April 26, 2022

Yoga for Low Back Pain: Cobra Pose without Pain

Build strength and stability in your low back

If your lower back hurts when you do yoga poses or if you have low back pain and you want to do yoga to help it, this is the lesson for you!

Read the article and watch the video below to learn how to build strength and stability in your low back and the rest of your spine using Cobra pose... and learn how to do the pose without pain!

(*Video lesson below)

It's common to feel a twinge or even pain in the low back when doing Cobra pose. 

However, a little dash of applied anatomy and three simple changes will make all the difference for your lower back in yoga and in everyday life. Once you learn how to apply these principles not just to Cobra pose but to all of your backbends, your spine will be mobile, healthy and strong. No more back pain in yoga! 

cobra pose

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. 

One of the biggest culprits in yoga for low back pain is backbends. Even the "baby" backbends on the stomach can feel uncomfortable for people.

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.

Yoga Homework!

It's one thing to read an article and watch a video, the real magic for our low back pain and yoga for a healthy spine is to move and feel these variations in your body. Move and learn with the video tutorial to really see how much of a difference these simple changes make for your lower back. And then explore our other videos all about a healthy spine and yoga here and here.

Did you know that we also have a Learn section in the Heart + Bones online studio? Yes! Access workshops, tutorials, tips and classes all applied anatomy for yoga, in addition to movement and yoga classes that integrate this loving and supportive approach. Your mind, joints and muscles will feel so loved. 

yoga classes to support low back pain

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Brea Johnson
Brea Johnson

Brea Johnson has been teaching yoga and movement since 2003 and is the founder and lead teacher of Heart + Bones Yoga. With a focus on a functional and sustainable approach to yoga, Brea is known for providing a safe foundation of healthy movement while remaining focused on the heart of the yogic teachings.