One of the main focuses of yoga is building strength in the core. Often, we think of the core as our abdominal muscles, but it goes beyond that and includes the muscles and structures of the back. Whether you sit all day at your desk, work on an assembly line, play sports or have active weekends, having a strong back is essential for staying free from pain and enjoying life.
These five yoga poses can help keep your back feeling flexible while building muscle strength. After practicing them for a while, you might find that you move around easier, stand taller and even appear thinner, which is a nice benefit.
As you practice, be sure to keep your breath long and steady. This will help you lengthen your spine in each pose. Also, for poses that require a twist, be sure to twist from your abdominal muscles rather than your shoulders and neck to prevent injury.
Begin by sitting on your mat, with your feet in front of you. Breathing in, straighten your spine, so you’re sitting tall in the pose. Bend your knees a bit if your hamstrings are tight in this pose, but be sure not to curve your back. Then, as you inhale, gently sweep your arms forward and up. As you exhale, sweep one arm down and back while you place the fingertips of your other hand on the floor between your legs.
The movement should result in a gentle twist to one side. Remain here for three to four breaths before sweeping your arms up – gently! – to switch sides. Every movement of this pose should be deliberate, slow and intentional. Repeat three times on each side. You should feel the muscles in your sides, back and abdomen activating and warming up.
While lying face down on your mat with your feet placed a few inches apart, place your palms under your shoulders on the mat. Keep your elbows bent and close to your body, as you gently push up into a gentle curve. Lengthen your back through your tailbone as you lift your chest off the ground. Be sure to keep your elbows bent as you lift your hands off the ground.
This pose helps create strength in the back as you require it to do all the work to remain in the correct posture. Hold for three to five breaths before placing your hands back on the mat and releasing out of the pose.
This pose is a great pose to practice after baby cobra, as you’re already face down on the mat. As you lie there, bring your big toes together. Reach your hands back toward your hips and on the inhale, lift your chest and feet off the ground. Breathe and hold the pose for up to five breaths.
Feel free to repeat this pose two or three times to give your back a good stretch and build strength in the muscles running along your spine.
Even non-yogis swear by the power of plank. The pose will activate your muscles and build core strength in your abdomen and your back. To practice plank, come up in tabletop, with your hands below your shoulders and your hips over your knees on the mat. Gently extend your legs back and press your palms into the mat.
With your toes planted firmly on the mat, focus on lengthening the back completely. Imagine a long cord running from the heels of your feet to your crown. Hold for at least three slow breaths or longer if it feels good. Over time, you can extend your time in this pose to really give your core a good workout.
Try a forearm plant, too, once you become comfortable with plank. Rather than supporting your upper body with your hands, rest on your forearms, with your hands gently drawn together under your forehead. You might find that this version of plank adds a level of welcome difficulty to the pose.
Other poses to include in your practice
Many beginner yoga poses benefit the back by improving both strength and flexibility.
- Downward facing dog, for example, should be in your sequence every time you practice. It helps keep the back muscles long and flexible, reducing the likelihood of pulled muscles during ordinary activities.
- Happy baby helps relieve any pressure on your spine, especially if you tend to slouch.
- Child’s pose is perfect for a restorative yoga session after standing on your feet all day.
- Any backbend will improve strength and flexibility as well, including cobra, bridge and the more advanced wheel pose.
As you work to strengthen your back, remember to proceed slowly and carefully. The spine supports the body through every activity – the last thing you want to do is hurt yourself when you’re trying to improve your health.
Do you have a favorite back-strengthening pose? Let us know in the comments below.