The poses listed here are based on suggestions from physicians Loren Fishman and Mary Pullig Schatz and Viniyoga expert Gary Kraftsow. While each pose is generally helpful for the type of back trouble noted, you need to pay close attention to how your body responds when you do it. Back pain varies a lot, so you may need to modify the poses. (If you're new to yoga and need more instruction on pose basics, check out the pose finder.)
Any time you have acute or longstanding pain, see a doctor for a diagnosis before you start yoga. That will help you and your teacher choose the right poses.
Notice how you feel afterward, too: If you frequently find yourself sorer after practice than before, check in with an experienced teacher for some guidance.
To Lengthen the Spine and Reduce Joint Compression
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I)
Benefits: Stretches and aligns the spine by correcting asymmetry.
Tip: Roll the shoulders back as you start the pose, then concentrate on moving your shoulders in front of your hips while lifting the rib cage away from the pelvis, bracing your lower abdominals.
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
Benefits: Strengthens the hamstrings, inner thighs, and the muscles stabilizing the spine.
Tip: Keep knees straight; use a wall for balance; concentrate on keeping your body in one flat plane and evening out asymmetries.
For Posture-Related Muscle Soreness
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Benefits: Strengthens shoulder and back muscles to hold joints and spine in alignment.
Tip: Push up on your tiptoes and rotate your arms inward for a deeper upper back stretch.
Bharadvajasana I (Bharadvaja's Twist)
Benefits: Best gentle stretch for the spine and hips.
Tip: Place a folded blanket under the side of your hip to help posture and alignment. Concentrate on bringing the shoulders back as the top of your chest moves forward and up.
To Extend the Spine and Help Herniated Disks and Pinched Nerves
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Benefits: Opens lumbar and thoracic joints and decreases pressure on the spine by stretching the abdomen and front chest.
Tip: To get the fullest stretch, pretend you're trying to look backward over your own head as if you were trying to see your heels.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
Benefits: Lengthens the spine to clear space for the nerves exiting the spinal cord.
Tip: When you revolve your torso upward, concentrate on pressing the pelvis back and opening the opposite groin.
To fully stretch the spine
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Benefits: Increases the flexibility of both the lumbar spine and the hamstring muscles.
Tip: Use a strap around the soles of your feet and keep your back straight to increase the fullness of the forward bend.
Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)
Benefits: Stretches hip joint flexors and increases flexibility in the lower spine.
Tip: Modify by placing a folded blanket between your shins. Keep your knees as close together as possible and straighten your spine fully before beginning to lean back. (If you can't go all the way, just go far enough to put your hands on the floor behind you.)
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Benefits: Strengthens the entire back, increases range of motion, and opens chest.
Tip: Your safest bet is to do a supported version of this pose, using your hands to lift and hold your pelvis up.