If you want to keep your body moving fluidly throughout your life, having a strong, healthy back is a must. Stretching and strengthening your back can provide a greater range of movement and prevent injury, pain, and even costly trips to the chiropractor and doctor.
Yoga is a gentle yet powerful and effective way to both strengthen the back and increase its flexibility. The right poses can help ease back pain while also improving posture. If you have a consistent yoga practice, the following six poses are among the most common poses integrated into classes and you may be doing them already. But even if you don’t have a consistent practice, there’s good news—these yoga poses can be done from the comfort of your home.
Remember to keep the core engaged while building flexibility in the back. This will help prevent injury and ensure you’re safely entering, holding, and exiting these poses. But most importantly, listen to your body. It’s OK to feel challenged while practicing yoga, but if there’s pain, mindfully back out of the pose.
1. Marjariasana (Cow/Cat Pose)
This is a great place to start, as these two movements get the breath moving through the body and warm up the spine. Cow pose stretches the neck and opens the chest, while cat pose helps to lengthen the spine and increases circulation between the vertebrae.
- Come to the hands and knees, with the body in a tabletop position (all fours).
- Bring the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees under the hips.
- Spread the fingers well and press the palms into the earth.
- Draw the shoulder blades onto the back and curl the toes under.
- On an inhale, lift the heart and sitting bones (arch the back) to come into cow pose.
- On an exhale, reverse this movement (round the spine) to come into cat pose.
- Repeat this movement for 5 to 10 rounds of breath.
2. Parighasana (Gate Pose)
Gate pose stretches and strengthens the abdominal muscles and spine while opening the shoulders. The lateral movement improves flexibility in the spine and stretches and strengthens the sides of the torso.
- Kneel on the floor, scoop the tailbone under, and engage the abdominal muscles.
- Extend the right foot out to the side, toes facing forward; press the foot into the earth with the kneecap pointing toward the ceiling.
- Bring the arms out into a “T” shape with the palms facing down; slide the right hand down the right leg, resting it gently on the shin.
- Sweep the left arm over the ear, creating space in the left side of the waist.
- Soften the shoulders away from the ears and open the chest slightly toward the ceiling.
- Take five deep breaths and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Downward-facing dog stretches and strengthens the arms, legs, and back all at the same time. An added bonus? This is a weight-bearing pose, meaning it builds bone density, which is especially important in preventing osteoporosis as you age. It can also alleviate tightness and pain in the back.
- From a tabletop position, walk the hands forward about one hand’s length.
- With the toes tucked under, press into the palms and lift the knees off the earth, bringing the body into an upside down “V” shape.
- Press the hips high and thighs back.
- Melt the heart back toward the thighs while drawing the lower ribs together.
- Keep the spine long; the knees can bend, and the heels don’t need to touch the floor.
- Hold for 10 deep breaths.
4 . Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Bridge pose lengthens and strengthens the spine, builds core and lower body strength, and opens the heart to energize the body. For a more restorative version of this pose, place a yoga block underneath the sacrum for support.
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, place your feet flat on the ground hips-width distance apart and parallel, and bring the feet close to the sitting bones.
- Press down through the shoulders, palms, and feet to lift the hips off the ground.
- Keep some space (about the size of a small citrus fruit) between the chin and the chest.
- Continue pressing into the inner edges of the feet to squeeze the legs in toward the midline of the body.
- Hold for five deep breaths.
5. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
This calming pose gives the whole backside of the body a deep stretch, from the neck to the heels. It can also relieve sciatica. If there’s tightness in the hamstrings or low back, sit up on a bolster or blanket. You can also lasso a strap (or towel, belt, etc.) around the balls of the feet, holding one side of the strap in each hand, and gently deepen into the pose using the resistance you’re creating with the strap.
- Come to a seated position on the bottom and sit up tall with legs extended forward; flex and spread the toes.
- Press the backs of the thighs into the floor.
- Sweep the arms overhead to create length in the spine.
- Bend forward any amount, hinging from the hips, trying to avoid rounding the spine.
- Allow the palms to rest where a challenging yet sustainable stretch is achieved.
- Hold for 10 deep breaths.
6. Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Spinal Twist)
A supine spinal twist stretches and relaxes the spine, and can ease back pain. There are several variations on this pose, but this version is accessible, gentle, and easy to enter.
- Lie on the back with your feet flat on the floor, and arms in a “T” position (palms face down).
- With the knees bent, rock the whole unit of the legs over to the right.
- Anchor the backs of both shoulders into the ground.
- Turn your gaze toward the left (optional).
- Hold for five deep breaths, and engage the core to switch to the other side.