In yoga, we are always trying to build flexibility in the spine. We are always twisting, bending, and folding in all sorts of direction. While flexibility is important for the spine, it is also important to build strength to protect the back. We often sit using back rests and do not naturally form the muscles necessary for even basic functions, leading to a lot of back pain. In today’s yoga class, we focus on postures to build back strength.
Of course, as much as I love yoga, I also highly encourage some form of strength training. While I prefer weight lifting, I invite you to explore any form of strength building that you find enjoyable. You can also add dumbbells to some of your yoga poses for a little extra work.
Stand at the front of the mat with the feet about hip distance apart. Spread the toes wide and press all four corners of the feet into the mat. Activate the legs, tuck the pelvis slightly under, and pull the bellybutton in towards the spine. Arms should be by your sides, palms facing forwards, allowing the shoulder blades to pull down and back, expanding the chest. The top of the head presses up towards the ceiling as the feet press into the floor, lengthening the spine.
Standing Side Stretch
From mountain pose, reach both hands overhead, keeping the shoulders down away from the ears. On an exhale, grab the left wrist and pull it towards the right side of the room while actively pressing the hips to the left. Do not reach too far, as you should be able to breathe easily in this pose. Return to center on and inhale and repeat on the other side.
Hands Over Head Pose
From tadasana, reach both hands overhead, reaching through the fingertips and keeping the shoulders down and away from the ears. Lift into the chest and lean back slightly into a backbend. The thighs and hips should continue to press forward and you bend back as far is is comfortable.
Standing Forward Fold
Start standing in tadasana. On an exhale, hinge forward at the waist with a straight back and bring your hand towards the ground. Depending on flexibility, bring your hands to the shins, floor, or yoga block. You can also keep a slight bend in the knee. Allow the hand and shoulder to relax downwards.
Standing Half Lift
From standing forward fold, start to walk the hands back up the shins until you are able to flatten the back completely. The tailbone should press back behind you and the chest opens forward as you draw your gaze out in front of you. Optional: Keep the knees slightly bent in order to get the tailbone to arch back.
Engage the back even more by reaching the arms out to the side or out in front
Downward Facing Dog
From hand and knees, place the knees directly underneath the hips and the feet hip distance apart. Hands should reach out in front of the shoulder with the fingers spread wide and the palms fully pressing into the floor. Lifting the knees off of the floor, reach the tailbone up towards the ceiling and straighten into the legs. Press the heels towards the floor and look up at the belly button, relaxing the tops of the shoulders.
From standing, step or jump your left foot back, about 3.5 to 4 feet apart. Reach both arms out to the side, actively reaching through the fingers with the palms facing downward. Turn the right foot towards the front of the mat and angle the left foot at ninety degrees. Bending into your right leg, try and get the thigh to be parallel with the ground and the knee directly stacked on top of the ankle. The left leg will remain straight and strong. Continuing to reach through the fingertips, pull the shoulder blades back and lift into the chest, gazing at your right fingertips. The torso should be stacked directly above the hips, not reaching forwards or backwards.
Extended Side Angle
From standing, step or jump your left foot back, about 3.5 to 4 feet apart. Reach both arms out to the side, actively reaching through the fingers. Turn the right foot towards the front of the mat and angle the left foot at ninety degrees. Bending into your right leg, try and get the thigh to be parallel with the ground and the knee directly stacked on top of the ankle. The left leg will remain straight and strong. Bringing the right elbow onto the right knee, continue to reach the left arm overhead. Option is to bring the right fingertips on to the ground for more intensity. Repeat on the other side.
Start in mountain pose and step your feet 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach them actively out to the sides, shoulder blades wide, palms down. Turn the right foot towards the front of the mat and turn the left foot out to a ninety degree angle, heels in line. Reach forward into the right hand, extending the torso, and drop the right hand onto the right shin or ankle. Extend the left hand up towards the ceiling. Keep the body in the same plane, as if pressed into an imaginary wall behind you and do not let the chest fall forward.
Start laying on your belly with the feet stretched back behind with the tops of the feet pressed into the mat. Bring the palms underneath the shoulders, fingers spread wide, and the elbows are pulled in. On an inhale, press into the palms as you lift the chest off the ground and pull the shoulder blades back together. The elbows should stay tucked into the sides as the chest opens and the head remains neutral, not allowing the chin to reach upwards.
To begin, rest onto the belly, pull the arms back to the sides with the palms facing upwards, and rest the forehead onto the mat. On an inhale, lift the head, arms, and chest off the ground, reaching into the fingertips to pull the shoulder blades together and back. Aim to open the chest. Intensify this posture by lifting the legs off the ground, squeezing the thighs together and pressing through the back toes. The gaze is slightly forward, but do not allow the chin to stick out.
Extended Child’s Pose
From hands and knees, bring the big toes together and take the knees out as wide as the mat. Sit back onto the heels and walk the hands forward, bringing the forehead down onto the mat. Allow the belly to drop between the thighs and sink into the hips. Reach through the fingertips, but allow the shoulder blades to stay in place.
Reverse Table Top
From a seated position, bend the knees and walk the feet towards the tailbone, keeping the feet about hip distance apart. Place the hands a couple inches behind and to the outside of the hips. Pressing firmly into both hands and feet, lift the hips up towards the ceiling, trying to bring the legs to a 90 degree angle at the knees. Keep the neck neutral, or if it feels good, gently allow your head to drop back.
Seated Forward Fold
Start seated with both legs straight in front of you (staff pose), making sure to be seated up on the tailbone. On an inhale, reach both hands overhead and fold forward on the exhale. For an active pose, grab your feet or ankles and gently pull yourself forward throughout the pose. For a yin version, fall forward and release the hands, shoulders, and head, allowing yourself to simply hinge forward and hang there.
Lying on your back, bend the knees and place the feet on the floor, close to the tailbone and about hip distance apart. Place the hands palms down on both sides of the hips. On an exhale, lift the hips and the buttock up towards the ceiling. Try to keep the thighs parallel to the floor and roll the shoulder blades underneath. Option is the clasp the hands together below the lower back, continuing to pull the shoulder blades together.
Start laying flat on the floor. Bend the knees and bring the feet onto the floor, as close to the tailbone as possible, keeping the knees hip distance apart. Bring the hands onto the mat just about the shoulders, fingertips pointed towards the shoulder tops. On an exhale, push the hips off the floor, actively pushing the tailbone towards the pubis, but keeping the buttock relaxed. Press firmly into the hands, lifting the the back and shoulder blades off the mat. Allow the head to drop and relax. Continue to actively press the feet and hands into the mat at the hips reach up and the chest lifts forward. To come down, lift the head out of the way and bend the arms, bringing the shoulders and back onto the mat. Bring the tailbone back on the mat and gently bring the knees into the chest.
Laying on your back, pull both knees in towards the chest. Use your hand to wrap around or hug the knees to draw them closer towards the chest. Allow the shoulders to remain relaxed onto the floor and the head neutral.
Legs Up (Optional to Use Wall for Savasana)
Start laying on your back, bring your legs up onto the wall and scoot your tailbone as close to the wall as is comfortable. Allow the arms to rest out to the side, palms up. This allows the shoulders to rest back. Option – Use this pose as your final Savasana. Relax into this posture. Allow the weight of the body to be fully supported by the ground and wall. Release control of the mind, the breath, and the body. Enjoy this pose for as long as feels good (suggest more than 10 minutes).
Ready to strengthen your back with these yoga moves? Keep this routine nearby you by printing out this one page PDF.
Questions about the routine or how to build back strength? Comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!