It’s long been known that yoga can play a positive role in keeping the back strong and healthy. Regular practice helps stretch and strengthen back muscles and reduce back pain when the asanas are done right. But if you’re new to yoga, or haven’t been on the mat for a while, you could potentially cause or increase back pain by improperly performing common positions. Here are some substitute poses and modifications to use so your yoga practice is more helpful than harmful.
1) Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
While forward bends are good for you, they can be challenging if you have tight hamstring muscles. Combat this by using blocks if your hands don’t reach the floor easily. The support from the blocks will help you lengthen the spine and also prevent other problems.
2) Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
Substitute Cat Cow pose instead for a lesser chance of putting excessive pressure on the lumbar spine. The slow and controlled movements of this asana activates each segment of the spine to improve mobility.
3) Four-Limb Staff Pose (Chaturanga)
Lack of core strength with this position increases the chance of your spine getting compressed. Best to skip it and move into Hollow Body position. This core strengthening pose teaches proper body alignment, not only preparing you to eventually perform Chaturanga, but also helping to improve daily standing, sitting, and walking.
4) Crescent Pose (Anjaneyasana)
It’s common for people to overarch the lower back with this pose to compensate for lack of hip flexibility. The better way to perform this position is to keep your back knee bent vs. straight.
5) Revolved Side Angle (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana)
If done incorrectly, any twisting pose can lead to low back pain. Make a modification for this asana by bringing one knee to the floor for stability. Then twist, bringing your hands together.
6) Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
While good for stretching hamstrings, forward folds can also create low back strain if performed improperly. Fix it by engaging your quadriceps to lengthen hamstrings, and add a slight microbend at the knees.
7) Boat Pose (Navasana)
The mistake often made with this pose is a rounding through the upper and lower back which can hurt your back when done excessively. Instead of lifting the legs, a safer bet is to bend the knees and either touch your toes down to the ground or place your feet flat on the mat.
8) Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
A full backbend such as Wheel pose requires a lot of spinal mobility and overall flexibility, so it should be worked up to gradually in your practice. A more gentle version, Supported Bridge pose, provides similar benefits minus the chance of injury.
9) Plow Pose (Halasana)
When done properly, this asana provides a deep stretch for the lower back. However, it could also have an adverse affect on the cervical spine if you don’t have the right technique. Modify this pose by placing a block under the sacrum and lifting your legs up toward the sky or against a wall to reap the low back benefits.
10) Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Often a favorite, this final resting pose at the end of class is designed for deep relaxation. But sometimes lying flat on a hard floor can be uncomfortable. Get more comfort by using a small pillow or rolled-up blanket under your head, and place another rolled-up blanket under your knees to protect your lower back.
Read more and see helpful photos here.