At some point in our lives, all of us are bound to experience back pain. Almost everyone in the modern age complains of back issues, especially as they age. This is due to the fact that we’re constantly sitting in chairs, sitting in cars, and not moving around nearly as much as we were designed to. Thankfully, a lifelong yoga practice can help us make our backs stronger and more flexible, so that we can experience a life free of pain as we move gracefully into our older years. Here are four of the best yoga asanas to help strengthen your back. You’ll want to practice these at least every other day to give your back the self-care and self-love it needs and deserves. (Read more in Naturally Healing Common Ailments Through Asanas.)
Downward-Facing Dog Pose
Luckily, this is one of the most useful poses for back support and most of the yoga sequences, regardless of the style of yoga, has downward-facing dog within its lineup. Downward-facing dog pose, known in Sanskrit as adho mukha svanasana, is one of the most accessible yoga asanas. To get the full back strengthening and stretching benefits from the pose, you’ll want to keep a few alignment rules in mind. (Learn more about the Top 4 Yoga Poses.)
When it comes to the placement of your hands, make sure that they are shoulder-distance apart. Align the creases of your wrists with the front of your yoga mat, keeping your fingers spread wide. Activate your arms, with the forearms rotated slightly inward and the upper arms rotated slightly outward. Make sure your feet are parallel to each other and hip-distance apart. Keep your neck and head aligned with your spine. This is an important thing to practice because your head and neck are an extension of your spine. In any asana where back strength is the goal, make sure your core is fully engaged. This protects the back while strengthening core muscles - an added bonus! The last thing to remember in downward-facing dog is to bend the knees slightly so you can easily draw the low back and sit bones toward the sky.
If you can imagine this asana in your mind’s eye, then you can see how this pose works to strengthen all the back muscles. Locust pose (or salabhasana) starts with you laying on your belly to activate your core, and then raising both your arms and legs up off the ground. The moment you do this, you will be engaging nearly every muscle in your back. You can play around with the pose by changing the position of your arms. Some people like them along their sides with palms facing up, while others like them overhead as if they’re Superman. Locust pose is one of the most effective asanas of back strengthening poses, and it’s accessible to almost everyone. Hold the pose for as long or as little as feels right for your body on a given day.
Bow pose, or dhanurasana, is one of the more challenging and beneficial yoga poses for back strength. This heart-opener works to strengthen the upper back while also preventing back pain. You’ll want to start slowly with this pose if you’re a beginner and gradually lengthen the amount of time in the pose as you progress. This asana is fun to try as one-legged bow pose as well, where one leg is elongated behind you on the mat and the other held by both hands. As with any of these poses, allow the breath to be deep and imagine prana flowing into all the areas of the back body that need strengthening and support.
This is a powerful pose for strengthening the back, core, quads and buttock muscles. Chair pose, known in Sanskrit as utkatasana, works really well to build all the muscles in the lower back. Of course, as you practice this asana, you’ll notice your upper back getting a great workout, too. There’s good reason why this pose is also known as fierce pose: it is truly fierce and works wonders at keeping your spine and back healthy throughout your entire life. As with all the other poses, make sure you keep your head and neck aligned with your spine.
Practice these four asanas every day or every other day to keep your back strong and limber for life! (Read on about more poses for your practice in 5 Essential Asanas to Kickstart Your Day.)