Yoga for Back Pain (Part 1)

First, I have to apologize. We desperately need a new camera; I’m sure you’ve noticed. Black Friday is calling my name! Second, these photos were taken fairly late last night by my husband, who was by then tired and reluctant and wanting to just go to bed.  The lighting is terrible. I’ve struggled with being a perfectionist for far too long, though, so I’m posting these poor quality pictures because I said I would. Hopefully, you can still learn enough to try the poses at home & get some relief from back pain even though the quality of the pictures leaves a lot to be desired. When we have time, a better camera, and I find some willing student–I will re-post these as a video. I promise!

Second, we are said to hold work tension in our shoulders & emotional tension in our hips. If your hips are tight, it’s fairly common to also have low back pain. Something to think about as you go about your practice. Can you let go of the weight of the world you’re carrying at work & ease the tension in your shoulders? Can you let the hip openers be an opportunity to let go of whatever you’ve been holding in so you could keep a smile on your face?

And now for the neck, shoulders, and upper back:

DSC01190Find a doorway, make sure both elbows are parallel, and let your chest fall forward into the room. This one is great to counteract all the hours we spend hunched over something (usually something stressful) during the day.

DSC01192Sit with your legs crossed (cris-cross-apple-sauce) or like I am. If your hips are tight, sit on a yoga block, pillow or blanket so that your knees are not higher than your hips (which can cause more low back pain!). Start with your right arm, and reach it out and down–away from you. Move your head in the opposite direction, slowly rocking it back and forth (yes and no direction), while it is angled away from your out-stretched arm. Breathe slowly and try to release the tension. I love this pose at the end of everyday. Or as a break from work–it’s fairly easy to do at a desk as well.

DSC01188Roll up a yoga mat as tightly as possible. Lay back over it, but make sure that the mat starts right about where your bra strap hits on your back, so that the remainder of the mat comes out beyond your head. Do not start with the mat at the base of your spine. stay here for 3-5 minutes, arms out-stretched, palms facing up. The longer you stay, the more release you will feel between your shoulders. Sometimes, I like to get an additional neck stretch by turning (GENTLY) my neck side to side towards the end of the pose. When it’s time to get out of the post, roll off of the mat, onto your right side, and THEN push yourself to seated. Don’t try to just sit up straight from the pose. Do this pose before doing the next sequence, which is more intense.

DSC01177Place a yoga bock at it’s medium highest level (so that it’s thinnest edge is vertical on your mat). Again, slowly lower yourself (with bent elbows as in the picture) onto the block, making sure that the bottom of the block is starting where you find the clasp of your bra strap. Then:

DSC01178Slowly lower your elbows, and put more of your weight onto the block. You may stay here if you like, but if you find your neck straining, you may want to place an additional block at this, or the highest level under your head for support. (Not pictured). Or, you can do this:

DSC01179Do not move off of the block to get here. Instead, push your shoulders into the block a little more, and scoot your butt down the mat towards your feet. The top of the block should begin to lift up, supporting your head and neck. I find this helps relieve tension headaches in the back of the head as well, because the top of the block creates a gentle traction while the bottom of the block opens & massages the tightest areas of your shoulders.

The above poses are fantastic for upper back pain, especially if you spend large amounts of your day hunching over a computer screen—or over a toddler! However, if you find the tension is on either side of your neck (on top of your shoulders, this next sequence is for you. It looks much scarier than it is, but you will definitely want a spotter when you try it for the first time.

DSC01180Set up two (They cannot have big cushions, but will still work if your dining room chairs have a little cushion to them–just make sure they aren’t the kind you tie on!) chairs facing each other, and make sure that the edge of the chairs is touching the wall so that they are stable and will not move. They probably should be closer than they are in this picture. You want them to be just far enough so that your neck will fit through them….

DSC01184Your head does not need to be this close to the wall; it should actually be more towards the middle of the seat. If you are 8 months pregnant, I wouldn’t recommend this pose. Or even in your third trimester. Or during pregnancy at all if you haven’t been doing inversions regularly. I made my husband be my model. Again, very reluctant subject, so I couldn’t make him take and re-take the photos.

Where you place your hands during this pose is also important:

Thisphoto(96)And then….

DSC01185Do downward dog. Better here to have very bent knees and a straighter back. I made him switch before the next step, but didn’t get a picture snapped. In this pose, your shoulders should be resting toward the middle of the seat, and the crown of your head should be facing the floor, so that you are looking at your legs. Do not strain the neck & look towards the wall. You should feel a slight pressure on the shoulders. You can bend the knees deeply practicing what it feels like to put more of your weight onto your shoulders. Your neck should be limp, relaxed completely. This may be all that you want to do or feel comfortable doing. If so, stay here and do not proceed further.

Finally, if you feel comfortable, and with the help of your spotter, slowly kick up. You should not need to kick nearly as hard as you would for a regular handstand:

DSC01186Once you have kicked up, you will notice that the seat of the chair is digging into your shoulders. It shouldn’t feel super pretty–you’re getting a deep tissue massage! Since your body is placed towards the middle of the seat, you should be able to rock your hips back (stick your butt out) so that it touches the wall, thus massaging different areas of the trapezuis. Do this pose for 2-4 minutes (as long as you can stand), remembering to breathe slowly and deeply the whole time, and then lower your legs back down to downward dog. Then come down to your knees and slowly slide your neck out of the gap between the chairs. Sit on all fours with your head resting on the chair for 3-5 breaths before sitting up. Notice the tension in your neck and shoulders (usually you’ll find it melts away).

Again, I will post a video of this sometime after Black Friday (when we get a better camera) in better light so that you can see it in motion. This pose was really scary for me to try the first time, but I LOVE it now, and miss it dearly during pregnancy. Still, try at your own comfort level. If you get halfway into this pose and start feeling anxious or even more tight, don’t do it. These days I stick to the chairway to heaven (or chair massage) at Whole Foods.  Feel free to contact me or comment with questions you might have!

I will post a series for low back pain and tension within the next week, so stay tuned! In the mean time, make time for you, try some or all of these poses, breathe deeply, and take a bubble bath!

With Love from Colorado,


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