There is no ‘one size fits all’ yoga sequence with regards to back issues. In this sequence, I offer several basic postures to work with different principles, like maintaining the natural curves of the spine. We work on the flexibility of the hips and legs to allow greater mobility in the lower back, develop some core strength, and do some hip openers to lengthen hip flexors. Have a belt, a blanket and maybe a block to hand.
1. Reclined Hand to Big Toe pose (variation a)
Lie on your back with your legs stretched out. Bring your right knee into your chest and begin to extend your right heel towards the ceiling. At the same time, press the top of the left thigh down and extend through the left heel. Clasp your fingers around your calf and breathe into the stretch…
- Tips: Loop a belt around the sole of the right foot, holding onto both ends and allow the shoulder blades to spread evenly on the floor. You can also bend your left knee and place the left foot flat on the floor if that is more comfortable for you than keeping the leg straight on the floor.
2. Reclined Hand to Big Toe pose (variation b)
Rotate the leg out from the hip so that the knee and toes turn out to the right. Begin to lower the leg towards the floor, keeping the left hip and thigh pressed down. Keep externally rotating the inner right thigh and aim your heel so that it’s in line with the shoulder joint, rather than out at a right angle. Breathe slowly…
- Tips: Again feel free to use a belt and have a couple of blocks handy so that you can rest your right thigh on it. You could also try both of these poses with the grounded heel pressing against a wall.
3. Thread the needle pose (or Figure 4 pose)
Bend the left knee and place the sole of the foot on the floor. Bend your right knee, flex the right foot, and cross your ankle over the top of the left thigh with the ankle bone to the outer side of the thigh bone. Pick up your left foot and clasp your fingers around the back of the left thigh. Bring your left knee in towards you and at the same time, press the right knee away from you. Try to lengthen the tailbone and keep the hips square. Breathe into the stretch…
- Tips: Once again the belt can be your best friend! If you struggle to clasp your fingertips behind your thigh, loop a belt around the back of your thigh instead. Try to release any tension in the upper body. If you find your head lifts in this pose, place it on a block to prevent strain in your neck.
4. Reclined twist
To come out of the previous pose, place your left foot on the floor and slowly ‘unwind’ your right leg, placing the foot next to the left. Press into the feet to shift the hips a little over to the left, stretch both arms out to the sides and bring both knees over to the right into a gentle twist. If you like, you can take your gaze over to the left.
- Tips: Allow the knees to relax to the side rather than forcing them over (this can aggravate some lower back issues). If your knees hover off the floor, try resting them on a cushion or block, or place the cushion between your thighs to support the upper leg. You can take the knees further down (away from the chest) to make the twist softer.
Repeat poses 1 through to 4 on the other side.
5. Downward Facing Dog
From a table top position come into Downward Facing Dog pose. Press your hands into the floor, wrap the upper, outer arms down and lengthen the spine from the crown of the head to the tail bone. Press the top of the thighs back and take a few long, deep breaths.
- Tips: It’s more beneficial for your back to create length in the spine than to try to get your heels to the floor. Bend your knees if you’re very tight in the hamstrings or if you feel that your back is rounding. You can also try taking the feet wider apart.
6. Forearm plank
Come onto your hands and knees and lower onto on the forearms, making sure they are shoulder-distance apart with the shoulders stacked above the elbows. Keeping the lower belly drawn in, extend one leg out and then the other, coming onto the balls of your feet. Keep the hips low and try to extend the chest forward and the heels back. Stay here for a few breaths…
- Tips: Make a loop in your belt and place it around your upper arms, just above your elbows. The strap prevents your elbows from flaring and gives your arms something to brace against. You could also clasp your hands if it feels uncomfortable to have the palms flat on the floor.
7. Crescent pose
From a standing position, feet hip-width apart, bend the front right knee so that the knee stacks over the ankle and step the left leg back, coming onto the ball of your left foot. Reach your arms up to the sky and try and bring them slightly back so the upper arms are roughly in line with your ears. Draw the lower belly and the lower ribs in to prevent over-arching in the lower back.
- Tips: Start with the left leg slightly bent so you can focus on drawing in the lower belly and lengthening (rather than over-arching) your lower back. If you struggle to balance, place your hands on your hips and make the action of drawing your feet towards each other (without moving them).
8. Twisted monkey pose
Gently lower the left knee down to the floor and bring both hands to the inner right calf. Turn the right toes slightly out and make sure the right knee is tracking the direction of the toes. Keep the left palm on the floor, twist the torso to the right and reach the right arm back with the thumb pointing upwards. Then bend the left knee and take hold of the top of the left foot with your right hand. Lift and turn the chest and breathe…
- Tips: This pose requires a lot of flexibility in the hips and the quadriceps so go gently! You might like to try rolling onto the outer edge of the right foot to give the hip a bit more space. If you struggle to reach the back foot, you could also loop a belt over it and hold onto that instead.
Repeat poses 7 and 8 on the other side.
9. Child’s pose
From a kneeling position bring your belly to rest upon your thighs, lowering your buttocks towards your heels. Lay your arms on the floor alongside your torso, palms up, and release the fronts of your shoulders toward the floor. Rest your forehead on the floor and feel the in-breath expand the back of your body.
- Tips: Spread your knees to the width of your hips, big toes together. This may be more comfortable for your knees and give your belly more room. If your head is hovering from the floor, place a block underneath it.
Practise in class with Francesca
EkhartYoga members can practise this sequence in Francesca’s class: Lower Back Bliss