Hands down BIGGEST request I get in my classes ( I ask at the beginning what my students would like help with during our hour (or two)) is help with low back pain. At least one student will mention tension in that area, but there is usually more than one sufferer in each class I guide. Tight hips is the next area of mention, followed by core strengthening. I personally carry a great deal of tension in my neck and shoulders, and that is a fairly common request as well.
Luckily, we are physically one interconnected body – so a few consistently used stretches and strengthening poses can bring relief fairly quickly. Chronic pain tends to come from engaging in physical activities repeatedly, sometimes for extended periods of time where we ask certain muscle groups to engage to the point of overuse or inflammation. Our body starts to call upon our weaker muscle groups, joints, tendons and ligaments – which is where our nerves start to fire off, saying “STOP! I need a gosh darn break, already!”
When we are having low back pain, I can almost guarantee that we’ve spent too much time sitting. Not sitting in a park and enjoying nature, I’m talking about sitting while engaged in mental stress, so the body clenches – like when we are in traffic and we’d rather be home with our pets or a bubble bath. Or sitting while we are firing off emails all day with “unread” still at 479 and getting responses like “per my last email”, “any updates on this?” and “please advise”.
I’m just going to pause to say, thank God, Mother Nature and all of creation that I’m no longer in corporate America. Everyone earning their living in that capacity has a special place in my heart and I have great respect for you. And if you write emails with those phrases, I’m sure the recipient has good reason to have received it 😉
Back to our backs…..
To sit we use a contraction of the hip flexors, creating a prolonged anterior tilt of the pelvis that pulls on our low back erector muscles, and weakens major stabilizing muscle groups like the abdominals and the gluteals.
For these stretches, the image mentions to hold for 30 seconds, but you are more than welcome to hold for 5 minutes at a time if you are breathing mindfully and the sensation is manageable.
- Childs Pose – also called Balasana in Sanskrit, is a fantastic counter stretch to the posture we hold of flaring out our tail bone and rounding/slouching into the upper body. This stretches the chest and triceps out, while providing soft support for the abdominals and low back.
- Supine/Figure 4 – great for outer hips, glutes, knees and hamstrings. Keep a firm flex in both feet to protect knees and I love a gentle side to side sway in this stretch.
- Supine twists can be done a number of ways, try the one that feels good to you! Options: thighs crossed (pictured), knees stacked/touchings, knees staggered, one leg bent & one straight, or twisting with both legs straight. KEY: keep shoulder blades flush against the ground while twisting
- Runners Lunge or Lizard lunge – very important here to keep the front knee above the front ankle, and feel free to move side to side and notice sensations across different areas of the hips
- Adductor opener – I like to use this stretch for my waist by dropping one shoulder forward and twisting toward the opposite shoulder while pressing my knees in opposition from each other
- Wide legged forward fold – I can’t promote the benefits of this stretch enough. Try to make sure the hips and ankles line up vertically to reduce weight-bearing on the lower back
- Cow-faced legs – this stretch requires hip mobility, so if the range of motion isn’t there yet, use a standard cross-legged seat and move toward cow-faced
- Seated twist – be sure that you are sitting tall in the spine, and watch for weight-bearing into the hands. This stretch is more effective when the core muscles are engaged in the twisting
- Happy Baby pose – ensure that your shoulders and tailbone stay connected to the ground. Let the hands remain at the back of the thighs and inch toward the calves and feet as mobility increases.
Of course, there are many other options for stretching low back and hips. What are some of your favorites?? Leave some comments!!
Take good care,