At the start of my yoga classes, when I ask if anyone has any health conditions, the most common answer is lower back pain. Usually they are referring to that intermittent pain we all get from time to time, especially when we have been sitting for hours at a laptop. It acts as a warning signal to listen to your body and don’t subject it to more than it can do – the yogic principle of Ahimsa (non violence).
People with lower back problems may suffer with occasional twinges when they practice. It means they need to move with more caution and be mindful. A yoga block can help, to ensure you can keep active and continue your practice, without doing yourself any damage.
Obviously, this advice may not suit everyone and people with long term or serious spinal conditions need to seek professional advice from a spinal expert. But this is just an outline what I personally do if I strain my back muscles or suffer with twinges, caused by sciatica, too much sitting or age related just wear and tear. I am prompted to write about this now because I have recently strained the muscles in my lower back whilst paddle boarding and have adapted my own self practice to compensate.
Here are 5 ways a block can help yogis who suffer with occasional lower back pains.
Reducing spinal flexion in forward folds
Forward folds are very common in yoga and especially in a vinyasa practice with lots of sun salutations. They can be very calming but they place the spine into flexion - which can aggravate lower back issues – either going down into the fold or coming back up to standing. In addition to properly using the core muscles and bending the knees, using 2 yoga blocks can help by reducing the level of spinal flexion involved. You can also avoid a deep fold remain more upright and instead do a half fold. This works for uttanasana and for the wide legged version prasarita pada uttanasana.
When folding down and returning, use your breath, bend your knees and maybe even keep hands on hips. All these things help reduce the load on your spine.
Block behind ankle for trikonasana (triangle pose)
Over extending in trikonasana can aggravate a sore lower back. People can then collapse into the posture and fail to get the energising benefits. Placing a block behind the ankle means your spine is more supported, yet you can retain all the benefits of engaging the leg and core muscles. When holding the posture it is especially powerful.
Block under bottom in Paschimottanasana (or use a bolster)
Paschimottanasana is called intense seated fold for a reason and people with severe back issues like a slipped disk should be wary of this posture as it involves deep forward flexion in the spine. One way to approach it if your back can be sensitive is to use a block, this will help to create more height and avoid arching, which can over stretch the lower back muscles. It can also help yogis with tight hamstrings to gain a better alignment. A further option is to use a bolster under the chest in addition to reduce the amount of flexion and make the posture more restorative.
Opt for supported bridge using a yoga block
One of the most relaxing ways to benefit from spinal extension and a gentle back bend whilst also strengthening the core and gluts/legs is to use a block in bridge. Place the block at the sacrum (flat bone at the bottom of your spine). Position it to feel comfortable and appropriate for your range of movement – choose the high or medium height setting. Then interlace your hands around the block and close your eyes. Stay here for 10 slow breaths and enjoy the open feeling in your upper back without any strain in your lower spine. From here you can also transition into a version of a supported shoulder stand.
Block between knees in spinal twists
Squeezing a block when you do a supine twist is a lovely way to start or finish a yoga class. It is a great movement for any time of day, opening the hips, mobilising the spine and just getting a really good stretch. Using a block between the knees helps to maintain good alignment and just avoids any extra strain to the spine caused if your range of motion doesn’t allow things to reach the floor without lifting shoulder blades away.
There are loads of other ways you can use props like yoga blocks and yoga straps to enhance your yoga practice. A one to one yoga class can be an ideal way to become more familiar with using props.