Millions of people around the world experience back pain and while yoga can make a big difference for your back, it can also contribute to back pain. So what do you do? How do you know if the way you're practicing yoga is hurting or helping your back?
(*Video lesson below)
**If you've already read the article and watched Yoga for Low Back Pain: Cobra Pose, then scroll down and watch the video on Bridge pose.
Not all yoga is created equal
While yoga is often recommended for back pain, not all yoga is created equal. Some styles of yoga will and certain types of stretches can contribute to continued low back pain. A healthy spine needs a balance of strength, mobility and stability and it's fairly common to move through yoga poses and not "kick on" enough stability and mobility.
Instead, people will rely on flexibility or pushing their range of motion further than the nervous system is ready for.
The good news is that you can incorporate mobility and stability and healthy spine extension into your backbend with just a couple of simple changes in how you practice.
Three Foundations of a Healthy Backbend
The first and most important one applies to all yoga poses, not just backbends: Let go of what a pose "should" look like. If you're contorting your body and feeling discomfort or pain in order to do a pose, then it's not worth doing! A pose will look however it will look when you apply sustainable movement principles. Function over form!
Think about backbends as elongation rather than compression. No more crunching your lower back! I think the word "bend" does us a disservice because it creates the impression that we have to move really far into extension with the spine to get the benefit. Instead, consider visualizing your spine as lengthening, or elongation instead! In some cases, your backbend won't look as deep or as "backbendy" but you are mobilizing your spine in a more functional manner.
Neutral-ish pelvis! Sometimes in baby backbends like Cobra or Sphinx pose, the pelvis moves into an anterior tilt which means that the tailbone tilts upwards. Combine that with over-arching your spine into the passive flexibility range, that's where we tend to get the lower back crunch. As taught in the video lesson below, explore bringing your pelvis more neutral to keep your lower back pain-free.
Another way to summarize the three foundations of backbend: Space, Length and Ease. No matter what type of backbend you're doing, can you do it with a feeling of space, length and ease? If not, then explore what needs to shift in your body to find them. This is a great practice to explore for all of your yoga poses.
Integrating applied anatomy in yoga and in everyday life makes a huge difference in the long-term health of your spine. Once you learn how to apply these principles not just to Bridge pose but to all of your backbends, your spine will be mobile, healthy and strong. No more back pain in yoga!