Having injured my lower back in a bad fall, I understand what it means to not be able to sit for long periods. Long haul flights were my worst nightmare; Carrying heavy backpacks were not possible without much pain.
If you are suffering from back pains, it may be tempting to reach out for your muscle rubs or NSAIDs. These aids help you deal with the symptoms of back pain but not so much the root of it.
Of the many remedies I have tried, yoga was the only one that not only gave immediate comfort but also lengthened the time between the period of back pain.
Previously I introduced yoga stretches for lower back pain – these are great exercises that you can use for your home practice to provide a release for back pains whenever you need it. Today, I would like to take one step further to help you work on preventing future back pains.
This requires strengthening your back, core and leg muscles so that you are better able to support and stabilize your spine with proper posture.
These back strengthening exercises we go through are based on the best yoga poses ones I use to help me build strength for my backpacking adventures where I carry upwards of 7kg daily.
Focus on Proper Alignment For People with Back Pain
Before we begin the exercises, I would like to highlight that people suffering from back pains will need to be even more focused on performing the exercises with proper form and alignment.
Pay a visit to a chiropractor and you will find that yoga can be a source of many back-related injuries, especially when not done right. Based on a study published in the November 2016 Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine, yoga-related injury rates increased from 2001 to 2014, especially for those 65 and above. The trunk was the most frequently injured area, accounting for 46.6% of injuries diagnosed.
The important thing to note is that yoga can be a panacea for back pains, but you need to focus on performing the poses with the right form and alignment, and never force your body beyond its capacity.
23 Minutes of the Best Back Strengthening Exercises to Help with Back Pain
In this video, we will be working on close to 20 different yoga exercises that will strengthen your back and increase its flexibility. Many of our poses target non-beginner yogis, though we do give options for beginner variations.
Do note that many of our poses will be held for longer periods as compared to a typical vinyasa class. By perform poses slowly, you give time for your muscles to work harder to maintain each pose.
As with all the sequences, take what you need from this sequence and make your modifications where required. Remember that this is your body, respect it, find what works for it, and give it the TLC it deserves.
You can find a summary of the poses we go through below. In case you would like a PDF cheat sheet of this sequence, just drop us your email below and we will send it to you immediately.
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I hope you enjoyed this yoga exercise and receive the healing from back pain that you so deserve!
Easy Pose and Twist [Sukhasana]
Start in a comfortable sitting position with legs crossed. Place your palms on your lap or create a mudra with your thumbs touching each other. For those with knee pains, you may wish to prop yourself up on a block or meditation pillow.
Inhale and exhale deeply until you find yourself completely immersed in your practice ahead.
When you’re ready to warm up, raise your arms to the ceiling, lengthen your back. Place your left hand on your right knee and bend towards your left side. Repeat on the other side and do this set 2-3 times slowly.
Raise your arms again, and this time place your left hand on your right knee, extend your spine and twist right. Make sure you twist from the middle, not from the lower back. We will do this a few times to wake up the spine.
Cat and Cow [Sanskrit: Marjaryasana and Bitilasana]
Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips to the top of your mat. Place your shins and knees hip-width apart.
Begin by moving into Cow Pose: Inhale as you arch your back and drop your belly towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling. Broaden your chest and shoulders, pulling them away from your ears.
Transition into Cat Pose: As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back. This pose should look like a cat stretching its back. While you pull the crown of your head toward the floor, do not force your chin to your chest.
As you inhale, move into Cow Pose, and as you exhale, transition into Cat Pose. Repeat 3-5 times or until your spine feels warmed up.
Balancing Table Pose Variation [Sanskrit: Dandayamana Bharmanasana]
Return to all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips. As you inhale, stretch your right arm forward and left leg backwards. Toes can point down to the floor or towards the ceiling.
Now instead of returning to all fours, start externally rotating your stretched arm and leg. As you inhale, the right arm starts opening up by 90 degrees until it is parallel to the front of the mat. The left leg rotates towards the left by 90 degrees. Tighten your core and look forward.
As you exhale, return your outstretched arm and leg to its original position and repeat 3-5 times.
Remember to engage your core and not let your back arch. This movement is a superb exercise that works the entire abdominal region as well as the outer hips.
We switch to the other side – stretch your left arm forward and right leg backwards. Externally rotate your stretched arm and leg. Inhale Rotate left arm towards the left by 90 degrees, and right leg towards the right by the same.
Exhale and return your arm and leg to its original position. Repeat 3-5 times.
Come back to all fours. Take a few breaths in child’s pose.
Alternating Downward Facing Dog and Plank [Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana and Kumbhakasana]
From child’s pose, move yourself into Downward Facing Dog. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis, lift the sitting bones upwards and draw the inner thighs inwards.
With an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them.
Remember to pull in your Uddiyana Bandha (draw in your navel to spine) and Mula Bandha (draw in your pelvic muscles).
Start paddling in Downward Facing Dog, pulling in the right and left knee towards the chest alternately.
When you are ready, roll from Downward Dog into Plank Pose. We are working the core by holding a plank with our back and abdominals.
Repeat Downward Dog to Plank Pose several times until you feel your core firing up. Always tighten your core to be able to keep good form and alignment.
If you are an intermediate practitioner, try to do three-legged downward dog. As you transition to plank, keep the lifted leg up and stay in one-legged plank pose.
Rest and take a few breaths or rest in Child’s Pose.
Thread the Needle [Sanskrit: Parsva Balasana]
Start with Table Top position on the yoga mat. If you need you can adjust the knees to hip-width distance.
Lift your left hand sideways until it is at your shoulder level. ‘Thread the needle’ by putting your left hand into the gap between your right hand and right knee.
Turn your chest rightwards and gaze toward the left hand. Rest the head on the yoga mat.
For intermediate practitioners, try this variation:
- Bring your right palm from the mat to your back, and try to perform a bind by holding your left thigh.
- Lift your right knee from the ground so that it is straight (the left knee remains at 90 degrees)
- This position gives you a deeper twist in your upper back while making you engage your core to hold your balance.
Release the tension in your upper back and shoulders by breathing naturally. Hold in this position for 30 to 90 seconds (or longer if you need).
Repeat on the other side.
Sphinx Pose [Sanskrit: Salamba Bhujangasana]
Salamba Bhujangasana in Sanskrit translates to supported cobra pose. In Sphinx Pose, the forearm is used to lift the upper body in the pose. This is a great pose to practice to lengthen the abdominal muscles, strengthen the whole spine, open the chest and firm the buttocks.
Start by lying face-down on the mat with your legs extended behind you, hip-width apart. Press the tops of your feet into the mat and spread your toes. Do not tuck your toes as this can risk compressing the spine.
Bring elbows under your shoulders with your forearms on the floor, parallel to each other. Point your fingers forward.
With an inhalation, press your forearms into the floor and lift your head and chest off the floor. Press your pubic bone onto the mat. Engage your legs and roll your thighs towards the floor; Lengthen your low back.
Push lightly against your forearms and feel your shoulders pull away from your head and ear. Draw your chest forward. Lengthen your tailbone toward your heels.
Do not sink into your shoulder blades. Rather, you should feel a lengthening effect of the whole spine
Hold for up to 10 breaths.
Dolphin Pose Variations
With your forearms still in front of you, clasp your palms together. Prepare to get into Dolphin Pose by lifting your hips.
Push your hips even higher, tightening your core and bringing your body into a V-shape similar to Downward Facing Dog.
For intermediate practitioners, if forearm handstands are in your practice, you can go deeper into this pose by looking in between your forearms and alternating between tip-toes and flat heels.
Remember that you should not sink into your forearms. Think of pushing against your forearms, and lengthening your entire back body. As you engage your core, you should also feel strength being built in your shoulders, upper back and core.
Tricep and Chest Stretches
We take a short break with a tricep stretch.
Sit on your heels in a kneeling position. Raise both hands towards the ceiling, bend your right elbow so that your palms touch your upper back. Use your left hand to pull the right elbow inwards and downwards – feel the stretch in your triceps and chest.
Repeat on the other side.
Return to sitting on your heels. Clasp both hands behind you and reach your hands towards the floor, resting them on the mat if possible. Arch your back and lift your chest towards the ceiling, feel your entire abdominal area stretching.
Inhale, and exhale.
Alternating Superman Pose [Sanskrit: Viparita Shalabhasana]
Lie on your stomach with your toes flat on the floor, and your chin resting on the mat and arms stretched out in front of you.
Inhale and lift your right arm and left leg. Keep pulling your chest upwards and lift your thighs off the floor. Feel the pull at both ends.
Exhale and gently lower your chest, arms and legs to your starting position.
Repeat with your left arm and right leg. Alternate both sides for 3-5 times or as many times as you wish – this is an easy yet effective pose to stretch and strengthen your full body!
Locust Pose [Sanskrit: Salabhasana]
Return from Superman pose to your starting position on your tummy. With your forehead on the mat, bring your arms backwards and face your palms towards the ceiling.
Raise your head to look forward, lift your shoulders away from the floor, roll the shoulder blades backwards and downwards. Inhale and lift your chest, head, and hands so that the arms extend parallel to the floor, palms flat. Lift your legs toward the ceiling.
Lift your upper spine and reach your arms back toward your feet. Push your tailbone down toward the mat so that your buttocks and pelvic bones stay grounded.
Your weight should rest on your belly and front pelvis.
Locust Pose is one of the best poses to open the shoulders, strengthen the back and abdomen, and ease upper backaches.
Bow Pose [Sanskrit: Dhanurasana]
Coming back to your starting position on your stomach, rest your chin on the mat and hands on your side.
Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels as close to your buttocks as possible. Reach back with both hands and hold onto your ankles from the outside.
On an inhalation, lift your heels toward the ceiling, drawing your thighs up and off the mat. Lift your head, chest, and upper body from the mat.
As you lift your chest and legs upwards, keep drawing your tailbone down firmly into the floor. Press your shoulder blades firmly into your upper back and pull your shoulders away from your ears.
Your breath may become shallow in this pose, but do not hold it. Keep breathing.
Bow Pose stretches the entire front of the body and strengthens every back muscle to improve posture and spinal stability.
Reclining Figure Four Pose with Variations
[Sanskrit: Supta Eka Pada Galavasana]
Lie on your back and brings knees toward chest. Cross your right ankle over the left knee.
Loop your hands behind the left thigh and gently pull the legs closer to your chest to feel the stretch in the outer left hip. Keep both feet lightly flexed to protect the knees.
- Release the grip from behind your left thigh
- Straighten your left leg and hold your calf, ankle or heel with both hands (depending on your flexibility)
- If you have the flexibility, pull your left leg towards your head. Try to touch your forehead or chin to your calf
Exhale and release your pose to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Take a short break as you hug your knees to your chest
Happy Baby Pose [Sanskrit: Ananda Balasana]
We are now going into our last active pose – Happy Baby – which is not only a relaxing pose but also opens the hips and inner groins, lengthens the spine and strengthens the shoulders.
With your knees still pulled into your chest, hold your feet from the outside with your elbows on the inside of your knees. Draw your shoulders toward the mat and flex your feet as you pull down on your feet.
Open your knees wide, stacking your ankles above the knees. Use your hands to push your feet and knees down to the mat, drawing your knees ever closer to your armpits.
Lengthen your lower back to the ground.
If it is in your practice, feel free to stretch your legs straight as you hold your feet. Feel your hips opening in this pose.
Stay here for up to one minute, and then release.
Hug your knees to your chest, and take your final relaxation pose in Savasana or Corpse Pose. Stay in Savasana for at least 5 minutes to absorb all the good things of this practice.
Thank you for practising with me today. If you like this video, do drop me a comment below and let me know! I’ll most appreciate any feedback or requests for future classes.