3 Things to Keep Your Lower Back Safer in Yoga Class

How to keep your lower back safe when practicing yoga is perhaps one of the biggest concerns of any yoga beginner. And with good reason, too.

Life these days is hectic. Whether you’re running around visiting clients or picking up children, or stuck at a desk for hours before being stuck on the sofa for more hours (no shame, that’s me on a weekday), the time we have to move our bodies is limited.

One of the first signs that we’re not moving enough is a pain in the lower spine regions. Weakened abdominal muscles, tight hips, and shortened hip flexors all contribute to adding extra pressure to the lumbar spine.

You may have heard that one of the benefits of yoga is the positive impact on lower back pain. Can yoga help with back pain? Yes. However, it’s important to be mindful of the types of yoga poses you try, as some might exacerbate the problem. Back pain and yoga have been known to go hand in hand.

This post delves into some of the ways that you can manage lower back pain and prevent it from worsening through yoga.


1. There are many ways to both manage and prevent lower back pain in yoga. One of the most important is to work on strengthening the muscles of the lower back so that the stability of the lower spine is improved. Yoga poses such as sphinx, cobra, locust, bridge, and cat-cow can do just that if practiced with proper alignment.

2. A second important factor is to counteract the impact that sitting has on our lower backs. Supported bridge, low-lunge, and Warrior 1 help with this.

3. Finally, a good night’s sleep helps to reduce back pain. By applying principles used in restorative yoga, we can aid our sleep and reduce our sensitivity to pain. Using large pillows to support the backs of the knees when sleeping, like you would in a supported Corpse pose, can help.

Skip ahead to:

Common Causes of Lower Back Pain

Unfortunately, a sedentary lifestyle is affecting a growing number of us. Causes of lower back problems include:

  • Too much sitting
  • Heavy lifting without recruiting bent knees
  • Slouching when sitting
  • Poor posture
  • Poor form when exercising
  • Having a higher weight
  • Insomnia
  • Overextending muscles when exercising

But, it’s not just our lifestyle that causes lower back pain. According to Wheeler (2022) chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia (AKA chronic pain) and spinal stenosis can contribute.

Just because something is common doesn’t mean it is normal. Lower back pain is widespread, but that doesn’t make it OK. It isn’t something to be ignored or side-eyed in the hopes that it will go away. I did that for a few weeks and then ended up with a herniated disc that had me in tears each morning trying to get out of bed.

So, in the spirit of setting strong and steady foundations for a safe and sustainable yoga practice, we need to develop a keen awareness of what our lower back is trying to tell us, how to prevent lower back pain, and how to manage it when it does show up.

As always, it is very important to consult with your doctor first to identify the underlying cause of any back (or other) pain you are experiencing, or to assuage any concerns you might have. 

How to Keep Your Lower Back Safe When Practicing Yoga

Once you have the green light from your trusted healthcare provider to attempt the following, try out each of these to see how they feel for you. I used these to help ease some remnant pain from a lumbar spine hernia. But that was only after I had completed the core-strengthening exercises from my doctor AND only after he had approved of these poses.

It is important that you discern, with your doctor, if these are right for you, as back pain comes in many forms and has many causes that may not benefit from these poses.

For each of these poses, Minnis (2020) gives a comprehensive set of instructions. Click on each one to see a visual and proper alignment cues (and ways to modify and contraindications to be aware of ) from www.tummee.com.

Each one can be done in isolation, but I have listed them in order of intensity according to how I experience them in my own practice.

One: 5 Best Yoga Poses to Strengthen Your Lower Back 

The following five poses all help to develop a strong lower back. This in turn, over time and with regular practice, will help to ease lower back pain.

  1. Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana- Bitilasana)

Cat-cow is often a precursor to downward facing dog(adho mukha svanasana) or plank pose. It stabilizes the shoulders and gently strengthens a weak core while warming up the lower back muscles around the spine.

Take it slow and listen to your body. Keep your core engaged at all times. Your yoga teacher might cue this as “pull the navel towards the spine” or “suck the belly in gently”.

A man keeps his lower back safe in yoga by practicing cat cow pose in loose clothes

2. Sphinx (Salamba Bhujanasana)

In Sphinx pose, keep the tailbone gently pulling towards the backs of the knees, and the belly tucked in. Using the resistance of the floor or your yoga mat, pull your hands gently towards the chest and relax the shoulders down away from the spine.

Keep the back of the neck long, so the crown of your head is reaching gently up to the ceiling.

These same principles apply to Cobra pose and Locust pose, pictured below.

A woman keeps her lower back safe in yoga by practicing sphinx pose outdoors in the sunshine

3. Cobra (Bhujangasana)

A woman keeps her lower back safe in yoga by practicing cobra pose in a yoga studio

4. Locust (Salabhasana)

A woman in dark tight yoga clothes keeps her lower back safe in yoga by practicing locust pose.

5. Bridge (Setubhanda Sarvangasana)

Bridge pose is one precursor to wheel pose. However, if you don’t lay the foundations in bridge pose and instead try to jump ahead to Wheel, you may risk increasing your potential for injury to your lower back.

In bridge pose, focus on the following:

1. Keep your feet parallel to each other, not splaying out to the sides, as this will negatively impact the lower back.

2. As you lift up, push into the feet and use the leg muscles to lift the hips.

3. Once your hips are up, gently pull the tailbone toward the backs of the knees to engage the core and protect the lower spine.

4. Keep the chest lifted and your shoulders reaching down away from the ears.

5. Breath into the chest slowly and mindfully, and as you breathe out, re-engage the core and lift the hips up again if they dipped.

6. After a few breaths, lower down lowly as you exhale, and let the knees drop in toward each other for a quick rest.

A woman in white yoga clothes keeps her lower back safe in yoga by practicing bridge pose in a yoga studio

Two: 3 Poses to Counteract The Impact of Sitting

Sitting for extended periods really does a number on us. This is exactly how I ended up with a hernia. Sitting on a train, then sitting at work, then sitting at home, and then sitting in the park contemplating a walk.

Apart from the negative effects sitting has on achieving good posture, two areas chronically affected by too much sitting are the iliopsoas muscles and the hamstrings. Tight hamstrings and tight iliopsoas muscles create pain in the lower back. Overuse of these muscles from yoga poses that require repeated flexion of the leg can also contribute to tighter muscles.

So, it is important to counteract this with some extension, allowing these muscles to stretch.

One word of caution, don’t jump straight into stretching cold muscles. Warm them up first with some strengthening. Stability first, flexibility second.

For a detailed look at the iliopsoas muscle, click here.

Each of the following poses can be done in isolation, but I have listed them in order of intensity according to how I experience them in my own practice

Supported Bridge Pose is similar in shape to Bridge pose listed above, but different in purpose. The support from a block and strap allows for a focus on stretching more than strengthening.

You won’t need to engage the core muscles or leg muscles so much. Instead, you can relax onto the support.

For a greater stretch at the top of the leg, experiment with extending the legs straight out in front of you. If you notice any pain in the lower back, though, rebend them.

Three women keep their lower backs safe in yoga by using a bolster under their lower backs

2. Low lunge (anjaneyasana)

In low lunge, make sure your feet are hips distance apart, and that the back foot is pointing directly back.

As you push down into both feet, gently tuck the tailbone down toward the back of the back knee, pulling the belly gently in.

Once you have established this foundation, then work on lowering the hips gently down and forward with each exhale.

A woman in dark yoga clothes keeps her lower back safe in yoga by practicing low lunge on a deck next to a lake in the mountains

3. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)

Warrior 1 is a fantastic pose for many reasons. It is a great strengthening pose for the muscles in the front leg, core, and back. It is also fantastic at stretching out the iliopsoas in the back leg.

At first, this pose is more accessible if you have the feet hip distance apart. that way, you will find your center of balance a little more easily.

The same principles from low lunge described above for the tummy and the back also apply here.

Raising your arms up (as shown in the photo) is optional, and may be a little difficult at first. If so, then keep your hands on your waist – use them as a reminder to keep tucking the tailbone down and relaxing the shoulders away from the ears.

Two women in a yoga studio keep their lower back safe in yoga by practicing warrior one pose.

Three: The Importance of Sleep

The lower quality of sleep we get, the more sensitive we are to pain. The more pain we experience, the worse we sleep. Thus begins a vicious cycle. One prop that I have found to be helpful in the past is a nice sturdy cushion or pillow, or even a yoga bolster.

Lying face up, I’ll place the pillow under my knees, allowing my lower back to rest down a little more on the mattress instead of being elevated in its natural curve. This takes the pressure off the vertebra in the lumbar spine, alleviating the pain a little.

This is also a great option for corpse pose (savasana) at the end of a gentle practice. It would look something like this:

three women keep their lower back safe in yoga by using a bolster under their knees in savasana

I am not good at staying face up though, often waking up face down, my left leg crooked up near my armpit and arms hugging the pillow that is patiently allowing itself to be drooled on.

Sleeping on my side with my knees bent is perhaps the most common position for me, and if it is for you, too, then try placing the cushion in between your knees so that they are in line with the hips.

Some precautions

1. The physical postures in yoga can help but also hinder lower back pain. Before trying any of the above, or walking into any yoga classes, check with your doctor that these poses are the right fit for you and your body’s needs, especially if you have recently had a back injury.

2. Some yoga poses to avoid if you have a herniated disc include spinal twists and any type of forward fold, including seating and standing forward bends. Beware that Child’s pose is considered a forward fold.

3. If and when you do attempt the poses, focus on finding your edge – don’t push too far. Use props to help support you if you need them. Focus on slow movements with proper form. Healing is not to be rushed. If you notice any sharp pain, come out of the pose immediately and rest.


1. Is yoga good for lower back pain?

If applied correctly, yes it is. Focus on poses that build strength in the lower back, legs, and core, and poses that stretch the iliopsoas to counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

2. What yoga poses are best for lower back pain?

The best poses are ones that strengthen the muscles around the lower back.  Sphinx pose, Cobra pose, Locust pose, and Bridge pose are great for yoga beginners to try after getting the go-ahead from your doctor.

3. Why does my back hurt more after doing yoga?

This could be down to improper alignment, pushing the body too hard during practice, attempting poses that the body isn’t ready for yet or that exacerbate an existing problem, or complications from a previous injury. Check with your doctor first before attempting yoga poses to help with lower back pain, and follow the cues from your yoga instructor carefully to avoid further complications.

4. Is it OK to do yoga with lower back pain?

The best answer you will get will be from a trusted healthcare professional. They will be able to examine the cause of the back pain and will then be able to advise you on what yoga poses to practice and which ones to avoid.

Key Takeaways

The point here is that lower back pain issues are rife, and debilitating, and can be made better or worse with yoga.

When you practice yoga, focusing on strengthening the muscles of the lower back, and the muscles that are weakened from too much sitting is the key to reducing lower back pain. A regular practice that focuses on these poses and avoids ones that put pressure on the lower back will see you reaching for the pain medication less often.

Again, these methods are what have worked for me, and only after my lovely doctor said I could, (as this physiotherapist emphasizes) so please do check with your doctor before you risk doing more damage than good. My personal experience does not replace the advice of a qualified medical professional.

Other poses that you might experiment with are Mountain pose and Chair pose. Mountain pose is far from a simple pose, though it may look like it. Chair pose engages a lot of muscles around the lower back and legs, making it a great addition to this list.

If you’re interested in more yoga tidbits then you can follow me on Instagram, join my Beginners’ Yoga Community Facebook Group, or sign up for my newsletter by filling out your info below (you’ll get my FREE guide on how to set up your space for a sustainable home yoga practice).

Next week, on to a new topic, something I am quite passionate about…

Until then, much love,