Yoga Alloy

How to modify your practice if you have lower back issues

In this day and age, the lower back problems are very common. Many of us spend our days sitting. There aren’t any poses that would not yield postural problems if held this long and this frequently. Most of us sit while working but that is not all. We sit while traveling, eating, watching, talking, drinking, resting, etc. On the physical level yoga focuses on the health of the spine. Yoga offers the best set of postures to create space in the lower back as well as strengthen the muscles that support the upright posture.
Unfortunately, if you are not being led into a mindful practice yoga will not help you. A mindless practice of yoga may even make things worse. The yoga asanas need to be practiced in a safe and sustainable way. The trick is that what makes a practice sustainable might be different for different people.  It is vitally important to continuously collect feedback from your body during and after your practice. We all have unique bodies shaped through our unique history. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. You need to modify your practice according to how you are feeling that day in that moment.

For a healthy body and spine, we need to find a balance between strength and flexibility. Just focusing on one will not make it.

In this blog, we will focus on the lower back problems, and which sensations to watch out. How to modify different poses so that you still get to strengthen the lower back muscles without hurting yourself.

The good pain and bad pain

In your yoga practice, you want to build strength and flexibility. Any growth will require you to go beyond the limits of your comfort zone. So not all the feedback you get from your body during your practice will be pleasant ones. Important thing is to be able to distinguish good and bad pain and not to ignore the sensations. If you have been dealing with lower back issues you should be familiar with the kind of sensations that you get in the lower back before things get worse. If you feel that familiar pain, back off. You may go and rest in child’s pose or modify your asana posture to a gentler one. According to your class setting, you may call your yoga teacher over or maybe consult with them after the class. If you need clues on how to modify, we will discuss how to modify some certain categories of asanas below: If you are not familiar with the sensations here are some tips for distinguishing the good and bad pain from each other. The good pain
  • will not be sharp.
  • will spread along a line.
  • You will feel it in the muscles, not in the joints.
  • The sensation will tell you not to get any deeper, listen to it.
The bad kind of pain
  • is sharp and most of the time sudden.
  • Rather than being spread along a line, it will have a certain point where the painful sensation is quite intense.
These tips are for any kind of pain like sensations but also apply for the lower back discomfort. Now its time to talk about modifications. Your ultimate guide to a sustainable practice is the feedback you get from your body. Whenever you feel pain, think about how you can modify what you are doing. If you cannot think of any modifications, simply back off.

How to modify your yoga practice in forward folds for lower back issues:

The golden rule is to bend the knees. Forward folds focus on lengthening the back body. But if you have short hamstrings (muscles at the back of the thighs), they will create additional stress on the lower back. The easiest way to take this extra stress off from your lower back is to allow the hamstrings to stay shorter by bending the knees. Bend your knees in standing forward folds like Uttanasana, Ardha Uttanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana. Don’t forget to keep your knees bent while transitioning into and out of forward folds.

Don’t forget to keep your knees bent while transitioning into and out of forward folds.

Bend your knees during seated forward folds like Paschimottanasana, Upavistha Konasana. In the case of seated forward folds, you may also consider supporting your knees with blocks or a rolled blanket. With such support, you will be able to relax your lower back muscles and stretch more into the pose.

How to modify your yoga practice in twists for lower back issues:

The answer to this one is very straight forward. Don’t go as deep. As soon as you feel discomfort in your lower back during a twist stop and back off slightly.

During a twist, the hips pull the spine towards one direction and the upper body is sent in the opposite direction. The inter-vertebral discs are pressed under multi-directional forces. If you are having lower back issues you just don’t want to force it. Even if you don’t go into the pose to your 100% you will still benefit from it.

How to modify your yoga practice in backbends for lower back issues:

The key is to keep the lower back long. Under no circumstances, you want to collapse on the lower back (lumbar) joint.

So many practitioners do collapse into their lumbar joints during backbends. In the beginning, this collapsing gives the false sensation of going into the pose deeper. Don’t be fooled, it’s a trap. If you go into your backbends collapsing you will never be able to explore your full range of motion. You will eventually get stuck at a certain level of mobility. You need to practice backbends while lengthening the spine. To do that, focus on lifting and opening your chest up rather than curving your back.

Many people feel their lower back during the backbends even if they try to keep the lower back long. One common reason for this is the over activation of the glute muscles. It is such a common misalignment to use the glutes and push the hips forward while trying to lengthen the lower back. The right activation needs to come from the front of the body. Simply pull your pubic bone up towards your navel to create space in your lower back and avoid lower back pain.

All in all, yoga is an amazing practice that has the potential of healing our bodies, as well as mental and emotional states. Still, it is vital to practice properly and mindfully. An asana shall not be the aim of the practice, the aim is you in your entirety.

Thank you for reading. If you are curious and want more, we have training courses. We would love you to join us.


Lead Trainer @ Yoga Alloy