arch your back. Instead, suck in your core and lengthen yourself upwards from your tailbone all the way through the crown of your head. Imagine a string pulling your head straight upwards towards the ceiling.
- Tuck in your chin slightly to lengthen your neck.
Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths.
Half Lord of the Fishes [Ardha Matsyendrasana]
Half Lord of the Fishes or Ardha Matsyendrasana in Sanskrit is a seated twist post that opens the shoulders and chest and improves overall spinal health.
- From Staff Pose, walk your right palm one foot backwards
- Cross the right leg over the left, placing the right foot on the mat close to the left knee
- Extend your left arm towards the ceiling and wrap it around your right knee, pulling your knee towards your chest
- Look over the right shoulder towards the back and lengthen through your spine
- Press into your right palms and your hips
- For a deeper twist, press your left elbow against the outside of the right knee
- Inhale to extend your spine, exhale to twist more
Hold for 5-8 breaths.
Cat and Cow Stretch
Cat and Cow stretches are one of the best ways to wake up the entire spine, stretch the lower back, hips. neck, chest, shoulders.
To get to Cat or Cow pose
- Start in tabletop position (get on your hands and knees with your wrists below your shoulders and knees below your hips).
- Inhale and arch your back, lifting the chest and tailbone towards the ceiling. Pull your shoulder blades together. This is Cow pose.
- Exhale and tuck your chin into your chest, press through your shoulders and round your back, making sure to pull in your tailbone as well. This is the Cat Pose.
Continue to do 8-10 rounds of Cat and Cow pose according to the rhythm of your breath.
Wide Legged Child’s Pose [Utthita Balasana]
Utthita Balasana is also known as Extended Child’s Pose. Utthita in Sanskrit means “extended” while Bala means “Child”.
This pose is a variation of the usual Child’s Pose, gently opening up your hips and spine. It is a gentle restorative pose while helps to calm the mind, relieving stress and fatigue.
To get to Wide Legged Child’s Pose
- Sit on the heels with knees hip-width apart
- Walk your hands forward in front of you and start to lower your head and chest and to the mat
- As you rest on your forehead, focus on bringing your hips, stomach as close to the mat as possible
Hold here for as long as you need.
From Wide-Legged Child’s Pose, roll forward into Cobra Pose or Bhujangsana in Sanskrit.
Cobra Pose has great benefits for your body. It not only increases flexibility as it stretches the entire chest, abdominals and shoulders, it also helps with strengthening the spine, buttocks and legs.
People looking at losing belly fat will be glad to hear that Cobra Pose is one of the simplest yet most effective ways of reducing belly fat as you are stretching and strengthening your core all at the same time.
To get into Cobra Pose
- First lie flat on the mat facing downwards.
- Extend your legs and keep the feet together with toes pointing. Activate both legs, keeping knees tight and pulling them upwards.
- Place your palms on the mat by your chest. Hug elbows into the sides of your body
- As you inhale, press your palms firmly on the mat, and pull your chest and head off the floor
Low Cobra Pose
- For beginners, keep extending upwards with your lower ribs on the floor
- Try to straighten your arm as much as possible – stop if this is too much
- The weight should be on your legs, while your hands should only be there for minimal support
- Keep drawing shoulder blades back and shoulder tops away from your ears
- Gaze straight ahead, or look upwards towards the ceiling if you have the flexibility
High Cobra Pose or Upward Facing Dog
- For more advanced yogis, try out High Cobra by straightening the elbows all the way and lifting your upper body up.
- For High Cobra, the legs and pelvis are still in contact with the mat.
- If you are coming up to Upward Facing Dog, press your palms against the mat to lift your legs, so only the palms and feet are in contact with the mat
- Gaze upwards to the ceiling, forming a backbend.
- Do remember to keep pulling shoulder blades back, draw the tops of shoulders away from your ears
- As you inhale, lift your heart and open up your chest and collarbones
Hold this pose for 8-10 breaths
Release the pose by exhaling and lowering chest and forehead to the mat
Downward Facing Dog [Adho Mukha Svanasana]
Downward Dog is an amazing yoga pose for full-body flexibility and strength.
- It stretches the lower back, hamstrings, calves (Achilles tendons) and feet, helping to release any tightness along the entire spine and back of your body.
- In addition, Downward Dog strengthens your upper back, shoulder and arm muscles as you need to push your body into the mat to get the right alignment.
Yet downward dog is very accessible to all Yoga practitioners – it can be made as easy or difficult as possible through different variations. For these reasons, Downward Dog is one of the most frequently practised poses in Yoga.
How to get to Downward Dog
- If you are doing Downward Dog from the previous Cobra pose, push yourself off the floor into plank pose with bent knees if needed (this is just for a split second)
- Lift your buttocks upwards until you form a triangle pose – your arms and feet are grounded on the floor and your hips lifted up
- Spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out and press firmly onto the mat
- As you push through your shoulders, widen your shoulder blades and draw them back towards your tailbone
- Keep the head between the upper arms; don’t let it hang.
- If your body is not warmed up or you have tight feet and calf muscles, keep the knees slightly bent and the heels do not need to touch the floor
- The important thing is to lengthen your tailbone and lift the sitting bones up toward the ceiling
For those with more leg flexibility
- Straighten your knees (but do not lock them) and push your heels onto the mat.
- Activate the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly.
Stay here for 8-10 breaths
Three-legged Downward Facing Dog [Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana]
Three-legged Downward Dog, also known as Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana in Sanskrit is a variation of Downward Dog with one leg lifted up.
Note: Do Three-legged Downward Dog together with the next pose (Pigeon Pose) before changing sides.
How to get to Three-Legged Downward Dog
- From the previous pose (Downward Dog), lift up your right leg as high as you can
- Flex your feet to help you activate the entire leg and keep rotating your thighs inwards so that your toes are pointing towards the ground
- The act of flexing your feet helps you to square your hips; Instead of turning your hips to one side, which is what most bodies tend to do, ensure that both hips are facing forwards
- When you square your hips, your legs will not be able to go as high as before, but that’s okay!
- Lift your sitting bones to the ceiling and breathe
Hold here for 5-8 breaths
Pigeon Pose [Eka Pada Rajakapotasana]
Pigeon pose is a variation of the more advanced One-Legged King Pigeon Pose or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana but is similarly very beneficial for hip opening.
Pigeon Pose is an extremely effective hip opener that helps increase the external range of hip motion and lengthens the hip flexors.
In this variation, we do not bring up the back leg towards the head, but keep it flat on the mat. You can either fold forward or keep your upper body upright with a slight backbend.
To get to pigeon pose
- From your three-legged downward dog, bring your lifted right leg forwards towards your hands and place your right knee behind the right hand and right foot behind the left hand
- For those with open hips, you can try to form a 90-degree with your right foot
- Otherwise, keep your shin diagonal and foot nearer your hips than hands
- Focus on pressing your back legs down and roll in inwards so that you can square your hips (hips facing straight)
Note: If you are unable to square your hips or the area under your thigh does not touch the floor, add a block or blanket under your thigh so that you can rest on it. This is super important to ensure that your hips stay even and square, and you are practising the pose safely!
Repeat Three-Legged Downward Dog and Pigeon Pose on the Left Side
Repeat the last 2 poses on your left side.
Feel free to transit through a vinyasa or downward facing dog before you come forward into mountain pose (standing).
Rag Doll [Uttanasana]
Ragdoll pose is a simple variation of standing forward bend, also called Uttanasana in Sanskrit. It is a great way to ease into more advanced forward bending poses and is very effective in stretching the lower back.
To get to Rag Doll pose
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees bent
- Inhale deeply, and exhale
- As you exhale, bend forward at the hips and lengthen the front of your body
- Allow your head to hang heavily between the upper arms
- Cross your arms and grasp each elbow with the opposite hand
- Feel free to move from side-to-side, feeling your back decompress with every breath
Stay here for 8-10 breaths
Chair Pose [Utkatasana]
Chair pose, also called Utkatasana in Sanskrit, is a rather challenging standing yoga posture that strengthens the core and lower body. It also opens the arms, upper back and chest, as well as tones the hips and thighs.
The pose may look deceptively simple, but done right, this pose works the whole body to increase endurance and stamina.
To get into Chair Pose
- Stand with your feet close together (beginners may place feet slightly apart for balance)
- Extend your arms towards the ceiling, palms facing each other
- Bend your knees as if sitting on an invisible chair and lean forward slightly
- Keep your weight in your heels
- Make sure knees are aligned above the feet and that your legs form a right angle (beginners can bend the knees less)
- Draw shoulder blades towards each other, and shoulder tops away from the ears
- Lengthen your back and roll the tailbone inwards – do not arch your back!
Revolved Chair Pose [Parivrtta Utkatasana]
Revolved chair pose, also called Parivrtta Utkatasana in Sanskrit, is a twisting variation of Chair Pose that you just did.
To do Revolved Chair Pose,
- Start in Chair Pose, bring your palms together in front of your chest in a prayer position
- Twist your torso to the right, with your left elbow outside of the right thigh
- Keep lengthening your back and press into your left elbow to give you a deeper twist
Note: To prevent injury, you need to focus on lengthening the back rather than on how deep your twist is.
Hold for 8-10 breaths.
Release into chair pose and repeat on the opposite side.
Garland Pose [Malasana]
Garland Pose, also called Malasana in Sanskrit, is a deep squat that works your spine, inner thighs, ankles and abs. It requires balance and strength in order to keep this pose.
To get to Malasana
- Stand in Mountain Pose with feet hip-width apart
- Bend your knees and come into a squat, pressing your heels on the mat
- Move your chest between your thighs and extend your arms forward
- Press your elbows against your inner knees and touch your palms together in prayer position
- Keep lengthening your spine and chest
Malasana can come easier for some but really challenging for others, depending on your body proportion and flexibility. For the more flexible yogi, hold onto your heels or take a twist or bind.
Supine Figure 4 Pose [Supta Kapotāsana]
Supine Figure 4 Pose, also known as Supine Pigeon or Supta Kapotāsana in Sanskrit.
Without getting too technical, Supine Figure 4 Pose helps to stretch one of the key muscles that supports the lower back (the Piriformis). Tightness or inflammation of the Piriformis muscle can be a big contributor to lower back pain.
To do Supine Figure 4 pose
- Lie on your back with knees bent and both feet on the floor
- Place your right ankle on top of the left knee
- Interlock your fingers behind your left thigh and pull your thigh towards your chest
Hold for 8-10 breaths or as long as comfortable.
Do the same for the opposite leg.
Bridge Pose [Setu Bandha Sarvangasana]
Bridge Pose or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana in Sanskrit is one of the most important and versatile backbends, especially for beginner yogis.
It strengthens the legs, buttocks and spine. Bridge Pose also stretches the chest and shoulders as well as abdominals.
To perform Bridge Pose
- Lie with your back on the floor and palms facing down
- (If needed) place a thickly folded blanket under your shoulders to protect your neck
- Bend your knees and move your heels as close to your buttocks as you can. Press your feet and arms into the mat and lift your buttocks off the floor until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Engage the thighs and buttocks, keeping knees directly above the heels
- Lift your buttocks until the thighs are about parallel to the floor. Keep your knees directly over the heels, but push them forward, away from the hips, and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees. Lift the pubis toward the navel.
- Externally rotate your shoulders and feel your outer shoulders roll under; clasp the hands under your body
- Lift your chin away from your chest
Stay in this pose for 8-10 minutes.
Release by unrolling the shoulders, unclasping the arms and slowly lowering the buttocks to the mat.
Plow pose [Halasana]
Plow pose or Halasana in Sanskrit is an inverted yoga pose that works the entire back body including the spine, neck, shoulders and legs.
It is literally my favourite stretch for lower back pains. I do this every night without fail to help calm my old lower back injury and prepare my body for sleep.
To do Plow pose
- Lie down on your back with your palms facing down
- Raise your legs up towards the ceiling, lifting your torso off the mat as well
- Slowly lower your feet towards the mat behind your head, legs are fully straight
- Extend the toes so that the top of the feet touches the mat
- Keep your core and thighs activated so that you can feel the stretch even more on your lower back
For those who cannot touch the floor with the feet, support the back with your arms.
Advanced students can roll your shoulders inwards and clasp the hands together.
Hold for 8-10 breaths
Happy baby [Ananda Balasana]
Happy Baby or Ananda Balasana in Sanskrit is one of the simplest yet effective hip opening yoga poses and is especially beneficial in decompressing the spine and sacrum. This is one of my favourite ways to relax and cool down from an intensive yoga practice.
To get into Happy Baby
- Lie on your back and bend your knees towards your chest
- Grab the outer part of each foot with your hands
- Open up your knees and pull your knees towards your armpits
- Align your ankles over the knees and form a 90-degree angle with your legs with the shins perpendicular to the ground
- Keep pressing your tailbone and sacrum down – you want to have your spine flat to the floor
- For less intense a stretch, close the distance between the knees.
- For a deeper stretch, open the knees wider.
Hold for 8-10 breaths
End with Shavasana
Release your hands and legs. Spread your legs mat-width apart, and your palms facing up. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Stay here for as long as you need.
How do you feel after doing this sequence? Was there anything not in this post that you would like to write about or further explain?
If you would like to find out more about building a personal practice at home, I highly recommend reading this post “Top 7 Tips to Start a Successful Home Yoga Practice” and also download the eBook version with printable templates here