Can’t relax because of your back? Try these simple yoga relaxation poses

Woman with back pain - here's how yoga can help
Back pain can be tiring and stressful

So, your back is aching … again.

How do you get comfortable? No matter which way you sit the ache is there, the tingling, the throbbing, the snatching…

Whether it’s an annoying niggle or an ever-present ache or a pain which comes and goes, back discomfort/pain can be energy-sapping and nerve-fraying (I know, I’ve been there!)

The underlying discomfort is made worse by the feelings of anxiety and frustration that your body isn’t behaving itself, or maybe feelings of fear that the pain may strike at any moment and leave you temporarily incapacitated.

There are two ways yoga helps back discomfort/pain.

  • It helps to strengthen weak areas in the back and stretch tight areas, relieving pain and improving flexibility and core stability & strength.
  • It helps us to relax – stimulating the body’s rest and digest and healing response, and helps us to deal with the discomfort by giving us respite from the mind’s anxieties and frustrations which grow up around the underlying pain.

Here I’d like to look at the importance of relaxation.

Pain and the stress response

Pain and stress have a similar effect on the body: they stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. The heart rate rises, stress hormones are pumped through the body, your breathing becomes fast and shallow and your muscles tighten.

So, if you experience back pain/discomfort it’s vital that you give your body the opportunity to relax, to get out of the cycle of the stress/pain response.

Relaxation will reduce the stress hormones, relax your muscles, improve your sense of wellbeing and give your mind a rest too!

BUT… If you’re in pain, how do you get your body into a position where you can be still and comfortable?

Try one or both of these positions to see how they suit you…

Legs on a Chair

Legs on Chair yoga pose to relax back pain
All you need is a chair and the ground!

This is a great position to try with any kind of back pain. It takes the strain off the lower back.

I introduced this in a “Healthy Backs” workshop I ran recently and everyone said how comfortable and relaxed they felt in this position.

So pop a mat or blanket on the floor, have a flat cushion or blanket to support your head and bring the backs of your calves to rest on a chair. Experiment. Try a dining chair. Try an arm chair or sofa.

Rest, breathe steadily. Breathe in to a count of four, and out to a count of four.

Let your back relax. Let your body become calmer. Invite your mind to become still.

AFFIRM: My lower back is warm. My lower back is releasing and relaxing.  I let my body relax. I accept my body.

Crocodile

Crocodile yoga pose to relax back pain
You don’t need a special place for yoga – here I am in my lounge :)

Crocodile position enables the whole of the spine and back muscles to decompress and relax.

So lie on your front, take your feet as wide apart as is comfortable and turn the inside edges of your feet towards the ground (this gives a lovely sensation of opening the hips). Rest your forehead on the back of your hands.

Breathe deeply. Invite your lower back to release. Feel the whole length of your spine relaxing.

It’s a lovely relaxation pose; allowing us draw our awareness inwards away from external stimuli and to let ourselves be supported by the ground with stability and safety.

Optional extra: pop a pillow or cushion under your abdomen – this will support your lower back.

AFFIRM: My back is releasing. My body is relaxing. I am becoming calm. I am calm.

The role of the mind

Don’t under-estimate the role of the mind in pain!

The physical pain is one thing. And then we add an extra layer of suffering when our mind tells us stories of how we  should or shouldn’t feel.

The anxiety / frustration / stress / low-mood which can accompany physical discomfort keep our bodies in the cycle of stress response and tension.

It’s important to notice this – but please don’t beat yourself up if you feel this way! It’s quite natural.

Please know that I understand how you feel! I had an episode of back pain last year and my mind went through the whole “you shouldn’t have this pain with the all the yoga you do” and “you can’t tell people you’ve got back pain, you’re a yoga teacher”.

I felt quite sorry myself for a while. But I soon realized that it was my mind telling me stories. Telling myself I shouldn’t feel this way wasn’t going to alleviate anything!  I kept up with my yoga, relaxation and meditation and used the physical sensations of pain as a way to listen to my body. I practised yoga which eased my back and didn’t force myself into back bends – which I discovered aggravate my  back.

Stay in the present

So, as you try these relaxation techniques, if there is pain or discomfort present, see if you can stay in the present moment as much as you can.

Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered off into the future or the past, or worrying or judging, gently bring it back.

Investigate what you call ‘pain’ or discomfort. Get to know it as an actual, felt experience, rather than getting too caught up with thoughts about it. Notice how it is always changing from one sensation to another.

Don’t run away from the pain – move towards it. If you try to ignore it or push it away, it will just intensify. Use your breath. Breath in to move towards the pain, breath out just let it be. See if you can soften  any resistance you may feel towards it.

Now broaden your awareness. Cultivate gratitude. Towards your body.  Your family. Your health. Gratitude for your home, your hobbies, your books, music. Gratitude for your yoga practice.

Identify one thing you are truly grateful for in your life … and notice the sensations focusing on this brings.

Soften your focus and now hold both pleasure and pain within this broad perspective: neither contracting tightly against pain nor clinging tightly to pleasure. Allow all sensations to come into being and pass away moment by moment.

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I can’t promise yoga will take away your back pain … but it certainly can give you the tools to learn to relax and find a greater sense of peace and acceptance.


Let me help you to help yourself

Weekly yoga classes:  press pause in your busy week with tension-relieving, anxiety-easing mindful movement, breathing and relaxation with weekly Dru Yoga classes in Southampton, and Bishopstoke (near Eastleigh).

Monthly Friday night Restorative Yoga Class: Rest & Restore  in Eastleigh. Treat yourself to blissfully relaxing experiences; make time just for you to nourish your mind, body and soul. Rest.

Yoga workshops & events: Reconnect body, mind and soul with inspiring, calming and empowering yoga workshops & events. Expect to move, breathe, relax, open and look within. Create space, allow new perspectives.

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{Photo credit: woman with back pain: Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net}

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