Mind your back: Yoga and Pilates for back care


The human race began life hunting, roaming and gathering, moving through a series of motions, in order to bring home the daily bread. As we’ve evolved, our lifestyles have become more sedentary, replacing movement for sitting hunched at desks, more often than not, staring at screens. This ‘advancement’ in lifestyle habits has led to a health epidemic that effects over half of the global population: BACK PAIN.

Back pain is the main cause of disability worldwide with 540 million people affected globally at any one time. In Europe, it is the most common reason for sick leave and early retirement (Office for National Statistics), with almost 31m work days lost in the UK due to musculoskeletal problems, 4 million of which were down to back pain. Lower back pain is a condition most of us will suffer from at some point in our lives.

Back pain is a multi layered condition born from genetics, lifestyle habits or trauma to the body. Seeking to rehabilitate and manage back pain conditions with Pilates of yoga, along with lifestyle changes that address repetitive postures and daily stress, can be a less traumatic more sustainable option, than long term use of medication or surgery.

Pilates and alignment based yoga are becoming widely recognised by physiotherapists and health professionals as effective solutions for managing the symptoms of back pain.

Yoga is emerging as a promising means of alleviating lower back pain and may be of great benefit to back pain sufferers. Yoga can selectively lengthen shortened, tight muscles and strengthen weak, elongated muscles, both of which can be contributing factors to pain in the musculoskeletal system. Alignment based practices such as Iyengar and hatha yoga are two forms that integrate balance, co-ordination, strength and flexibility, 4 factors which are vital to a happy, healthy back and overall wellbeing.

Pilates, a firm favourite with physiotherapists and osteopaths, shares similarities with yoga in the sense that it releases and stretches the muscles and aims to correct postural imbalances. It also focuses on strengthening the deep stabilising muscles in the body and building a strong core, key factors in the prevention and treatment of lower back pain.

Pilates and yoga exercises from our expert teachers.

We advise that you approach a specialist for advice before starting a new exercise routine. Feel free to get in touch with us!

Yoga sequence for lower back pain

Use this floor sequence to ease lower back tension, hips, hamstrings and inner thighs, all of which contribute to lower back pain. Use deep, fluid breaths to move from pose to pose. If you feel any strain in your lower back, reduce your range of motion or skip the pose.

Supta padangusthasana A-C with strap

A: Slide a hand under your lower back to make sure there is a gentle curve. Place a strap around the arch of your right foot. Exhale to straighten your right leg, stacking your ankle over your hip, or bringing your leg up as high as possible and slackening the strap as needed to feel a gentle hamstring stretch whilst rooting the femur back into the hip socket. Press through both heels, flexing your feet. Exhale to release and switch sides. 60 seconds each leg.

B: Return to your right side and take both strap ends in your right hand, extending your left arm along the floor. Exhale to lower your right leg to the right. Try to keep your left hip on the floor and your left kneecap pointing up. You should feel a stretch in your inner right thigh, but no lower-back strain. Inhale to lift your right leg back up; exhale to release it to the floor. Switch sides. 30-60 seconds each side.

C: Inhale to bring your right leg back to vertical. With the strap around the arch of your foot, bring both ends into your left hand. Place your right thumb into your right hip crease and draw your hip down slightly so that you maintain length and space in the lower back. Exhale to draw your leg left across your body; inhale to bring your leg back to vertical. Release the strap and switch legs. 30-60 seconds each side


Eye of the needle pose

Bring both knees in toward your chest, then place your right ankle on your left thigh, just above the knee. Hold your left thigh. If you want to increase the stretch, bring your left thigh forward and press your right knee away from your torso. Be mindful of the natural curve in your lower back and keep your shoulders relaxed. Exhale to release, then switch sides. After finishing on the left, roll to one side and use your hands to come to a seated position.

Cat / Cow pose

Come onto your hands and knees with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Inhale to gently drop your lower belly and lift your sitting bones and sternum, or chest, then exhale to round your back and gaze toward your navel. Articulate as much as you can through each vertebrae moving slowly to breathe and create space into the tight areas. The aim is to gently stretch and increase circulation to the back muscles. Do 5 - 10 slow rounds.

Eye of the Needle Pose Cat / Cow Pose Pelvic Tilt / Rock

Eye of the Needle Pose Cat / Cow Pose Pelvic Tilt / Rock


Pilates for lower back pain

Pelvic tilts

A pelvic tilt helps us recruit the deep abdominal muscles and mobilise the lumbar spine.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip distance apart. Your pelvis should be in neutral position. To help you find neutral, Imagine you are balancing a glass of water on your belly. A good check is to feel with your hands if the three points of your pubic bone and hip bones are level.

Inhale into the back and side of your ribcage.

On the exhale start to tilt your pubic bone towards your body.

Inhale and release your pelvis gently back onto the mat.

This is a small movement, the aim is to gently mobilise your lumbar spine.