Lower back pain seems to be a universal issue. I see people from all walks of life complaining about some kind of pain in their lower back. Mums-to-be. New mums. Runners. People who spend their working days deskbound. People who spend their working days on their feet. More or less everybody.
The reasons for lower back pain also seem to be pretty universal (NB: I am talking regular back pain here, not serious illnesses, accidents or structural problems). Weak core. Under active gluteal muscles a.k.a. the bum muscles. Tight hamstrings. Hyper flexible lumbar spine. Bad posture.
The lower back is a delicate area -- when it gets compressed, you feel pinching pain on either side of the lower back, and / or shooting pain down the back of your leg(s). Even all the way down to your toes. Most of the times, the solution is simple:
1. Find a good osteopath or a chiropractor (go for gentle approach rather than someone who will crack your skeleton within an inch of its life), and get your pelvis realigned. *
2. Build awareness of your body, create space and a strong supporting core.
3. Don't cross your legs and correct your posture whenever you remember.
4. Wake up your back body.
3. Perform the simple exercise routine below every day, or as often as possible.
* If you are local to London, NW2, I can't recommend enough Nadia Arshad for Osteopathy and Ben Bridger for Chiropractic treatment. I suffered with bad back my whole life. I have been through the hands of both Nadia and Ben, and the combined effect of their treatments and yoga has been life changing for me! No more bad back. Thank you very much.
STEP 1: ALIGN
Start on your hands and knees positioning your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Keep your knees hip width apart and your legs parallel with each other.
Engage your core. Not only your belly muscles, but also your sides and your lower back. The feeling we're aiming for here is the whole of your waistline drawing towards the midline of your body, towards your spine. Be careful not to overarch or round your lumbar spine. If your lumbar spine arches too much, then correct it by lengthening your tailbone towards your heels. If you feel your lumbar spine rounding, correct it by tilting your pelvis forwards.
Place a yoga brick between your thighs and squeeze without moving your legs towards each other. If you don't have a yoga brick, use anything else that is big and firm enough (small box, a thick paperback wrapped in a towel...). The prop is there to help turn your inner thighs back and widen them apart. You will also feel your sitting bones widen and, hopefully, your pelvis and lower back more stable and spacious.
It's worth spending some time getting this right. It may all seem a bit weird and alien at first but you will, with practice and time, build an awareness of the inner workings of your body and the rewards are priceless!
With the brick still in place, take a few rounds of a simple cat-cow stretch to warm up: arching your back (tilting your pelvis forward, opening front of shoulders) on inhalation and rounding your back (tilting your pelvis backwards, stretching between shoulder blades) on exhalation.
STEP 2: ENGAGE AND TONE
Remove the block but keep the alignment of your pelvis and lower back, and your core engaged. On inhalation, using the back of your leg -- squeeze your glutes and the back of your leg to engage -- draw your right leg up and back, and stretch. On exhalation, draw your right knee towards your belly, keeping your hips square. Repeat 10 times.
On the next inhalation, again using the back of your leg, draw your right leg up -- this time with your knee bent -- until your thigh is parallel with the floor. "Pulse" the right leg up and down a couple of centimetres (an inch or so). We're talking micro movements here! Repeat 10 times.
Repeat the whole sequence with your left leg. The aim of the sequence is to tone and strengthen the core, the lower back, the glutes and the hamstrings, all of which is crucial for a healthy lower back.
STEP 3: STRETCH
Toning and strengthening by itself is not enough (tight muscles = brittle muscles + misalignment) so we need to follow up with a stretch.
Lie down on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the ground hip width apart and parallel with each other. Draw your right knee towards your chest and hook a belt (or a scarf, or a towel...) around the balls of your foot.
Align your pelvis (as on all fours above!) and, keeping that, start straightening your leg up. Give yourself as much length of the belt as you need so that you don't strain your shoulders.
Flex your foot and stretch the heel up towards the ceiling (the sky, whatever is up there!) and, at the same time, extend your right sitting bone towards your inner left heel. Hold for up to a minute.
Draw your right knee back towards your chest, release the belt (or whatever prop you are using) and stretch the left leg out on the floor. Stretch your right arm out to the side with your palm facing up.
On exhalation, take your right knee over to the left into a twist WITHOUT lifting the right shoulder off the floor. Don't worry about the right knee coming down to touch the floor, there's no need.
Take a few deep breaths into the right side of your ribcage and, with each exhalation, extend your right sitting bone towards your left heel a little more. This will create more length through your spine, and more space between your vertebrae.
On inhalation, return your knee back to the centre and stretch your leg out. Bring your pelvis back to the centre and rest here for a couple of breaths. Then repeat both the hamstring stretch and the spinal twist on the other side.
Still on your back, draw both knees towards your chest and, at the same time, extend your sitting away from you and down towards the floor. Move your knees apart and lift the soles of your feet up, knees still bent. Reach your hands between your knees and grab hold of the outside edges of your feet.
To keep the knees safe, it's important to position your feet directly above your knees. Press your feet down with your hands and, at the same time, press your feet up into your hands. This creates resistance from which you can extend your sitting bones and lengthen your spine. Hold for up to a minute.
The happy baby should feel really good. If it doesn't feel good, chances are that something isn't aligned quite right. In that case, I would recommend that you consult a yoga teacher in person. If it feels good, then just enjoy it!
STEP 4: REST
Finally, spend a few minutes in savasana allowing your body to digest it all and integrate. Make sure that there is a bit of space between your legs, a bit of space between your arms and your body. Turn your palms up, slide your shoulder blades down your back and bring your chin perpendicular to the floor. Relax all joints, especially your jaws, soften your whole face and close your eyes.
If there is any discomfort in your lower back, either place a bolster, rolled up blanket or a cushion under your knees. Or bend your knees completely and put your feet flat on the ground, feet wide, knees touching.
Here's to happy, healthy backs!