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To quell back pain, you could take Advil, use a heating pad or try a warm bath. But have you tried yoga? We recently checked in with Sarah Sumner, a yoga instructor at Laughing Lotus, a studio with locations in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans, for three poses she recommends for people with back issues—along with the ones to avoid.
Supported Supta Baddha Konasana
According to Sumner, “This pose helps to release the pelvic floor, which can activate the parasympathetic nervous system," Sumner explains. "It also offers a mild spinal extension, which can be helpful in the presence of lower back pain, depending on the injury.” Here’s how to try it: “Lie on your back and place the soles of your feet on the ground, bending the knees. Open the knees out wide with the soles of the feet together. Play with how far or close the heels are in relation to the groin and pause where it feels comfortable, holding for three to five minutes.” The “support” part comes from placing a prop (like blocks, folded blankets or even books) underneath each thigh.
Here’s what you need for this pose: A chair (a metal folding chair or one from your dining room will do), a belted yoga strap and a blanket. “Place your calves on a chair and pull the chair in towards you enough to let the creases of the knees be caught by the end of the chair. I love belting my thighs together and placing a blanket underneath my head in this pose. Rest easy for at least three minutes, lengthening the breath.” If you don’t have a chair, try savasana with a blanket roll underneath your knees. Why? “If the muscles of the low back have been shortened and strained, this can add support to help release them gently.”
Restorative Pigeon Pose at a Wall
Per Sumner, “Using a wall can be a great way to keep the spine neutral and release the hip flexors in a way that reduces the risk of aggravating the lower back.” (Tight hip flexors can contribute to low back pain.) To try this pose, “Lie on your back with the soles of the feet at a wall, knees in line with hips. Without rounding the spine, bring one knee towards the chest. Open the thigh out to the side and place the outer ankle on the opposing knee, creating a figure-four shape with the legs. Press the wall away with the foot that’s on the wall. Flex the foot that’s on the knee and reach that thigh towards the wall.”
Poses to Avoid
We know what poses could help back pain, but are there any to stay away from? Yes, although, according to Sumner, those poses are different for everyone. Avoid any poses that cause or worsen back pain. “I promise you will gain nothing by ‘pushing through it,’” she stresses. If you find yourself in pain in the middle of a class, Sumner tells us, “When in doubt, find a neutral spine. What does that mean? That sweet place between rounding and arching the spine (think: tadasana or tabletop)."