9 Yoga Moves to Ease Back Pain
Relieve stiffness and keep your spine—and whole body—strong with this beginner-friendly sequence.
There’s a popular saying that “you’re only as young as your spine is flexible.” So if you want to stay young, it’s essential to keep moving. Among other things, staying active helps build and maintain the strength and stability you need to perform everyday tasks with ease—and without pain or fear of falling.
“As we age and begin to lose function, it becomes even more important to go back to the basic principles of the body: stability and mobility,” says Terecita “Ti” Blair, the 2017 SilverSneakers Instructor of the Year. “How can we keep ourselves stable, prevent falls, and maintain strength and healthy bones while at the same time allowing for plenty of movement and freedom?”
Her answer: yoga. “Stability is gained by increasing muscle mass, strengthening the bones through exercise, and working on balance and core strength, all of which can be addressed in a yoga practice,” she says. “Yoga can help us ease stiffness, lower blood pressure, and increase lung capacity to create more mobility.”
With benefits like that, it’s certainly worth a try! Whether you experience back pain now or want to prevent it down the road, the nine yoga poses below can help. Pick a few to incorporate into your existing routine, or perform them all together.
If you choose to perform the poses back to back, return to mountain pose between each one. If you choose to do the poses individually, warm up your body by performing mountain pose beforehand. Need a refresher on mountain pose? Check out this guide to five yoga poses every older adult should know.
Ready to get started? Here’s your step-by-step guide. As always, safety is key. The yoga poses here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about safe exercise. And if you’re a beginner, be sure to check out the tips to make each move easier.
1. Standing Pelvic Tilt
This movement builds pelvic mobility and core strength.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet hip-width apart and feet, knees, and hips facing forward. Roll your shoulders up, back, and down, and place hands on your hips. On your inhale, lift your chest slightly, keeping lower belly engaged. On your exhale, tilt your pelvis forward, drawing your belly even closer to your spine and your ribs toward your pubic bones. Imagine your upper body is curving around a ball. Inhale to return to the starting position (mountain pose). Repeat for three to five breaths.
Make it easier: Practice this move seated, or hold onto the back of a chair while standing.
Make it harder: Hold the contraction (exhale) part for a beat or two, then release.
Pyramid pose stretches your hamstrings and butt muscles while also improving balance, helping to prevent falls.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet, knees, and hips facing forward. Step your right foot back about two feet away from your left foot. Keep your hips and feet facing forward, and your legs straight. Engage your lower belly, lift your chest, place your hands on your hips, and bring your elbows slightly behind you. Breathe in and stand tall.
As you breathe out, hinge forward at your hips, keeping your spine neutral and going as low as you comfortably can. Breathe here for three to five breaths. Return to mountain pose, and repeat on the other side.
Make it easier: Hold onto the back of a chair for support.
Make it harder: Reach one or both arms forward while holding the hip hinge.
3. Standing Cat-Cow
This movement improves spine mobility while stretching the front and back of your body.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet, knees, and hips facing forward. With a slight bend in your knees, place your hands on your upper thighs, and draw your elbows behind you. From here, slowly inhale as you lift your chest and move your butt back. This is cow.
As you exhale, pull your belly in toward your spine, bending your knees and rounding your back as if rounding over a beach ball in front of you. This is cat. Alternate between cow and cat for three to five full breaths.
Make it easier: Practice cat-cow while seated.
Make it harder: Start with your arms by your sides. On your inhale, sweep your arms behind you, expanding your chest. On your exhale, bring your arms forward as if diving into a pool.
4. Stirring the Pot
This movement frees up the postural muscles of the spine and core.
How to do it: Sit in a chair with your feet wide, knees and toes pointed slightly out. Plant your feet firmly, place your hands on your thighs, and sit up tall. Start to “stir the pot” of the pelvic bowl, rotating the torso in a circular movement as if using the spine as the stirring mechanism for a big pot of stew. Roll for three to five breaths in one direction. Return to a neutral upright position, and then stir the pot in the other direction for three to five breaths.
Make it easier: Make smaller or slower movements.
Make it harder: Add more movement in the elbows, upper body, and neck.
5. Horse with Twist
Strengthen your lower body while mobilizing your spine with this movement.
How to do it: Stand in mountain pose with your feet, knees, and hips facing forward. Take a step out to the side so your feet are wide. Imagine you’re standing on a clockface, and turn your left toes out to 10:00 and right toes out to 2:00.
From here, bend your knees to lower your body as far as comfortable, keeping your hips directly below your shoulders. Place your hands on your thighs with your elbows slightly bent. Start to twist to your left, bringing your right shoulder in the direction of your left knee. Return to center and twist to the right, bringing your left shoulder in the direction of your right knee. That is one rep. Do three to five reps.
Make it easier: Sit tall in a chair, and open your knees wide. Use your arms and hands on your thighs to twist from side to side.
Make it harder: Use the traction of your arms and shoulders to move a little deeper side to side.
6. Downward-Facing Dog with Chair
Stretch your shoulders, sides, and lower body with this movement.
How to do it: Stand facing the back of a chair. Place your hands lightly on the chair back, and straighten your arms. Hinging at your hips, take a few steps back so that your spine becomes parallel with the floor. Straighten your legs as much as comfortable, and lengthen your spine, keeping it neutral from head to tailbone. Breathe here for three to five breaths.
Bend your knees, and take baby steps toward the chair, rounding your back slightly as you return to standing.
Make it easier: Keep your knees soft, or bend one knee at a time for a hip stretch.
Make it harder: Do this at a wall with your hands at hip height. Step back and push the wall away.
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7. Seated Knee to Chest
This movement stretches your glutes as well as your entire back.
How to do it: Sit tall in a chair with your feet on the floor and hips, knees, and toes facing forward. Slowly inhale, and as you exhale, draw your right knee toward your chest, emptying all the air out of your lungs.
On your next inhale, lower your leg back to the starting position. Exhale, drawing your left knee into your chest this time. Continue alternating for three to five breaths on each side.
Make it easier: Do this while lying on your back on the floor or in bed.
Make it harder: Draw your knee in closer to your body, and hold for a breath or two.
8. Seated Pigeon
This movement helps open your hips.
How to do it: Sit tall in a chair with your feet on the floor and hips, knees, and toes facing forward. With your hands on your hips, place your right ankle on top of your left knee. Keeping your right foot flexed, breathe in as you sit up tall.
As you breathe out, hinge forward slightly at the hips, keeping your butt rooted in your chair and your right foot flexed. Breathe here for three to five breaths. Return to the starting position, and repeat on the opposite side, placing your left foot on top of your right knee.
Make it easier: Rather than bringing your foot to your opposite knee, cross your legs at the ankles or knees, and then hinge forward.
Make it harder: Hinge forward a little more.
9. Seated Lunge
This pose strengthens the core, thighs, butt, and ankles—all the muscles that keep us going up and down stairs. It also stretches your hip flexors.
How to do it: Sit tall in a chair with your feet on the floor and hips, knees, and toes facing forward. Open your feet wide.
From here, turn your entire body to the left, allowing both feet and knees to pivot until you’re in a forward lunge position with left leg firmly in the chair. Draw your lower belly in and up, and lift your chest. Breathe here for three to five breaths. Return to the starting position, and repeat on the opposite side.
Make it easier: Generously bend the knee on your back leg.
Make it harder: Straighten your back leg, or lift your arms up as you keep drawing your lower belly in and up.
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