Stiffness in the group of 3 muscles at the back of your thighs known collectively as the hamstrings can restrict the movement of your pelvis in relation to the movement of your legs. As a result of this restriction, undue strain can be placed upon your lumbar spine. A practical example of this is when you sit on the floor and straighten your legs to the front (dandasana). In this position tight hamstrings can tend to pull the back of the pelvis downwards thus reducing the curvature of the lumbar spine. This can then put the spine in a more vulnerable position as you attempt to sit upright. You simultaneously feel the tension of the spine being pulled downwards and lifted upwards at the same time.
Knowing that the spine can benefit from improved hamstring mobility can create a dilemma for many people. Positions that allow the hamstrings to stretch will often simultaneously challenge the lower back, potentially aggravating existing discomfort. With this in mind the following sequence looks to present a number of poses that can help you to safely improve the flexibility of your hamstrings in positions where your spine is comfortably supported. Poses that help to release tension from the lower back, and poses that help to improve the range of movement in the lower back are also included.
This is by no means an exhaustive collection of methods that exist in Iyengar yoga for helping with lower back pain. Instead it focusses on simple and practical poses that can be easily incorporated into a home practice. The poses shown here are not intended for anyone who is suffering from acute back pain, nor are they intended to be a replacement for treatment from a medical professional. This post accompanies the video “Iyengar Yoga For Lower Back Pain – Weekly Intermediate Class 49”. This class can be found in the weekly classes section on yogaselection.com.
- Place your hands to the wall at waist height. Ensure that your hands are shoulder width apart, with your fingers spreading and the middle finger of each hand pointing directly upwards.
- Step your feet back so that your body forms a right angle shape with your hips directly over your ankles. Ensure that your feet are placed hip width apart, with your toes pointing directly forwards.
- Look down at your feet without dropping your head. Keep your ears and upper arms level.
- Press your hands evenly into the wall.
- Straighten your elbows.
- Without dropping your elbows bring your back ribs closer to the floor.
- Move your sternum bone towards the wall.
- Lift your kneecaps up, as you press your heels down.
- Press your thighbones back deeper into your legs.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana I (bent leg variation)
- Begin in tadasana standing upright with your feet together.
- Without disturbing the position of your left foot, step your right foot onto the support. Ensure that you have taken sufficient height so that your knee is higher than your hip.
- Check that your right knee aligns directly over your right ankle, with your shin bone perpendicular to the floor.
- Check that your left ankle sits directly underneath your left hip.
- Press your left heel (standing leg) firmly down.
- As you contain the front of your left thigh, turn your inner groin back.
- Ensure that the front of the standing leg faces directly forwards.
- Check that your right outer hip has stayed down level to the height of your left hip.
- With your hands on your hips, move your elbows closer so that your back ribs move in and your chest lifts.
- Ensure that your whole spine is lifting from its base upwards.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana II (bent leg variation)
- Although a chair is used in this particular image a taller support such as a stool would work even more effectively. Ideally the knee of your bent leg is kept higher than your hip.
- Stand with your left toes facing the wall.
- As you step your right foot up onto the support turn the knee and toes directly out to the side.
- Wedge a block between your bent knee and the wall.
- Position your fingertips to the wall at shoulder height.
- Stabilise the front of your left thigh. Without it leaning forwards, move your right hip socket towards the wall.
- As the hip socket moves in guide your right buttock downwards.
- The purpose of the block is to stabilise the right knee so that it remains stationary as the hip is adjusted.
- As you move your right hip forwards, lift the right side of your chest upwards and forwards.
- As you move your right hip forwards turn the front of your spine to face directly forwards.
Standing Marichyasana III
- The chair can remain in the position where it has just been for the previous pose.
- Stand facing the chair with your right hip touching the wall.
- Step your right foot up onto the chair making sure that your knee is positioned directly over your ankle.
- As you now turn your chest towards the wall, ensure that your knee remains over your ankle, without it leaning towards the wall.
- As your chest turns towards the wall resist your left thigh back.
- This action is intended to stabilise the pelvis so that the front of the left hip does not steer towards the right knee.
- As you turn your chest, lift the left side of your chest upwards.
- Ensure that your chest is lifting, not your shoulders.
- Spread your left back ribs away from your spine.
- Stand with your heels slightly less than a thigh bones length away from the wall.
- Lean back into the wall with the back of your pelvis and shoulders.
- In this position the lumbar curve is temporarily removed. Press your whole back waist flat into the wall.
- Have your feet slightly apart so that you can position a block between your knees.
- Place your palms onto your thighs. The pressure of your hands against your thighs will help to lift and open your chest.
- As you bend your knees and slide down the wall keep both heels pressing firmly into the floor.
- Hold the pose with your hips slightly above the height of your knees.
- As you hold the pose; press your outer heels down; squeeze the block with your knees; press your back waist into the wall.
- As you press your sacrum into the wall lift your chest and spine up.
- Without sucking the navel back observe how it naturally moves towards the spine.
- Press your shoulders back into the wall and move your thoracic spine deep into the body.
- To come up, push the floor away with your heels and straighten your legs.
- Ensure that you have your bottom hand correctly positioned. If it comes too low down you will find that the hip of your front leg protrudes back. This will exaggerate the tendency of the front pelvis to turn downwards.
- Instead, position your hand at a height that enables you to align the back of the top shoulder with the outside of your front outer thigh. Your front outer thigh moves in and lifts up.
- Make the right side of your spine longer than the left side.
- Start the rotation of the torso from the chest but consciously look to develop this rotation closer to the pelvis itself.
- Right chest turn upwards.
- Right waist turn upwards.
- Front of your pelvis turn upwards
- Your back leg can help to develop this action still further… Left outer thigh turn back, left outer heel press down.
- Coordinate your chest, waist and front pelvis turning upwards. Simultaneously turn the back of your pelvis downwards.
- Enter the pose from half uttanasana.
- Step your right foot forwards so that the toes of your front foot come roughly the length of your own foot away from the wall.
- Step your left foot back so that you have a legs length distance between your feet.
- Ensure that your front knee is straight. If it cannot comfortably straighten then bring both hands slightly higher up the wall.
- To bring your hips level, turn your left buttock away from your right buttock, and lift your right outer hip up and back.
- Now that you have the basic shape of the pose, to further optimise the pose, press more firmly the big toe base of your front foot down, and contain your outer ankle towards your inner ankle.
- So as to avoid hyper-extension in your front knee, press down the part of the sole where your heel pad and arch meet. Simultaneously lighten the contact of your back heel to the floor.
- Maintaining the stretch of the right hamstring, press your hands firmly to the wall; without your elbows dropping straighten your upper back and move your chest forwards towards the wall.
- Position your left heel up against a wall and step your right foot out a legs length distance.
- Place your chair beside your right outer calf. Ensure that the chair is as close as possible to your right leg.
- Reach forwards and place your left forearm and hand on the seat of the chair .
- Hold the top of the chair with your right hand.
- Ensure that your hips are level. Turning your left buttock away from your right buttock will help to achieve this.
- Keeping your hips level, lengthen your left waist and turn it downwards towards the floor.
- Spread your left back ribs downwards, away from your spine.
- Move your left shoulder blade deep into your body.
- Lengthen your spine outwards from your pelvis as you start to come more deeply into the twist.
- Lift your right collar bone upwards towards the ceiling as you look upwards.
- Sit sideways on your chair with your right outer thigh against the back rest of the chair. Ensure that your hips are slightly higher than your knees. For taller people this may entail increasing the height of the chair by adding a folded blanket.
- Brace your knees by placing a block between them. As your knees squeeze the block, press your left outer heel down into the floor. This action helps to keep your knees in line as your chest lifts and turns.
- As you turn your chest to the right take hold of the back frame of the chair with both hands. Position your hands at a height that enables you to release your shoulders down and away from your ears.
- Use the grip of your hands to develop the turning of your chest and spine.
- Lift and turn the left side of your chest. Lift and turn your left waist.
- Draw your left thigh bone back into your hip socket.
- Spread your left back ribs away from your spine.
- As you turn your spine, lift the back of your skull upwards and move your trapezius muscle downwards.
- Sit far back in your chair, but ensure that your heels are able to reach the floor. Bring your feet and knees together so that they touch.
- Lean forwards and place your left shoulder across your right outer thigh.
- Close the gap between your left armpit and right outer thigh.
- With your elbow bent, press your left upper arm against your thigh in order to turn your chest upwards.
- Catch hold of the top of the chair with your right hand. As you start to come more deeply into the twist this hand can walk further across to the left side of the chair.
- Keep your left heel pressing down, and your left thighbone drawing back into the hip socket as you turn.
- Draw both thigh creases back into the body as you turn.
- Lengthen the left side of your spine out and over your thighs as you turn.
- Move your sternum bone away from your pelvis as you turn.
- Sit far back in your chair ensuring that your heels remain in firm contact with the floor. For shorter people it may be necessary to pace flat blocks under the feet.
- Have your feet slightly wider than the front legs of the chair, and ensure that your shoulders will fit between your knees.
- Keeping your heels firm to the floor and keeping your sitting bones pressing into the seat of the chair, reach forwards and place your fingertips to the floor between your feet.
- Pause here and allow your lower back sufficient time to release.
- if your back feels able to release further then fold your arms at your elbows and let your head hang down between your knees.
- Either stay at this point and consolidate, or reach through the front legs of the chair and grip the cross bar between the back legs of the chair. (Hold the back legs if your chair does not have a cross bar.)
- Pull firmly with your hands against the cross bar.
- Move your back ribs down and lift your head to look across the room.
- Lengthen your navel away from your pubic bone, and lengthen your sternum away from your navel.
- Lie on your back with the soles of both feet placed against a wall. Have your big toes and inner heels touching.
- Keeping your left toes pointing directly upwards, bend your right knee into your chest. Interlock your fingers around the head of your shin bone.
- Gently hug your right knee into your chest.
- As your knee comes towards your chest, resist your right outer hip away from your chest.
- Deepen your right thigh crease away from your chest.
- Resist the back of your right hip away from your ribcage.
- Press the front of your left thigh down.
- Press your left big toe base firmly into the wall.
Supta Padangusthasana I
- Lie on your back with the soles of both feet in contact with the wall.
- Bend your right knee to your chest and position a belt around the ball of your right foot.
- Straighten your right leg and hold the belt in both hands.
- As you hold the belt keep your elbows sightly bent, and press the back of your shoulders down to the floor.
- Pressing your top foot up into the belt, turn your right outer thigh and right outer hip away from your ribcage.
- Keep the right side of your sacrum moving away from your ribcage.
- With the belt, guide your right foot away from the wall, whilst resisting your right thighbone towards the wall.
- Press the front of your left thigh down.
- Close the gap between the back of your left thigh and the floor.
- Press your left big toe base firmly to the wall.
Supta Padangusthasana II
- Keeping your right leg raised up, hold the belt in your right hand and position your left arm out to the side. Check that your hand is in line with your shoulder.
- Pressing the front of your left thigh down, start to bring your right leg down and out to the side.
- The action of bringing your right leg down and out to the side should not make the front of your left thigh lift up.
- Close the gap between the back of your left thigh and the floor.
- Bring the left side of your sacrum down to the floor.
- Anchor the back of your left shoulder to the floor.
- Turn the right side of your chest upwards towards the ceiling.
- With the belt guide your right foot away from the wall.
- Resist your right hip socket towards the wall.
“Legs Up The Wall”
- The easiest way to get into this position is to start lying on your side with your knees bent in towards your chest.
- Remaining on your side, you shuffle closer to the wall until both of your sitting bones make contact with the wall.
- Once your sitting bones are in contact with the wall, you simply swivel your legs up the wall and straighten your knees.
- At this point assess whether or not your sacrum is in contact with the floor.
- If not, incrementally slide away from the wall until your are able to clearly feel the back of your pelvis is in contact with the floor.
- As you remain in the pose and relax, allow the weight of your legs to gently press the back of your pelvis down and into the floor.
- Encourage your sacral and lumbar vertebrae to release and lengthen.
- Encourage the back of your pelvis to broaden from the centre outwards.
Savasana (Calves on Chair)
- Lie on your back and rest your calves up onto the seat of a chair.
- Position the chair so that the edge of the seat comes all the way into the back of your knees.
- Allow a slight incline in the angle if your thighs. Ideally your knees sit slightly forwards of your hips.
- Keep your feet apart hip width so that your lower legs remain comfortably balanced on the seat of the chair.
- Use a folded blanket to elevate your skull so that your forehead is slightly higher than your chin.
- Keep your arms comfortably out to your sides. Ideally no part of your arm will make contact with the sides of your body.
- Have your knuckles resting into the floor, your palms facing upwards.
- Shut your eyes and allow your eyes to relax.
- Breathe evenly and smoothly.
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