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Three yoga moves for back pain relief

Yoga can help you do so much more than twist yourself into a pretzel – it can also be the key to a pain-free back. “Eighty percent of working adults experience back pain,” says Avril James-Hurt, an exercise physiologist and yoga instructor at Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center. “Back pain is an epidemic and a leading cause for missed work days.”

Yoga for pain relief

Yoga poses, she says, can offer relief from back pain because they strengthen the core, improve posture and stretch out sore areas. “Many systems of yoga work to improve core strength,” explains James-Hurt. “Your core muscles are your postural muscles. Good postural alignment is equated with a reduction in and the prevention of back pain.”

James-Hurt says people come to her classes with a number of health concerns, including knee, hip and low back pain or injury.

Both knee and hip problems may lead to low back pain because they can cause postural abnormalities. Other students experience back pain that stems from herniated disks, a narrowing of the spinal canal called stenosis, or other low back injuries. Sometimes, just the lower back itself – not an injury – can be the source of pain.

James-Hurt suggests the following three moves to help strengthen the core and relieve discomfort in the lower back. You will need a sturdy chair for each of these moves, as well as a yoga mat or non-slip surface.

Dancer’s Pose

A step-by-step how-to:

  • Hold onto a sturdy chair for balance.
  • Bend your knee, grab your foot and bring your heel to the buttocks.
  • Modification: If you cannot grab your foot, place a strap around your leg at your shin and bring your heel the buttocks with the strap. Try to walk your hand up the strap until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.
  • Take deep breaths and hold the pose for 30 seconds.
  • Gently release and repeat with the other leg.

Modified Downward Facing Dog

A step-by-step how-to:

  • Facing a chair, stand about 2.5 feet from the seat and place your feet hip-width apart.
  • Roll your shoulders back, then hinge forward at the waist.
  • Stretch your arms until your fingertips touch the back of the chair.
  • Lift your wrist bones upward. Simultaneously, lift the knee caps by firming, but not locking, your knees. Pull your navel toward your spine.
  • To release this pose, take a few baby steps toward the chair, place your hands on the top of your thighs or the seat of the chair, and roll the shoulders back as you return to standing.

The Figure Four

There are two variations of this move: on the floor or in a chair. The floor version protects those who cannot hinge at the waist because of low back issues, while chair version gives a more intense low back stretch. Floor version how-to:

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and place your feet on the seat of a chair.
  • Take your right leg and cross it over the left knee. Then let the right thigh move toward the chair, pushing your thigh away from you.
  • To deepen the stretch, move the leg that’s bent toward you.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Chair version how-to:

  • Sit on the edge of your chair.
  • Straighten your left leg and cross your right leg over it at the knee.
  • Grab your right ankle and pull it slightly higher toward your knee.
  • Place your left foot flat on the floor.
  • Hinge forward at the waist, keeping your hands on your thigh.
  • Come back up with a flat back and switch to the other side.

“Simple, gentle, well-aligned poses can greatly improve your posture and flexibility, and reduce back pain,” says James-Hurt. For more exercise ideas, visit Fitness Index.

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