When done properly, twists have the potential to help your low back feel great. Twisting can activate the muscles around the lumbar spine and abdominal core, increasing stability as well as blood flow and oxygenation to the area. Twisting also appears to increase hydration of the intervertebral disks, which may help to counteract the changes caused by degenerative disk disease. Here are three poses to help you relieve low back pain.
Practicing chest openers, such as Sphinx Pose, before you twist is a nice way to expand the chest—a key action while twisting, too. Lie on your belly, legs side by side, and contract your glutes. Roll your outer thighs toward the floor to internally rotate your femurs, helping to broaden and lengthen your lower back and sacrum to protect them in this backbend. Set your elbows under your shoulders, and your forearms on the floor parallel to each other. Inhale and lift your upper torso and head away from the floor into a mild backbend. Stay here for 3–5 deep breaths, then find your way to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose).
To release any tension created in a twist, I like to follow up with a pose in which the spine is symmetrical. Forward folds—such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) or Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)—are great choices. For the latter, sit on the floor or a folded blanket with your legs extended in front of you. Press actively through your heels and slightly turn in the tops of your thighs, pressing them down into the floor. As you inhale, lengthen your front torso; as you exhale, lean forward from your hip joints and lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis to fold over your legs. Stay in the posture for 5–10 deep, easy breaths.
From Mountain Pose, step your feet about 4 feet apart and turn your right foot out to 45–60 degrees, with your left foot facing forward. Bend your left knee and on an inhale, raise your arms overhead; on an exhale, turn your torso to the left, encouraging your pelvis toward the front edge of the mat. Now lean forward over your front leg, reaching your right hand down either to the floor (inside or outside the left foot) or a block; bring your left hand skyward. With your front knee still bent, squeeze your torso against your thigh. Hold this shape, and then gradually engage your quads to straighten your front leg (shown). Draw your hips away from your shoulders to lengthen your spine. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, and then switch sides.
About Our Pros
Teacher Ray Long, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon in Detroit and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a website and book series dedicated to the anatomy and biomechanics of yoga. Model Stephanie Schwartz is a yoga teacher based in Boulder, Colorado.