Stretch your way to a better back with yoga

Natalie Doing YogaWith all the twisting and bending I do during a golf game, yoga is one of my all-time favorite ways to unwind. The mindful movements involved in this ancient art provide a sense of serenity and peace I’ve come to love. You’d never know that just five short years ago, I couldn’t even do the easiest yoga pose. The reason? Debilitating back pain that nearly ended my golf career.

Faced with the reality of retiring from golf or undergoing traditional open back surgery, I was at a crossroads. Luckily, a friend told me about the benefits of the minimally invasive spine procedure at Laser Spine Institute, and after mine, I’m back on tour and back to doing all the things I love, like yoga.

Whether you’re an experienced yogi with the perfect downward dog or just getting started in the practice, there’s no denying the health benefits it provides. So in honor of September being National Yoga Month, here are my six top ways to stretch your way to a better back.

  • Cat and cow pose

Want to soothe a sore back? Then warm-up your yoga routine with these gentle poses. Starting in a table top position (hands and knees on the floor with a flat back), move into the cat pose by slowly pressing you spine upwards, toward the ceiling as you breathe in. Exhale and move into the cow position by relaxing your spine in the opposite direction, pressing your shoulder blades back and lifting your head up. Move back and forth between cat and cow to relax muscles and ease tension.  And remember to breathe while moving between the two poses.

  • Downward-facing dog

Begin this pose on your hands and knees in the table top position, hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Slowly press your hips back, raising your knees away from the floor. Lift your tailbone up toward the ceiling. For a more intense stretch, push your heels toward the floor. Hold for five to 10 breaths, and then repeat several times throughout the practice.

  • Pigeon pose

It’s one of the best stretches for hip rotators and flexors, but it’s also one of the most challenging because of the flexibility required to master it. That said, you’ll want to start slowly and work your way into this pose by beginning in a downward-facing dog with your feet together. Bring your left knee forward, turning the calf and foot out to the left so that left leg is bent and almost perpendicular to your right one. Now, slowly and carefully lower your body to the floor. Keep your back right leg extended straight behind you. Hold the position for five to 10 breaths, and then switch to the other side.

  • Triangle pose

Think of the shape of a triangle as you move into this next back strengthening pose that begins by standing straight with your feet together at one end of your mat. Next, lunge your left foot back about 3 to 4 feet and set it at a 45-degree angle to your front foot with your heels aligned. Slowly move your chest to your right side, and stretch your right arm down toward the ground while your left arm goes up toward the ceiling. Keep both your right and left legs straight while doing this. Remember to move slowly into this pose and only reach down as far as you comfortably can. Hold this pose for five to 10 breaths before switching to the other side.

  • Child’s pose

It’s one of the best stretches for lengthening your back and often considered the most popular with yogis because it actually feels like you’re resting. But don’t let the look of this pose fool you. This active stretch packs some potent perks when done correctly. Begin on your hands and knees and reach your arms out in front of you. Then, slowly, sit back on your bottom without touching your heels. Hold for five to 10 breaths and repeat several times throughout your routine as a way to transition from one sequence to the next.

  • Warrior II pose

At the intersection of focused and fierce, you’ll find the Warrior II pose. Channel your inner winner as you prepare to end your practice in this primal pose. You’ll want to begin by standing at the top of your mat with your feet grounded and hands at your sides. Step your feet wide across your mat and turn your left foot at a 90 degree angle to your right foot. Next, turn your right foot slightly inward and raise your arms so they are straight out from your sides, making sure your shoulders aren’t raised and your palms are facing the ground. Now, focus your gaze on your left fingertips, extending out through your hands. Bend your left knee, making sure your knee is aligned above your ankle, with your thigh parallel to the floor. Hold this pose for five breaths, then straighten your legs. Turn your left foot in and your right foot out and repeat this sequence on the other side.

Always remember to start any exercise program slow and to go at your own pace and soon you’ll be on your way to one of my happiest places — the Zen zone.

Comments (1)

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Michael Swink November 29, 2015

My wife Dawn and I participated in the LSI Yoga Challenge which was feally fun this last summer !

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