Low back pain is the worst! No one should have to suffer through a yoga class when their low back is acting up—and chances are you will have at least one or two students experiencing low back pain or discomfort in certain poses for any number of reasons. They may have a muscle strain or disc injury or happen to sit (or stand) all day. Low back pain, ranging from acute to chronic, is one of the most common medical conditions. Studies show that 8 out of 10 people will be affected by it at some point in their life.
Fortunately, there are many different, creative ways to play with props and modify yoga asanas to free the low back once you have a strong understanding of anatomy and biomechanics. (I highly suggest researching and investigating in your own practice.) But for now, here are five pose modifications for students with low back pain to get you started.
5 Yoga Poses Modified for Low Back Pain
Lying completely flat in Corpse Pose can be quite uncomfortable for students experiencing low back pain or tension. Support their Savasana with a blanket roll, bolster or a pair of blocks under their knees, taking some slack off the hip flexors and decompressing the low back.
Standing Forward Bend
For students with tight hamstrings, Uttanasana can place an extreme amount of pressure on the low back (and potentially compress a vertebral disc or two), especially if the low back is rounded higher than the buttocks. The best, and easiest, thing to do is to have your students with tight hamstrings and low back pain bend their knees (and keep them bent).
An invigorating heart opener, Cobra Pose can also compress the low back—especially if the upper back is stiff—causing pain for some students. There are a number of cues to help students experience a pain-free Cobra Pose, however, when alignment and technique fall short (or if a student is inured), Sphinx Pose is the perfect alternative.
Lying on their stomach with the forearms down on the mat and elbows under each shoulder, students can work on activating their legs and stabilizing their low back while creating even spinal extension and broadening their chest.
Camel Pose can be tough on anyone’s low back—especially if students force themselves to touch their heels. Good thing there are a number of ways to modify Ustrasana, including tucking the toes under, placing blocks outside the shins, pressing the pelvis forward into a wall and squeezing a block between the upper inner thighs. For an extra lift, try having your students curl their toes under on blocks.
When sitting up on a blanket isn’t enough to relieve low back discomfort in Janu Sirsasana, Supta Padangusthasana A is an ideal alternative. It’s a safe and effective way to open the hamstrings while protecting the low back. To start, have your student bend one knee and place the foot flat on the mat, then lift one leg, strapping the foot, and recreate the healthy, natural curve of their low back before intensifying the stretch.