Yoga for back care
A 10-posture sequence to create space in your spine, developed by BackCare expert Anji Gopal
Modern life — and gravity — can weigh heavy on the spine. We spend our days sitting, slouching, hunched over laptops, carrying the weight of current events – and this can sometimes result in pains in the neck or low back.
This simple yet powerful practice will work to unwind, lengthen and strengthen your whole spine. Before you start, you will need two blankets, a bolster and an eyebag.
Resist the temptation to push yourself to achieve and instead enjoy gentle movement and experience your breath as it moves through the body. If you tend to have aches and pains, make sure you practice in a pain-free range and stop if anything feels too strong.
1. Check In (Effortless Rest)
Lie on your back with a blanket under your pelvis (and another under your head if needed). Place the hands on the belly and watch your belly rise and fall as you breathe normally. 5-10 breaths.
2. Apananasana (Knee Hug)
Lightly draw your right knee in to the chest and feel a gentle stretch in your low back. Don’t pull your knee, instead continue to focus on your breath. As you inhale, watch the belly rise, as you exhale, watch your spine softly lengthen. Take 5 breaths each side.
3. Jathara Parivatasana (Knees to the side)
Place your feet as wide as your mat and your hands on the belly or out to the side. As you exhale, take your knees to the right and as you inhale, bring them back to the centre. Alternate your knees from side to side, moving with the breath. Go slow! There is no need to take the knees all the way to the floor – explore how moving the knees less allows you to experience the rotation of the spine as it unwinds.
4. Vinyasa — All 4s To Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Roll over onto all 4s – find your neutral. As you breathe out, start to move from all 4s to child’s pose. Inhale forwards back to neutral. Repeat as you move with the breath, starting to feel a gentle stretch through the spine, shoulders and armpits. Again, resist the temptation to push and pull – move slowly and explore the feeling of lengthening in your back. 5 times.
From all 4s, take your right foot back, tuck the toes under (keep them on the floor) and stretch your heel away. Keep the pelvis even and stretch your leg back as you breathe. Don’t let your pelvis drop on either side. Feel the lengthening through the side you are stretching – all the way to the low back. 3-5 breaths on each side.
6. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Make your way to standing in mountain pose, with the feet hip-width apart. Allow the spine to rise up, connect with your breath as you press the feet down. Let the back of your neck be long. Take 5 breaths.
7. Arm Swings
From mountain pose, allow your arms to swing forward and back. Let them be loose and floppy – like a pendulum, not a soldier! Move the arms in a pain-free range: you may be able to take your hands above shoulder level – or higher – or lower. Just be comfortable and enjoy the swinging movement. This practice will relax your shoulders and create space in your upper back. Repeat for 1-2 minutes.
8. Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Come back to Tadasana and on an inhalation, sweep your arms up alongside your ears, shoulder-width apart and palms turned inwards. As you exhale, bend the knees, take the hips back and reach forward. As you press your feet down, draw the belly towards your spine and reach forward with your fingers. Check that you aren’t working so hard that your breath becomes ragged – find effortless effort in this deep spinal stretch. Feel your spine lengthening and hold for 3-5 breaths. Come back up to Tadasana.
9. Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Bring yourself down to child’s pose – place the fists under your forehead to keep the neck long and rest for 1-2 minutes. Breathe into the back body, softly.
10. Savasana (Relaxation)
Come to lie on your back again, with a blanket under the pelvis. Place your whole spine comfortably on the ground, and perhaps pop a bolster under the knees. Check your low back is long and support the neck with another folded blanket. Allow your whole spine to rest for 2-5 mins. When you come up to standing, notice the space, length and height in your spine.
Anji Gopal is founder of the BackCare Foundation and a Registered Osteopath who works in private practice and a London NHS hospital. She runs the BWY ʻYoga for BackCareʼ Module & offers training courses via YogaCampus, as well as regular classes at Londonʼs triyoga and The Life Centre. In 2016 she established and still runs an innovative yoga-based programme for patients with persistent low back pain in the NHS. Visit: backcarefoundation.com