As someone who prides herself on the level of strength and flexibility achieved as a result of my seven-plus-year yoga practice, I was both shocked and dismayed to wake up with extreme lower back pain last month. When I say extreme, it's no exaggeration. It literally took every ounce of energy I had just to stand up, sit down, or straighten my back in any capacity. By the second day, it was so bad that I could not stand upright without using a wall for support, feeling like my knees were going to buckle if I moved away from it. The pain was excruciating and debilitating.
As much as I love making meals in my Dutch oven, I am convinced that this awesome (but heavy!) invention was the source of my mysterious lower back pain. I tend to do things in a rush and failed to take the time to properly bend my knees while lifting it in and out of the oven. Well, I certainly paid the price. Lesson learned!
At the onset of the agony, my first instinct was to stretch my lower back out through gentle yoga postures. But after reading conflicting advice online, I eventually decided against it. So many articles tell you not to stretch or you will actually make the problem worse. By the end of the third day, I got to a point where I stopped taking the advice of 50 percent of the articles I read (because the other half tell you to stretch AND lie down), and I followed my initial instinct, which has rarely led me down the wrong road. I rolled out my yoga mat and proceeded to stretch out my lower back.
And let me tell you, it hurt like hell. But it was the smartest move I had made in days. Not only was I able to stand up straight after just 20 minutes of light stretching, I was able to walk around and sit comfortably again for the first time since the pain began. Really, is there anything yoga can't heal?
My tried and tested advice on how to heal lower back pain is this: Stretch the moment you wake up (using the simple postures below) and then repeat the same stretches again before you lie down for the night.
Give these poses a try:
1. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Stand in Tadasana (mountain pose) with the feet hip-distance apart. On an inhale, sweep both arms up to the sky, then slowly dive down into a standing forward fold. Make sure to fold forward from the hips, not from the waist! Grab the back of your calves to pull yourself deeper into the pose. Feel the lower back release and the hamstrings lengthen as you focus on putting more weight into the toes vs. the heels. Hold this pose for 1 to 2 full minutes. The longer the better!
2. Cobbler's Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Start by sitting on the mat with the soles of your feet together. Grab your toes and begin to bend forward (from the hips) until a point where it is comfortable enough to hold for 1 to 2 full minutes. You also have the option of stretching your arms out in front of you and crawling your fingertips forward to release the back even more.
3. Double Seated Pigeon (Dwapada Rajakapotasana)
Start in a cross-legged seated position. Start by placing the right foot directly on top of the left knee and the left foot directly underneath the right knee. Hinge from your hips and crawl your fingertips forward until you reach a place where you can comfortably hold the posture for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Reclined Leg Stretch (Supta Padangusthasana)
Start by lying down on the mat with your knees hugged into your chest. Then, strap up one foot at a time and extend the leg into the air while resting the other leg along the ground with the toes pointing up toward the sky. Make sure that you are feeling this one more in the hamstring than the shoulders, back, or neck. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.
5. Child's Pose (Balasana)
Separate the knees so that they are in line with the width of the mat, with the big toes touching. On an exhale, slowly fold the torso in between the legs and stretch the arms out in front of you. Rest your forehead on the mat. As you settle into the pose, continue to work on getting the butt closer to the heels. Slowly work on inching the fingertips forward to release the tension in the lower back. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes.