How to Strengthen Your Back With Yoga



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Is your back weak? I would guess that most of us have weak back muscles. As an anatomy and physiology geek, I immediately think about how weak muscles make us more susceptible to back pain and injury. Beyond that, strengthening your back mindfully through the practice of yoga can transform your life.
 
You may begin to feel that, with better posture and less pain, you are more confident. With a strong back, you may energetically feel like you can handle life’s challenges.

Basic Anatomy

Most of us probably have weak (and overstretched) back muscles from poor posture, particularly the erector spinae (muscles that run along the spine and keep us erect), trapezius (aka “traps,” which are the upper back and shoulder muscles) and latissimus dorsi (aka “lats”).

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As a basic principle, anytime you round your spine forward (aka spinal flexion) you are stretching your back muscles. An example of this is the cat position of Cat/Cow. Anytime you go into an active backbend (aka spinal extension), you are engaging your back muscles. This can be felt slightly in the cat position of cat/cow. However, you will strengthen your back even more with the following yoga poses:

Back Strengthening Yoga

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Come into a low Cobra pose. Now, see if you can lift your hands a few millimeters off the floor, only using your back muscles to support you. Make sure you don’t shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Notice how you feel this most in your mid and upper back. Take a moment to rest.

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This next pose is going to strengthen the middle and lower back more, particularly helping the SI (sacroiliac) joint, which is where the pelvis meets the base of the spine. Then, come into cobra pose again, but this time, keep the hands pressing into the floor. Lift both legs up as high as comfortable (a few millimeters is still very beneficial).

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Now Inhale to open the legs out wider than hip distance. Exhale to bring the feet back in towards each other. Repeat opening and closing 5-8 times. Take a rest of 5-10 deep breaths between each set. Do 3 sets.

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Then, as a counter pose, come into a child’s pose and take several deep breaths.

Safety

Be safe. You only have one body and one back. With all of these poses, you want to challenge yourself and feel the back muscles stimulated and working. However, stop or ease off if you feel any pinching, sharpness, or pain in the back. Pain is subjective, of course.

You are the world’s leading expert on your own body and I believe that each and every one of us know our limits if we really listen to the signals from our bodies.

If you are ever not sure about what is right for you, reach out to your medical provider and a well-trained yoga specialist like a yoga therapist. Safety and how the posture feels (physically, emotionally, and maybe even spiritually) is more important than how it looks.

Remember: “The Study of asana is not about mastering posture. It is about using posture to understand and transform yourself.” -Iyengar

So, go forth and safely strengthen your back with yoga. With a strong back, you can handle whatever life throws at you with more ease and resilience.

PRACTICE WITH ANN! Yoga-for-Great-Posture-Feature-Image
Image credit: Brittany Richard

Ann Swanson
Ann Swanson

Certified-Yoga Therapist. Anatomy Nerd. Faculty at Maryland University of Integrative Health.


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