Yin yoga is an effective way to treat back pain. Yin yoga is a gentle style of yoga known for slow movements and long holds. The purpose of yin yoga sequences and postures is to gently stress ligaments, joints and fascia. This increases blood circulation to these areas and helps relieve tension while promoting flexibility. Unlike other forms of yoga, yin yoga is meant to complement other yoga lineages. It was not designed to stand on its own as a yoga practice. That being said, yin yoga has a lot to offer when used in combination with other physical activities and holistic therapies.
Facia and Back Pain
Facia is a layer of connective tissue that runs throughout the body. Fascia’s main purpose is to attach, stabilize, encase and separate muscles and internal organs. Unlike muscles and ligaments, fascia connection points are not as linear. This means that if facial tension is the cause of your back pain, the origin of that tension may be in a completely different part of your body. For example, your low back pain could be a reaction to tight fascia in your shoulder. So in order for your back to find relief, the fascia in your shoulder needs to be released.
How Yin Yoga Targets Back Pain
The key element that makes yin yoga a successful option when dealing with back pain are the long holds. Expect to be in postures for three to five minutes. This gives ligaments, joints and fascia time to relax. As fascia is a complex network of tissues, they need time to release. You will probably find that the longer you hold a pose, the more widespread ease you will feel throughout your body. So as one part of your body experiences fascial release, other parts of your body can then release as well. This will eventually make its way to your back giving you the relief you need.
Dealing with Discomfort
Long hold mean deeper releases. They also mean some possible discomfort along the way. Depending on the amount of tension you have in your back, your comfort levels will vary in each pose. This is completely normal. If you are new to a yin style of yoga practice, you may find you need to shift around every so often to stay in the pose. Be mindful when setting yourself up in the pose; you do not need to go as deep as you can right away. Instead, ease yourself into it and use props as support when you need them. After a while you will understand what your limits are and where to enter into a pose so that it is effective without being overwhelming.
Yin Yoga Poses for Back Pain
Here are a few yin yoga postures to help with your back pain. Take your time getting in and out of each pose. The poses are meant to be held passively; think of letting your body sink into the shape without any pushing. You may find that you need to move with extra care after a long hold as your body will be more sensitive. Use your breath as an anchor if you feel yourself struggling to stay in the pose. Remember that discomfort is okay but pain should be avoided.
Sit with the soles of your feet together and you knees out to the side. Play around with the distance between your heels and your groin. Fold forward and let the head and arms hang heavy.
Why it is good for back pain: Butterfly gets into the hips, inner thighs and hamstrings. Releasing these areas has a direct effect on the lower back.
If you are really tight: Place blocks underneath the thighs and forehead when you fold forward. You can even sit on a block to help tilt your pelvis forward.
Supine Spinal Twist
Lie on your back and draw your knees up to your chest. Shift your hips off to one side and let your knees fall in the opposite direction. Either keep you knees stacked at 90° or draw them closer towards your chest. Arms can be spread out at a 90° angle from your body.
Why it is good for back pain: This gentle twist targets all areas of the spine, especially the mid back. Having the arms outstretched helps to open up the chest muscles which may be affecting your upper and mid back.
If you are really tight: Place a block between your knees if your top leg is left floating. If it feels more comfortable to let the should that you are twisting away from lift up, put a rolled towel underneath it for support.
Lie on your belly with your legs stretched out behind you hip-width apart. Slide your elbows underneath your shoulders so that you come into a gentle backbend. Your forearms are parallel with your palms facing down. You can look forward or let you head hang heavy if that feels okay on your neck.
Why it is good for back pain: Sphinx creates gentle compression in the low back. When you release Sphinx, it increases circulation in the back which promotes relaxation.
If you are really tight: Keep your elbows slightly forward from your shoulders. This will make the back bend less intense but not less effective.
Start seated with your legs stretch out in front of you. If your hamstrings are tight, bend the knees as much as you need to to release them. Fold forward and let the upper body go slack. Hang the head heavy and be especially mindful to breathe into your back.
Why it is good for back pain: This forward fold stretches out the entire spine and back. When held for a long time, you will be able to pinpoint exactly where in your back the tension is originating from.
If you are really tight: Just like Butterfly, sit on a block to help your hips tilt forward. Use a block underneath your forehead for support if you need it.
Set a timer to keep track of how long you have been in each pose. If you struggle to relax, check out our post Meditation for Back Pain for ideas on how to manage mental stressors that might be contributing to your back problems. Yin yoga takes time but the lasting effect is well worth the momentary discomfort. Give it a try; your back will thank you!
A few weeks ago an awesome new program called Yoga For Healing was released and a few of my readers mentioned it to me. It has been shown to help build strength, enhance joint movement, gain flexibility AND relax at your own pace. Click here to take a look at the short video.