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A Guide to Yoga for Lower Back Pain For Beginners

Updated: Dec 29, 2023


Yoga teacher demonstrating a pose to help with back pain.


At the beginning of every live class I teach (whether it’s in-person or online), I like to do a check-in and see how everyone is feeling.


I want to find the right tone for the class - The Goldilocks Spot - not too little and not too much.


It’s also important to me to know how people in the class are feeling, and if anyone has any physical challenges going on, because my goal is always to make yoga accessible and safe.


And in pretty much every class, I hear from at least one person dealing with lower back pain.


Even Yoga Teachers Get Lower Back Pain


I like to share with yogis that there is no shame in the lower back pain game. In fact, before I was able to teach yoga full-time, I would get lower back pain from being on my feet during long work shifts.


Lots of us get lower back pain because our jobs require standing or sitting.


Lower back pain can also come from your core muscles needing a little strengthening or your hips needing a good stretch.


Here is a great class for when your hips need to release tension:





Our bodies are not just parts acting on their own. They are completely connected - which is a good thing - it’s one of the reasons that yoga has so many benefits.


Should I Do Yoga if My Lower Back Hurts?


But a lot of people ask if they should even do yoga if their back hurts.


So … if you are flat-on-your-back, unable to function - the answer is No. If you’ve recently experienced an injury or have ongoing, chronic back pain that just won't quit, it’s best to check with your healthcare provider to be safe.


But when you have a tight back from sitting at your desk, driving in your car, standing all day or carrying kiddos - YES - yoga can help you stretch your tight, cranky muscles, and hopefully give you some relief.


Plus, yoga benefits go far beyond the physical - sometimes just taking time out to breathe and slow down can help too.


What Yoga Poses Aren’t Good for Lower Back Pain?


There’s some really good news here - most of the poses that can really aggravate your lower back (like Camel or Bow Pose, for instance) are NOT beginner-friendly anyway.


So you absolutely DO NOT have to twist yourself into an intense shape or stand on your head to get relief.


It’s also important to do what feels right for YOUR unique body.


We are all different, and a pose that helps someone else may not be your jam.


I like to tell my students, listen to your body and don’t push too hard.


We get used to seeing yoga look a certain way, but there is zero benefit in pushing beyond what your body tells you feels good, especially when you are just getting started with yoga.


Can Yoga Help Release Your Lower Back?



The keys for beginners are to take it slow and to listen to your body.


You may also want to look for beginner level classes, or for descriptions like “gentle,” “slow,” “restorative” or even Yin Yoga (a type of yoga I love that includes holding poses for a longer time to stretch connective tissues.)





I regularly teach a class called REST on Saturdays that's great for beginner online yoga.


Also, keep in mind that you don’t just need to focus on your back. I include a lot of hip stretches in my classes too, because tight hips can lead to a tight back.


When should I do yoga if my lower back hurts?


I think the best time to do yoga is whenever you can! Meaning - literally, when you are able to fit it into your life.


I have lots of yoga videos (and keep adding more) on my YouTube Channel, so you can do yoga when it works with your schedule.


Some people really like to do yoga first thing in the morning. They wake up feeling stiff and a short practice like my Morning Stretch from Bed helps them get going for the day.





There are also benefits of doing yoga before bed. (And yup - I have a class for that too!)





Yoga will help you settle in, calm your mind and relax your body before sleep. That means you could wake with a happier back.


10 Beginner Yoga Poses for Lower Back Pain


These are 10 of the best yoga poses for lower back pain for beginners. But don’t get overwhelmed - I have a YouTube video on lower back pain for beginners that will walk you through all the poses.





To begin, settle in on your back, with a pillow under your knees if you have one. If you don’t, you can also bend your knees, widen your feet to the edges of the mat, and allow your knees to fold in to touch. Both of these options give a nice release for the lower back.


Breathe and set an intention to be kind to yourself during this practice.


Knees-to-Chest Pose


This is just what it sounds like. Lying on your back, bring your knees into your chest. Hug them and imagine breathing into your lower back to create space.


It may feel good to bring your knees a little wider, or to rock side to side. You can also hug in one leg at a time.


Windshield Wipers


Placing your feet on the ground, with knees bent, gently send your knees to the right and left, like windshield wipers. Make this a slow, easy movement - nothing too big.


Reclining Spinal Twist


Bring your feet together to the center of your mat and with knees bent, gently roll your knees to one side. Your arms can make a T and try to keep your back flat on your mat.


Hold for a good stretch and then repeat this on the other side.


It can help a lot to use props here - try placing a pillow or folded blanket under your knees.





Cat/Cow

Make your way to hands and knees. For Cow, starting with the low back, tip your tailbone up, drop your belly down, shine your heart forward and lift your chin. Breathe in. For Cat, breathe out, tip your tailbone under and slowly round your back, let your head look down.


Repeat these shapes a few times, coordinating with your breath.


Downward-Facing Dog


From hands and knees, tuck your toes under, lift your knees from the mat, push into your hands to form an inverted V. Keep a bend in your knees for a gentle, low-back friendly Downward-Facing Dog. Aim to create space through your spine and keep your back long. Let your head be heavy.


Peddle your feet if that feels good, and remember to keep a generous bend in your knees.


Standing Forward Fold


Next, walk your feet up to your hands to come into a standing forward fold.


Keep your knees bent generously and allow your abdomen to rest on your thighs. Let your head be heavy and hold. Then roll up slowly to stand.


Yoga Squat


This pose is another one where you may like to use props.


Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-distance apart, and point your toes slightly outward. Then bend your knees and start to sink your hips. You can rest your bum on a prop or the floor.


Don’t worry if your heels lift. You can put a folded blanket under your heels for support if it helps.


Sphinx Pose


Lie down on the front of your body with your elbows under your shoulders and your palms down.


Think about getting long through your low back and try shining your heart forward and lifting your chin.


(If this one doesn’t feel good for your lower back today, try lying face-down and resting, or move into child's pose.)


Child’s Pose


Begin on hands and knees and slide your bum back to meet your heels. Some people prefer to keep their legs tucked close together, while others prefer to create a diamond shape with their legs by placing their toes together and keeping their knees a bit wider.


You can stretch your arms out long in front of you, or tuck them in by your sides.


Supported Bridge Pose


Using a prop like a yoga bolster, pillows, or a folded blanket, lie on your back with knees bent, and then lift your hips, sliding a prop under your tailbone for support.

And of course, make time at the end of class for final resting pose.


It can feel good to end where we started, on your back with support under your knees or with your feet wide and your knees resting in against each other.


As you rest and soak in your practice, thank yourself and your body for this time.


More Resources for Beginner-Friendly Yoga for Lower Back Pain



Also, see my schedule for teaching live classes (in-person and online) here.


Peace.




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