People are often surprised when I say that it was the restorative, resting Yoga poses that gave me the most relief from back pain and transformed my posture; much more so than the more active Yoga poses.

It’s as if we feel that if we’re not working hard, it can’t be working. Nothing could be further than the truth!

Yes, you do need movement to keep your back healthy and strong, but regularly practising constructive, mindful and well-positioned rest and relaxed breathing are essential for pain relief, for coping with the fatigue of chronic pain, and for maintaining a more resilient back.

Some tips for practising these poses effectively:

Everyone is different, and these poses always work best when they’re tailored to the individual by an experienced teacher. However, you can take these basic principles and experiment for yourself, to find out what works for you.

Allow your body to soften into the supports by allowing your exhalations to lengthen, leaving a natural pause at the end of each exhalation, and letting your inhalations be as light and effortless as possible.

Give the pose at least ten long exhalations to try it out, relaxing your shoulders and the weight of your head as much as you can. If after those ten long exhalations, you have increasing discomfort, then come slowly out – the pose may to be right for you at this time. If you feel the same, or a little more comfortable, then stay for as long as you comfortably can.

If you have an eye pillow or something similar to rest over your eyes, the gentle pressure of that weight helps to relax your brain via your ocular nerve.

These poses work best when you’re really present and attentive to your breathing, not letting your mind worry about all the things you feel like you should be doing! So keep your mind on your lengthened exhalations, or listen to a guided meditation like the Breath Awareness meditation (available for free through my mailing list) or a Yoga Nidra Relaxation (available for free download here).

Always come out of these poses slowly, rolling to your side first and using the support of your hands to come up, and breathing smoothly as you go.

  1. Knees raised and supported

You can use just about anything under your knees for this one, as long as it’s even. While a Yoga bolster is very convenient, you could also roll up some blankets or thick towels, or use some pillows as long as your legs are evenly supported and symmetrical. You could even use a sleeping bag roll, if it’s wide enough.

Raising your knees lengthens your lower spine and can relax your lower back muscles, and is especially useful if you have tight hamstrings.

It’s really important for most bodies to have some support beneath the back of your head, tailored for your neck, so that your cervical spine is also lengthening and spacious. It should be just high enough that your chin is not tilted upwards, your forehead is just a little higher than your chin, and the gaze of your eyes falls naturally downwards.

You’ll also be more comfortable if you can place an additional folded blanket beneath the length of your whole body, so that the surface of the ground is still firm and even, but not too hard.

Many people experience additional relief by placing a heavy blanket or soft weight over the front hips and low belly, to further assist with easing the lower back.

A small, soft rolled towel placed behind the curve of your neck is also very useful in this pose. This roll should feel like it’s just filling in the curve of your neck comfortably; not pushing or lifting your neck.

If possible, lie your hands on the floor with your palms facing upward. Alternatively, rest your palms on your belly.

2. Lying forward with a support under the pelvis

This one is especially helpful for people with sacral or lumbar pain who don’t feel at ease lying on their backs, and for those who have a lot of asymmetry in the body that makes lying on the back difficult. However, it may not be as suitable for those experiencing upper back or neck discomfort.

Place a blanket on the ground to lie on, and have another folded blanket or small cushion at hand in case you want it to support your head.

Lie your front hips and pelvis over a very even, smooth support – this could be a slightly flattened Yoga bolster, a couple of folded blankets, or a long, even cushion , or just a couple of pillows – as long as you’re evenly supported, not higher on one side than the other. Everyone is different, so experiment with the height of this support until it feels like it’s giving you a pleasant sensation of space, ease, and length through your lower back.

Some people like to place their hands under the side of their head in this pose. Others prefer their forehead on their hands, and others find they are much more comfortable with a cushion under the forehead or the side of the head. As always, it’s important to shape this pose to suit your individual body. It’s a good idea to turn your head to the other side occasionally.

Placing a soft weight over your back so that you can feel your breath moving that weight is relaxing and helps build awareness of your breathing and of your spine. At first the breath might feel restricted here, but with practice, this breath awareness can help ease muscle spasm.

The support under the front ankles can make the feet, ankles and knees a lot more comfortable. If your knees still feel uncomfortable because they’re pressing into the ground, try adding some support just above the kneecaps so that they “hang” just off the ground (this may mean you need to raise the height of the cushioning under your pelvis a bit more, too).

 

3. Lying with calves in a chair seat

Similarly to pose 1, raising your legs in this pose lengthens your lower spine and can relax your lower back muscles, and is especially useful if you have tight hamstrings.

The extra height of the lower legs also adds a deeper relaxation effect for the brain; helpful for stress relief as well as back pain relief.

Again, most bodies will need some support beneath the back of the head, so that the cervical spine is long and spacious. It should be just high enough that your chin is not tilted upwards, your forehead is just a little higher than your chin, and the gaze of your eyes falls downwards in a relaxed way.

Ideally, place an additional folded blanket beneath the length of your whole body, so that the surface of the ground is still firm and even, but not too hard.

Unless you’re very long-legged, you may need quite a thick height under your whole body to raise the height of the floor so that your calves sit easily into the chair seat. Some people like a folded blanket under the sacrum for extra height too, but this is very personal, so try it and see how you feel.

You may feel additional relief by placing the heavy blanket or soft weight over the front hips and low belly, to further assist with lengthening the lower back.

If you have neck tension, try the small soft rolled towel behind the curve of your neck. Make sure the roll feels like it’s just filling in the curve of your neck comfortably, not pushing or lifting your neck.

If possible, lie your hands on the floor with your palms facing upward. Alternatively, rest your palms on your belly.

I hope these poses assist you to feel more at ease. They certainly helped me when I first started Yoga with chronic back pain. By practising mindful breathing and relaxation techniques while in these poses I was eventually able to learn how to recover from an episode of back pain without having to take pain killers.

Now I love passing them on in the hope that they’ll provide the same relief for others. It’s so empowering to know that you can do something for yourself to provide back pain relief!

If you’d like any of these Restorative Yoga poses tailored to your individual needs, I would love to help! Drop me a line at the bottom of the page, or click here to find out how to work with me.

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