We often hear people complain of back problems. In a culture that sits in chairs, sofas and cars, we are especially vulnerable to low back issues.
Yoga helps to educate and bring awareness to this tender and highly susceptible area of the body called the lumbar spine.
The lumbar spine is normally comprised of five vertebra that sit between the upper back (thoracic spine) and the sacrum (click here for last week’s discussion). As you can see in the drawing, the position of the lumbar spine sits directly behind the abdominal area. Unlike the sacrum, it’s highly mobile and can rotate, flex and extend, making it, and the muscles that surround it, candidates for injury and pain.
Here are three key concepts that will help you to generate awareness and right action for your lower back:
1.) Learn to Sit Properly – Get off the couch and find your true seat! When we sit in chairs, sofas and cars we often assume a slouched position – we sit on our backs instead of our bottoms! Locate the hip bones that lie under each side of your glutes and sit on those instead. You may need to sit more forward in your chair. Better yet, get on the floor and support yourself with a folded blanket that allows you to stack the spine and, over time, your alignment will improve.
2.) Know When Your Spine is Being Stressed – Just like improper sitting, there are many other times when the spine is being compressed or stressed. For instance, when you bend over to lift a heavy object. Or, when repeatedly performing those aggressive twisting motions required in sports such as golf or tennis. Interestingly, one of the most extreme compressive flexion movements for the lower spine is the traditional sit-up.
3.) Educate Your Core to Brace Your Back – This is not just about the set of superficial rectus abdominis muscles otherwise known as the “six pack.” Developing and strengthening the core also involves the remaining abdominal layers known as the transversus abdominus, external and internal obliques plus the deeper stabilizing muscles such as the psoas and the quadratus lumborum.
Once you understand the above principles, you can practice these four yoga poses to stabilize/strengthen the core and relieve lower back pain.
Boat Pose – If you are new to Navasana, try the variation I call Boat with Oars in the Water. Keep your knees bent and use your hands to add support to your upper body.
Side Plank – This targets many of the core muscles. But, until you can sustain the full pose with good alignment, try leaving one knee bent on the floor or separate the feet one in front of the other. You can also place your forearm on the floor for added stability and endurance.
Plank or Dolphin – Same thing applies here. If you are a beginner, bend your knees but keep the hips in line with the shoulders. Forearm plank is even more challenging for the core muscles. Transitioning from plank to side plank is a good way to improve strength.
Table Balance – From table position, lift opposite leg and arm. Be sure to keep the limbs in line with the spine so that the lumbar curve is maintained.
And, if you are still bent on doing sit-ups, try this safer alternative:
Mini Sit-Up – Instead of the full sit-up, practice the mini lift. Use your arms to monitor your lumbar curve. Bend one leg and lift the chest and head slightly off the floor like a hinge, keeping the head at the same height as the chest. This movement will target the rectus abdominis.
Special thanks to Bernie Clark and his new book, “Your Spine Your Yoga” for the posture education and wise direction. This book is chock full of anatomical structure and function references that pertain to the practice of yoga and everyday movement.