Q: I have back problems and I know they would be helped if my abdominals and core were stronger. What poses do you recommend?
—Gretchen Goode, Rohnert Park, California
First of all, get a specific diagnosis and a therapeutic plan from your doctor or physical therapist, so that both you and your yoga teacher are fully informed about your particular back problems. A strong center is essential for a healthy back, and a simple and effective practice to strengthen the core is the pelvic tilt. This teaches you to activate and lift your lower belly. It can be cultivated in the first stage of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) on your back. Simply lengthen your tailbone to lift your sacrum off the ground while keeping your lower back connected to the earth. If you do this 5 to 20 times slowly with your breath—lift as you inhale, and lower as you exhale—you will begin to feel the benefits of strengthening your lower belly, lengthening your spine, and learning to connect the front and back of your core.
I’d also suggest practicing a low Cobra instead of Upward-Facing Dog during Sun Salutations. The low Cobra Pose is practiced without using your arms to lift you. It will strengthen the muscles along the lower back and help you develop strength with integrity. There are more complex exercises to strengthen both your back and core, but I suggest you work directly with a teacher after you understand your individual issues so that he or she can give you personal feedback on your alignment. Then the fire of your commitment will lead to conscious transformation.
Shiva Rea is a leading teacher of prana vinyasa flow and yoga trance dance who teaches all over the world. She is a lifelong student of Tantra, Ayurveda, bhakti, hatha yoga, kalaripayat, Odissi dance, and yogic arts.