Yoga is so much more than a wellness trend. While the ancient practice is often touted as a strengthening workout for those with an affinity for Lululemon gear, it boasts more than just the ability to tone your arms and core. Yoga offers both physical and emotional benefits and no one understands this more than the founder of Thyroid Yoga Fern Olivia and Los Angeles-based instructor Nicolette Ficchi.
Meet the Expert
- Fern Olivia is a thyroid expert trained in Biomedical Engineering. As the founder of Thyroid Yoga, her passion is to empower people to heal themselves through yoga. She works with clients through Personal Retreats in Costa Rica and virtual Thyroid Yoga sessions and mentorships.
- Nicolette Ficchi is a certified reiki practitioner, yoga instructor, and holistic health coach with a mission to help people feel their best by teaching them how to tap into their intuition. She is a Certified Integrative Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, specializing in gut health and thyroid function.
Take lower back pain, for example. According to Olivia, discomfort in this area can be related to everything from insecurity to anger. Additionally, daily routines like sitting at a desk all day or being stuck in the car during long commutes can contribute to back problems, Ficchi points out. Because yoga tackles both emotional and physical factors, the practice can be used to alleviate lower back pain.
Yoga can be very beneficial for the lower back because it will help to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the back and spine.
"Yoga can be very beneficial for the lower back because it will help to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the back and spine," Ficchi explains. Not only can doing yoga help to ease lower back pain, but it can also help to prevent injuries in the future, she adds. This is done through a variety of specific poses that work to release tension in the lower back while strengthening muscles that support the spine, like your abs.
Of course, yoga is like any other workout routine in many ways and you shouldn't jump into a new practice with the hopes of curing pain without first consulting your doctor and taking necessary precautions. Ficchi advises easing into new movements and listening to your body during the process in order to avoid injury. "If something feels 'off' in your body, stop doing it and utilize modifications as opposed to just jerking your body into a shape you think it needs to be in," Ficchi says. You can also use props like blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters to help you transition into new postures.
If you're ready to try yoga for lower back pain, start out with this flow designed by Ficchi to target your back and help soothe pain while strengthening important muscles. Here's how to get into each pose and exactly how it will benefit your back.
- Come into a tabletop position on hands and knees with the wrists stacked under the shoulders and the knees stacked under the hips.
- Inhale and press your chest forward as your head looks up and spread your sit bones apart.
- Make sure to keep the core engaged and to not "dump" into the lower back, which may cause pain.
- From cow pose, exhale and press the earth away from you.
- Allow the head to come into the chest and round out the spine, coming into a dome shape.
The Benefits: The movement between cat and cow pose is known as spinal flexion. This frees up the spine to release tension in the back, Ficchi explains.
Downward Facing Dog
- Begin in a plank position to measure the correct distance for your body.
- Pressing down evenly through each finger, lift the hips to this sky.
- Keep the heels lifted and leave a slight bend in the knees, especially if your hamstrings are tight.
- If the shoulders are tight, turn the hands out.
The Benefits: "When the heels are lifted and knees are bent, this allows for the torso to move towards the thighs, articulating the natural curve of the lower spine," says Ficchi.
- Make sure your feet are hips distance apart.
- With bent knees, hinge at the waist and maintain length in the front body.
- Allow the head to hang and weight to shift to the fronts of the feet.
The Benefits: "This cooling posture allows for stability in the lower back while stretching the backs of the legs," according to Ficchi. Because the knees are bent, the lower back can lengthen, which helps to release tension.
- Laying on the abdomen, place the palms on the floor directly below the elbows and pull the elbows towards the midline.
- Stretch back through the legs and press the tops of the feet into the floor.
- Keep the pelvis neutral without arching or rounding in the lower back.
- Lift the shoulders away from the floor and spread the collarbones.
The Benefits: This pose strengthens the back, thighs, and shoulders while stretching the front of the body.
- Start from downward facing dog or tabletop position and bring one shin to the top of the mat.
- Place the foot behind the wrist of the opposite hand and the knee behind the wrist of the same hand.
- Allow the opposite leg to slide straight back.
- Draw the legs in towards each other and keep your hips square.
- Begin to walk your hands out and lengthen the sides of the neck while keeping the head in line with the spine.
- Place a blanket or block under the hip of the front leg and prop a block under the forehead for extra support.
The Benefits: It opens up the hips and stretches the hip flexors. "This, in turn, will help alleviate low back pain because tightness in the hip flexors can weaken your glutes, therefore overworking your lower back muscles which leads to low back pain," the yoga instructor states.
- Laying on your back, bring one knee into the chest and cross it over the other leg.
- Extend that same arm out to the side.
- Place a bolster under the knee that is twisting over for extra supports and let the other hand rest gently on the knee.
The Benefits: "This is a restorative posture that allows gravity to take over and free the muscles of their grip," Ficchi says. "Twists can be therapeutic for the back, neutralize the spine and alleviate lower back pain," she adds.
Knees to Chest
- Draw both knees in towards the chest keeping them together or slightly apart.
- Lengthen the lower back and relax the muscles.
- Sway side to side to increase the sensation.
The Benefits: This stretch works to relieve lower back pain and gastrointestinal discomfort, according to Ficchi.
- Bring the big toes together with your shins on the floor. The knees can be together or slightly apart.
- Lower the hips toward the heels, lengthen the torso and rest the forehead on the floor or on a block.
- The arms can be extended forward or relaxed by the sides.
The Benefits: This calming post lengthens the lower back, creating space and releasing tension, Ficchi notes. "This is a pose you can always go back to in class or during your home practice," she says.
Whitehead PB. The Effect of Yoga on Chronic Nonspecific Low Back Pain. American Journal of Nursing. February 2018;118(2):64. doi:10.1097/01.NAJ.0000530250.68582.9d