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So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key. One of the most common forms of suffering that arises from living in a modern culture is back pain. The message should definitely be more widely circulated, because freeing your entire back from ordinary muscle tension, and the pain it brings, can usually be done by practicing just four simple poses— one forward bend, one pose that combines a sidebend with a forward bend, one sidebend, and one twist—plus a passive backbend, each day. Use your intuition and an honest assessment of the sensations in your back muscles to gauge when a stronger stretch would feel more like a relief than a threat to them. To fine-tune your practice and get the most out of each pose, it helps to have a general idea of how your muscles work. You can stretch all of your intrinsic back muscles, at least to some extent, by curling your head, neck, trunk, and pelvis forward toward the fetal position. Think of these muscles as a series of elastic bands—some long, some short—that connect the back of your skull, spinal vertebrae, rib cage, sacrum, and hipbones to one another. To get the most stretch from this variation of Malasana, systematically lengthen each segment, without skipping any, by bending your back bit by bit, tucking your hips under, and working your way up the spine, one vertebra at a time, all the way to your neck and head. The first variation of Malasana with a chair is the best for stretching three long muscle groups that run vertically, or nearly vertically, along the vertebral column. When you practice any trunk-flexing movement such as Malasana, be careful not to overdo it, because forced flexion can injure the disks and other soft tissue that hold your spine together. Even though you can stretch many of your intrinsic back muscles by rounding forward, you can increase the stretch on some of them by adding a sidebend to the forward bend. This variation of Malasana is best for stretching a group of short muscles near the center of your lower back, the interspinales muscles in your lumbar spine. Several muscles in two distinct groups get their strongest stretch when you simultaneously twist your trunk in one direction and sidebend the opposite way without bending forward. The passive backbend that concludes this back-stretch sequence lengthens your abdominal muscles.
This back-stretch sequence includes a passive backbend because an active backbend makes you tighten your back muscles. Here are four poses that will systematically stretch all the intrinsic muscles of your back, plus a passive backbend to help bring your front and back body into balance. You’re most likely to keep your back loose and pain free by practicing these poses regularly before your muscles become tense.
If your back muscles are already tight and painful, start with gentler, supported poses, introduced one at a time over several days, preferably under the guidance of a teacher. NOTE: This practice is meant to relieve simple muscular tightness in your back, and it may be inappropriate for muscle spasms, disk injuries, sacroiliac-joint dysfunction, spondylolisthesis, or other back problems. Bring your torso toward or between your thighs, and rest the backs of your hands on blocks or on the floor under the chair if they go that far. From variation 1, lift your chest to thigh level and place your left palm on your outer left thigh near the knee, with the thumb on top of the thigh. To exit the pose, bring your trunk back to the center and push your hands down on your knees to help you sit up. Sit on the floor with your legs wide apart and your pelvis elevated on enough folded blankets to allow you to easily keep it fully upright (not slumped back). Continuing to twist to the right, lean to the left directly over your left thigh, walking your left hand forward away from your thigh on the floor in front of you while still pressing it down.
Finally, reach your right arm over your right ear toward your left foot and press your left hand into the floor to rotate your breastbone toward the sky.
Include this passive backbend as your final pose to stretch your abdominal muscles while allowing your back muscles to remain relaxed. Sit on one end of the two folded blankets you used for the twist, facing away from the other end.
You can always find joy inside of you, if you just take the time to tap into it, writes Erica Rodefer Winters. Release tight muscles in your back and alleviate back pain with these yoga poses and sequences.
Bend back into the shape of a bow to feel energetically locked, loaded, and ready to take aim.
Dolphin pose strengthens the core, arms, and legs, while also nicely opening the shoulders.
Deservedly one of yoga’s most widely recognized yoga poses, Adho Mukha Svanasana, offer the ultimate all-over, rejuvenating stretch. You need strength, flexibility, and endurance, and unwavering concentration for Eagle Pose.
Find length in your side body, from your heel to your fingertips with Extended Side Angle Pose.
The Fire Log Pose stretches the outer hips intensely, particularly the piriformis, which is often the main culprit of sciatic pain. It is said that if you perform the fish pose in water, you will be able to float like a fish. Say hello to leg and ankle strength as you seek stability and extend into this balancing pose, Half Moon Pose.
There’s a general consensus among modern yogis that Viparita Karani or Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose may have the power to cure whatever ails you.
Salabhasana or Locust Pose effectively preps beginners for deeper backbends, strengthening the back of the torso, legs, and arms. This twisting variation of Janu Sirsasana takes the classic forward bend to the next level of release. This revolved variation of Utthita Parsvakonasana requires a lot of flexibility to twist so deeply and ground the back heel. A counterpose to Trikonasana and preparation for seated forward bends and twists, this pose is key to a skilled practice. Named for a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, this version of Warrior Pose increases stamina.

While yoga can often be a quick fix, these postures will help to methodically alleviate the root cause of back pain. Start to ease lower back discomfort and counteract the effects of too much sitting by swapping some of your standard Surya Namaskars for this core-focused variation.
This video from our essential guide to vinyasa yoga reveals how one student with scoliosis corrected her hypermobility and deepened her practice through strong alignment.
Jason Crandell narrates this video demonstration of Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana). Stephanie Snyder’s video sequence can ease back pain and clear negative emotions by releasing your hips. This pose stretches the hip and leg muscles that get tight from sitting all day, causing tension in the lower back. In this video, learn the actions needed to sit in Sukhasana with a relaxed but alert state of mind.
Let go of tension with this floor-based sequence that relieves tightness in the neck, back, hips, and hamstrings. Chair Pose clearly works the muscles of the arms and legs, but it also stimulates the diaphragm and heart.
A modification of Plank Pose, Dolphin Plank Pose strengthens and tones the core, thighs, and arms. In Extended Hand-to-big-toe Pose, maintaining solid grounding through the standing foot helps keep you steady. A cross between Child’s Pose and Downward Facing Dog, Extended Puppy Pose lengthens the spine and calms the mind. Half Frog pose is more than a backbend; it opens the shoulders, chest, and thighs all at once.
The foundation of all standing poses, Mountain Pose makes a great a starting position, resting pose, or tool to improve posture. Eka Pada Koundinyasana I or Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya I has a lot going on—the twist, the legs going their separate ways, oh, and the arm balance. Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya II tones the belly and spine, strengthens the arms and wrists, and gives your self-confidence a big boost. The key to Parsva Bakasana is twisting enough to place the outer edge of one upper arm far around the outside of the opposite thigh. Purvottanasana counteracts the effects of Chaturanga by stretching the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and anterior deltoids.
Virasana or Hero Pose is a balm for tired legs at the end of the day, as well as an alternative to Lotus for seated meditation. Eagle Arms improves upper-back posture and dissolves tension at the base of your neck and shoulders. Liberate your upper body for better backbending by focusing on your latissimus dorsi muscles. Bow Pose works against hunched shoulders by opening them from the front and strengthening them from the back. But somehow the message that a regular yoga practice can unlock a tight, aching back and resolve chronic pain doesn’t seem to have been broadcast to the population at large. These poses systematically stretch every muscle in your back, with the exception of a few arm and shoulder muscles.
Start by spending a few days loosening your muscles partway with gentle, supported poses that involve similar movements, such as Supta Padangusthasana and Supported Child’s Pose. In addition to the well-known large muscles of the back, such as the trapezius, latissimus, and rhomboids, you have well over 200 intrinsic back muscles, and their primary function is to move or stabilize your spine and trunk. When you round forward, the anchor points where the muscles attach to the bones move apart from one another, and this is what stretches the muscles. Deep, natural breathing will increase the effect, because your inhalation widens the arc of your back, and your exhalation tightens the curl. This movement, which you create in variation 2 of Malasana, intensifies the stretch by creating a larger gap between the vertebrae on one side of the spine than either a forward bend or a sidebend does alone.
It’s important for you to limit flexion in this pose by resting your chest and belly on your thigh, because excessive spinal flexion in combination with a sidebend can be even more dangerous for the disks and other soft tissue around your spine than excessive flexion on its own.
The variation of Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend) used in this sequence maximizes the lateral arc of your body, and this creates more stretch than any other movement on certain muscles that run vertically up the sides of the vertebrae or the back of the rib cage. Since the first four poses increase flexibility in the back muscles, it’s important to keep your abs flexible, too.
Since even a passive backbend places the back muscles in a shortened position, it’s usually best not to introduce this pose into your back-stretch practice when you first learn this sequence, while your back muscles are still tight.
You can also practice this sequence to ease moderate back tightness and discomfort before it becomes chronic pain or an acute injury.
When you sense that a stronger stretch would feel more like a relief than a threat to your back, gradually introduce the poses in this back-stretch sequence. If you have back pain, or suspect a disease or injury, check with your health care provider before trying it.
Push your hands down on the arms or seat of the chair to take some of the weight off your pelvis. Place your right hand on your outer left ankle, then use both hands to sidebend your trunk gradually to the left until you can rest your chest and belly well across your left thigh. Press your right hand down into the floor behind you and your left hand down into the floor in front of you, sit tall, and use your arm strength to twist your entire trunk to the right as far as you can. Fold two blankets long and narrow, and stack them to create a rectangle approximately 27 inches long, 9 inches wide, and 5 inches high. Sit tall, twist your whole trunk toward the blankets, and lie down, reaching your breastbone as far away from your pelvis as it can reach. Keeping your knees bent, lie down and rest your shoulder blades on the far end of the blankets, with the very top of your shoulder bones hanging 1 inch off the end and the rest of the bone supported by the blankets.

Urdhva Dhanurasana can help—and strengthen your arms, legs, abdomen, and spine in the process. Adopt these three slow, subtle yoga strategies from Tias Little to get more relief out of each practice. Try asanas like Downward-Facing Dog and Extended Triangle Pose, which strengthen and stretch your back. If you’re used to sitting in chairs, Easy Pose or Sukhasana can be quite challenging. Standing on your head in proper alignment not only strengthens the whole body but calms the brain. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) to Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)Benefits: Encourages good posture and balance. Steady practice helps us to identify when our suffering is optional, and it empowers us with the tools to transform that suffering. As you practice the sequence of poses on these pages, you’ll see that when yoga unlocks the chains that bind the back, it does so with a combination, not a key. You can stave off tension-induced back pain indefinitely by practicing these poses on a regular basis, either on their own or after gentler preparatory poses. Trying to stretch all of them deeply with just four poses seems like a tall order, but that’s exactly what this sequence will do. To see why this variation of Malasana with a chair works, and to improve your practice technique, visualize your back muscles with the help of the illustrations. If you connect the dots between these points, they form a wide arc that defines the curve of the back. You’ll benefit from practicing this pose toward the end of the sequence, because the previous poses will soften the larger back muscles that would otherwise prevent each vertebra from twisting to its full potential.
If your back becomes looser than your belly, the relative tightness of the abdomen will bend your spine forward, and your back muscles will tense up by reflex to oppose this. Tight muscles are in a state of contraction, and if you shorten them, they may automatically contract even further. But for ordinary back tension and the pain that comes with it, yoga offers clear relief and reliable prevention.
If you are still comfortable and want to increase the stretch, gently tilt your tailbone down toward the chair seat and curl your back further, one vertebra at a time, from the base of your spine all the way up to your neck and head. Now, without losing the twist, let your right sitting bone feel heavy and move it toward the floor.
Sit on the floor 6 inches from one end of the blankets, with your right hip joint exactly in line with the long centerline of the blankets and your right thigh perpendicular to it. If you can look to your right without straining your neck, rest your left ear on the blankets. On pages where users ask each other the best way to resolve their back problems, they are advised by other users to see a massage therapist, a chiropractor, or a doctor, or to take Motrin. When you reach this stage, you should add a fifth pose, the passive backbend shown on page 75, to balance out your practice. To maximize the stretch on these muscles, systematically separate each rib from its neighbor, individually sidebend each vertebral segment, sidebend your waist and neck, and breathe naturally but deeply.
As you work your way up your spine in this supported twist, consciously release and rotate every vertebra as much as you can in relation to the one below it. Instead, practice the forward bending, sidebending, and twisting poses for as many days as it takes for your back tension to subside before adding the backbend. And best of all, the most likely side effects are a peaceful mind, increased energy, and the joyful feeling of freedom restored.
Now let your back round over, starting at the bottom of the spine and working your way up to the top. As you progress, draw your belly up toward your lower back, your breastbone toward your upper back, and your head toward the front of your tailbone to round the spine more. Systematically bend your spine and rib cage to the left from bottom to top, ending by turning your head to face forward, sidebending your neck and allowing your head to hang down. Reach your arms overhead and rest them on the floor, or, if your shoulders are tight, support your arms on a stack of blankets.
Of course, massage, manipulation, and medicine can each help to free up tense back muscles in its own way, but these options don’t give people the tools to cast off their own shackles. The second group of muscles that gets maximal stretch from this variation of Upavistha Konasana responds as much to the twist as to the sidebend. Since each vertebra of the upper back is attached to a pair of ribs, it’s easier to rotate these vertebrae if you allow the ribs to turn relative to one another. Use 8 long breaths to stretch the spaces between your back ribs and to release tight spots. Push your right palm down firmly into the floor to systematically increase the twist, one vertebra and one rib at a time, from the base of the spine to the top of the neck. And even though a few insightful respondents do recommend elementary stretches, no one has uttered so much as a tweet about the elephant in the chat room: yoga. It includes midlength muscles that run diagonally from the center of one vertebra to the side of another, namely, the rotatores longi and multifidus.
Finally, whenever you twist, exhale softly to release the grip of the diaphragm muscle and intercostal muscles on the rib cage. To stretch them fully in this pose, create a very strong twist, without skipping any level, before bending to the side, and reinforce this twist as you sidebend to your maximum.

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