The Yoga Health Foundation website affirms what die-hard yogis have known for ages: the health benefits of yoga go far beyond flexibility. Yoga can reduce your stress levels, enhance your balance, increase your strength, contribute to weight loss and even help you manage chronic pain. If you suffer from upper back pain or muscle stiffness, specific yoga poses can help to ease your discomfort. As with any exercise regimen, you should consult a doctor prior to any yoga practice. Working with a certified yoga instructor will further ensure that you perform the poses correctly.
Generally performed along with the cow pose, this pose offers an easy and gentle stretch designed to warm up and lengthen your spine. In cat pose, or marjaryasana, you begin on all fours with your hands in line with your knees. Like a cat, arch your spine upward, tilting your pelvis, tucking in your tailbone and using your abdominal muscles to round your back toward the sky. Inhale as you return to a flat back, and then exhale and repeat the stretch, arching your spine upward once again. Alternating this posture with the cow pose helps to massage your spine, as well as the organs within your abdomen.
In cow pose, or bitilasana, you start in the same position as you did for the cat pose, but you will reverse the angle of the stretch, so that you lower your abdomen while raising your hips and sternum upward. As your spine stretches downward, lift your head and inhale. Alternate back and forth between this and cat pose to achieve the most effective stretch.
Likely the most recognizable yoga move, the downward-facing dog pose, or adho mukha svanasana, stretches your entire body. According to the Yoga Journal, this pose not only helps to relieve back pain, it also calms your brain, helps to alleviate stress and reduces pain associated with menstruation and menopause. Start on your hands and knees. Your knees are aligned with your hips and your toes are turned under, pressing against the mat. Your hands reach above your shoulders, your fingers splayed out on your mat. Keeping your toes grounded, lift your knees and begin extending and lengthening your tailbone, lifting your sitting bones toward the ceiling. Start with bent knees, then slowly ground your heels, pushing your upper thighs back and firming your shoulder blades. Breathe into the pose, keeping your head soft without letting it hang too loosely.
Locust pose, or salambhasana, may appear simple, but it actually requires great strength and focus. As you lie with your belly, hips and pelvis flat on your mat, slowly lift your head, upper body and legs off the mat. Firm your buttocks to exert extra strength through your legs, as you lift them upward. At the same time, raise and extend your arms over your head, super hero-style, lifting your torso skyward as you achieve full body extension.
Child’s pose, or balasana, helps your body relax and your muscles recharge. Kneel on the floor, sit back comfortably on your heels, and allow your knees to separate slightly so you can bend forward, folding your torso over your legs. Allow your head to rest gently on the floor, or on a towel, if you prefer. Place your arms alongside your torso or extend them above your head. Be sure your neck and head are properly supported in this relaxation pose. This stability and support, according to the Yoga Journal, ensures optimal back and neck pain relief. Many yoga instructors will recommend that you come to this restorative pose if you ever feel fatigued during a yoga class.