5 Lower Back and Core Strengthening Poses That Don’t Require Standing Up

In the past year and a half, I’ve gained a profound understanding of the rapid calming power that lies within our nervous system when we simply lay on the floor. As yoga studios suddenly shuttered their doors, I found myself in a unique position – no longer burdened by the responsibilities of teaching multiple classes each week, leading teacher training, and mentoring new instructors. Initially, I saw this as a chance to take a break from yoga, but by the third week of inactivity, discomfort and a sense of malaise crept in, revealing how much I relied on yoga to not only care for myself but also to ignite inspiration and inform my teaching.

Despite this realization, there were days when the allure of my sofa and the distraction of my phone held me captive, making it seemingly impossible to unroll my yoga mat. The act of getting on the mat felt like a monumental task as if an invisible barrier held me back from the one thing that could truly uplift my spirits.

I’ve come to recognize that beginning my practice with the support of the floor against my back instantly brings relief. This simple act, bending my knees and placing my feet flat on the mat, draws my attention inward to my breath, coaxing my frazzled nervous system into a state of tranquility. It’s a subtle transformation, a softening within, leading to improved clarity of mind and a greater sense of tolerance for life’s challenges.

Throughout the past year, my home practice has taken a new direction, focusing more on floor-based poses, core stabilization, and grounding techniques. These poses, while maintaining their benefits for the shoulders, core, and lower back, keep me close to the mat, aligning with my current needs. The journey from the sofa to the mat remains a challenge, but I’ve realized that even a little movement is better than nothing – movement is my medicine.

Here’s a grounding, floor-based yoga sequence that has become one of my go-to practices. This sequence strengthens the core and is particularly helpful for those with low-back sensitivity or weakness. It also nurtures the arms, and shoulders, and alleviates tension in the upper back and chest. This practice can stand alone or serve as a warm-up for more extended home practice. For this sequence, a bolster or a couple of folded blankets can be used.

Bent Knees

Start by lying flat on your back and drawing your knees into your chest. Take a moment to breathe in this position. As you bring your feet flat on the mat, rest your hands on your chest, close your eyes, and deliberately slow down your breath.

Ensure that your lower back makes contact with the mat. If there’s a gap, subtly shift the front of your hip bones towards your low ribs until your lower back is firmly grounded. This is the foundation for the subsequent exercises.

Bolster Overhead

This exercise not only strengthens the lower back and core but also teaches the arms to externally rotate, which is essential for weight-bearing postures. Hold a bolster or folded blanket, adjusting the weight as needed.

Lift the bolster directly above your head, arms shoulder-distance apart, palms facing up. For stronger shoulders, turn your hands out slightly. Keep the shape of your lower spine as you straighten your arms. Lift the bolster, moving it up and slightly behind your head. Be attentive; stop if you feel your lower back arching.

Repeat this movement a total of 5 times. Then, hug your bolster.

Leg Lifts and Lowers

This pose focuses on core strength without compromising low-back stability. From the initial position, press into your feet and lift your hips enough to slide the bolster horizontally under your pelvis.

Inhale, bringing both knees into your chest. Exhale and extend your legs straight up toward the ceiling, directly over your pelvis, with the inner edges of your feet touching.

Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, slowly lower your legs toward the front of your mat, maintaining the natural curve of your lower back. Only go as far as you can without tilting your low back.

Pause, inhale, release facial tension, and as you exhale, move your legs back to the starting position. Repeat this sequence 5 times.

Finish by hugging your knees into your chest, then bring your feet back to the mat, pressing through your feet to lift your hips and slide the bolster off to the side. Lower your back to the mat and relax.

Reclined Twist

This lower back stretch engages your core to initiate movement. Start from the position with your knees bent and feet hip-distance apart. Move your arms straight out to the side, a bit wider than in Savasana.

Exhale, slowly move your bent knees to the left, creating your resistance, and pause to inhale. On the next exhale, initiate the movement from your abdominal muscles to bring your legs back to the starting position. The subtle core work here is vital; you can place your hands on your lower abdomen to feel the initiation of movement.

Repeat this sequence 5 times. To intensify the pose, start in the same position but with your right ankle crossed over your left knee (thread the needle hip opener). Move your legs to the right then over to the left, repeating 5 times on each side.

Superman to Modified Side Plank

This sequence challenges both your muscles and your mind in a novel way. Start by lying on your abdomen, bend your elbows out to the sides, stack your hands, and rest your forehead on top. This unique posture allows you to connect with the floor in a different manner, enhancing your awareness of breathing quality. Maintain this position for about a minute.

Engage your legs, stretching them hip-distance apart and pressing the tops of your feet down. Lift your legs off the floor while maintaining the engagement in your legs and glutes. Slowly lift your head slightly off your hands, stretch your arms forward, and reach as far as you can.

Remain here for 5 breaths, feeling the space you’re creating in your back, akin to a superhero flying through space. Now, bend your right elbow, placing your hand just to the right of your ribs, and carefully roll onto your left side. Align your body from heel to arm, keeping your legs straight, tailbone and abs engaged, and rest your head on your arm. Breathe as you work on finding balance. Press down firmly into the outer edge of your bottom heel and straighten your knee.

Lift your top leg off your bottom leg, engaging your outer hip muscles. Remain in this position for 5 breaths.

For a more intense challenge, reach your right arm in the same direction as your legs, maintaining straight limbs. Continue to breathe smoothly, focusing on drawing your tailbone and navel toward each other.

Carefully roll back onto your abdomen, repeat the superhero prep from the first side, and then transition to the other side. Finally, roll onto your back and bring your knees into your chest. You can transition into Savasana (Corpse Pose) or continue with your home practice.

Remember, the more you practice, the more proficient you become. Let this sequence be your antidote for endless Zoom sessions and an empowering grounding experience.

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