Yin Yoga and the Lower Back

Feb 24, 2022

We're conditioned to believe that our backs should be kept straight. This is a prominent alignment instruction repeated by many yoga teachers and therapists. In reality, however, it's impossible to keep the spine straight. The spine is a curvy structure with a brilliant design that's meant to move and flex. 

The lower spine is a desensitized part of the body, by design – if it weren't, we'd feel a lot of pain with every movement. Simply getting up out of bed is a movement that puts enormous pressure on the spinal discs, never mind all the movements your body supports throughout each day. This is why your vertebrae are so carefully cushioned.

The lower back is a fabulously resilient and well-built structure. The lowest part of the spine, called the sacroiliac joint, is massively padded. Because of the ongoing loads it must bear to support your movements, it's also prone to some problems – particularly chronic tension and pain syndromes. 

When pain arises, conventional therapies often prescribe keeping the spine straight and moving it as little as possible. While this may be  appropriate for some types of pain, the Yin Yoga approach is different.

Yin Yogis believe that we must move the spine instead to keep it healthy, rather than treating it like it's fragile. This requires a certain amount of trust in the spine's resilience and strength.

The 45 minute yoga class video below is a guided sequence of postures to release tension in the myofascial network of the lower back and sacrum. This approach focuses on gently introducing lower back mobility rather than keeping it still. 

The spine is protected by seven layers of fascia that respond to stress – ie appropriate amounts of stretching and compression – by growing stronger and more pliable. In other words, the more you move your spine, the more your spine will be able to move.

 

 

Download the Low Back Class PDF


The spine has curves that are meant to move

The spine has four sections, each with its own natural curves. A forward (kyphotic) curve is normal for both the lumbar and cervical sections (commonly known as the lower back and neck), while a backward (lordotic) curve is normal for the sacral and thoracic sections (lowest/sacrum section and middle back). 

There is a visual culture in the fitness world that is preoccupied with aesthetics and straight lines. Fear of rounding the spine is prevalent. This fear has made its way into yoga teacher trainings and has become embedded in popular yoga alignment rules. These rules are not supported by research or clinical studies.

Yin Yogis believe that movement is good for the spine in appropriate amounts and that rounding and bending the spine not only feels good, but is necessary for long-term spinal health.

Contraindications

Yoga may not be advised if you have acute lower back pain, nerve pain, or spasms in your back. Yoga also may not be appropriate for anyone who is unable to stand or sit upright without pain. If any of this is present, consultation with a doctor or therapist is recommended before doing yoga.

Who this low back yoga video is for

Yin Yoga may be appropriate for anyone with tightness or stiffness in the lower back. It may also help relieve achy feelings in your low back, sacrum or hip area. It can also maintain and improve lower back health in aging bodies.

 

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A Yin Yoga posture gallery for personalizing your practice