5 Yoga Poses for Persistent Back Pain

At least 80% of Americans will experience low back pain during their lifetime.  Most of these people will recover well in a few weeks.  However, approximately 1 in 10 people with back pain will develop persistent ongoing problems.  Exercise is one of the few proven treatments for people with persistent low back pain.  And no specific form of exercise has been shown to be clearly better than another.  Aerobic training, strengthening exercise, Pilates, and stretching exercises have all been proven to be effective.

Yoga is becoming an increasingly popular form of exercise across the world.  In a previous article, we discussed the benefits of Yoga for people with shoulder pain.  This article provides some background and 5 Yoga poses which we recommend for people with persistent low back pain.

Yoga is Proven Treatment for Back Pain

Research from a 2005 clinical trial shows yoga improves function and reduces low back pain.  Researchers from Washington State compared the effects of yoga, a generalized low back exercise program, and an educational booklet in 101 adults with longstanding back pain.  Both the general exercise group and those performing yoga experienced significant improvements in pain and function 3 and 6 months later.  Of note, 69% of those in the yoga group improved by at least 50% compared with 50% of those in the exercise group The Yoga program consisted of 12 group sessions lead by an instructor who incorporated 5 to 12 different poses.  Several of these poses are included in this article.

Some Background about Yoga

Yoga is a form of mind–body exercise which incorporates physical exercise with mental focus through breathing and meditation. The poses are designed to increase flexibility and strengthen your body in a controlled fashion as well as improve balance. These poses are performed standing, sitting, reclining, or inverted and may involve forward bends, backward bends, or twists. Breathing exercises link the postures together and help your mind focus.

Yoga for back pain

By combining the benefits of physical exercise with relaxation techniques, people with low back are able to exert themselves without flaring up their pain.  This can be challenging when starting any new exercise program so be sure to start slow and easy.  Select 1 or 2 of the poses below which you can perform comfortably before trying the others.

Tree Pose

This pose is much harder than it looks.  Start with your feet together and weight evenly distributed.  Bend your right knee, then reach down and grasp your right inner ankle. Use your hand to draw your right foot alongside your inner left thigh.  Stand tall with a long spine.  Press your palms together in prayer position at your chest, with your thumbs resting on your sternum.  Fix your gaze straight ahead.  Inhale as you extend your arms overhead, reaching your fingertips to the sky.  Return your palms together then lower back to the prayer position at your chest.

Perform the movement 3 times each with a slow deep breath.  Repeat the same sequence of movements standing on your right leg.  Tree pose helps improve balance and control of your core.  It achieves these goals while placing very little stress on your spine.

Warrior 1

Start with your feet together.  Step with your left foot forward bending your knee into a lunge. Keep your right leg straight behind you. Raise your arms straight above your head.  Squeeze your shoulder blades together and downward.  Lift your chin to gaze at your hands overhead. Hold your pose for 3 to 5 slow breaths and then repeat on the left side.  Warrior 1 helps improve balance, leg strength, and hip mobility.

Warrior 2

Stand in a wide position with your feet parallel and approximately 3 feet apart. Extend your arms straight out to your sides. Relax your shoulders.  Turn your left foot out 90 degrees.  Bend your knee into a lunge.  Be sure to keep your knee above your ankle and pointing over your toes. Turn your head to the left and look over your fingers.  Hold your pose for 3 to 5 slow breaths and then repeat to the other side.


Start in a balanced tall standing position.  Lean forward slightly and lift your right leg off the floor.  Press your right leg into an imaginary wall behind you.  Lengthen your spine as you assume a horizontal position with your hips level.  Relax your shoulders down and away from your ears.  Squeeze your shoulder blades together.  Maintain your gaze down and slightly forward.  With your palms down reach your arms out to the side.  Hold this pose for 3 to 5 breaths.  Repeat the same sequence supported on your right leg.  Airplane pose helps improve balance, hip strength, core control, and hamstring mobility.

High Lunge Twist

This is one of my favorites to improve flexibility of your spine.  Like most yoga postures, there are several variations to the high lunge twist.  Each has a different “twist” to the twist.  We will cover the prayer version here.  Start from a high lunge with your left foot forward and arms overhead.  Move your hands together in a prayer at the center of your chest.  Take a deep inhale, and slightly lift your chest.  Use your exhale to engage your navel to your spine and twist your torso to the left.  Hook your left elbow outside of your left thigh. Breathe here for 3 to 5 deep breaths, and then repeat on the other side.  This is a great exercise to improve balance, core control, and spine mobility.

Your Back Pain: Get Started with Yoga

There is no better time than today to get started with yoga.  Get started in your own home then consider taking classes when the time is right.  Several expert yoga instructors are available in our area (Hot or Not Yoga, The Yoga Hive). These instructors will be able to modify any pose to meet your individual needs. Some mild discomfort is expected when starting any new type of exercise.  However, with practice and mental focus you will begin to experience the benefits of improved flexibility, balance, strength, and less pain.

These 5 yoga poses are great to incorporate into your workouts.  I recommend performing them two days per week. You can cycle through each pose several times.  They will probably take you no more than 30 minutes each day. If you experience any difficulty give us a call.  We would love to help you out.

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