It seems everyone has back problems these days. Whether you have a spinal condition such as scoliosis, or low back pain, or an overly rounded back due to aging, these stretches can significantly improve your back flexibility and prevent or treat just about any problems you are having with your spine. As a general rule, to make any noticeable improvement, you should hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds. The idea is to hold it until you feel the muscle relax and give a little bit. Make sure you warm up before stretching by doing some jumping jacks, going for a walk, or doing some squats to get the blood flowing. This will make your muscles relax and stretch easier than if they are stiff and cold. You can do these stretches throughout your day, or do them all back to back in a long stretching session. I personally prefer the latter, so that you can really focus on what you are doing and don’t feel rushed to go do something else.
If you don’t believe these stretches can make any noticeable improvement, check out this video about a woman who had a significant improvement in her hunchback doing yoga regularly. It’s an incredible true story.
Cow to Cow – These two poses are great for warming up the back, while increasing the spine’s flexibility.
How to: Get on your hands and knees. Begin by contracting your abdominal muscles and stretching your head down. Then press your back upwards. Imagine you have something on the middle of your back and you are trying to get it to touch the ceiling. After holding this for a few seconds, allow your head to come back up and reverse the pose, hollowing out your back and stretching your head, shoulders, and hips upwards while pressing your belly down. Move slowly, don’t forget to breathe, and alternate between the two for at least 30 seconds or 20 repetitions.
Standing Forward Fold with a Twist – This stretch will lengthen and relieve tension in the spine.
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Reach down with both hands to touch the ground in front of your toes. Open your left arm and reach up towards the ceiling as far as you can. Your goal is to eventually be able to have both arms be perpendicular to the floor. You can bend one knee if that makes the stretch easier, or place your feet in a wider stance. Don’t forget to do this stretch on both sides, and hold it as long as feels good, or until you feel the muscle relax a little bit. You should feel this stretch mainly in your spine, but also in your hamstring muscles and low back.
Spinal Twist – For this pose you get to lay on your back. It’s very important as you are doing these stretches that you don’t force your body. The only way your muscles can stretch is if they are relaxed. The more relaxed you are, the more flexible you will be.
How to: Lay flat on the ground with both armes stretched out to the sides so that you are in a “T” shape. Reach across with your left hand to grab your right knee, and pull it across to the left and try to get your knee as close to the ground as you can. Repeat on the other side. One thing to remember with this pose is to keep both shoulders on the ground. It’s easy to let one shoulder come up as your knee crosses your leg, but keep it firmly planted against the floor.
Cobra – The Cobra pose is an excellent way to release tension in your lower back, while elongating and stretching your entire spine.
How to: Lie face down on a mat or carpeted area. Place your hands on either side of your ribcage and press your upper body up, while pressing your hips and legs into the floor. Try to engage your back muscles to help pull your upper body off the floor. Press your shoulders and hands down into the floor, while lifting your chest and head up towards the ceiling. Try to make your spine as long as possible, while relaxing and stretching your abdominal muscles and hip flexors as well. As with any stretch, relax and breathe.
Downward Dog – Have you ever seen a dog do this stretch?
It looks pretty relaxing, doesn’t it? A lot of the stretches animals naturally do in the wild are actually very good for humans as well. Downward Dog is one of those stretches. It opens up your shoulders, chest, spine, relaxes the low back, and stretches your hamstrings and calves. It is one of my favorite yoga poses, especially when paired with the Cobra stretch (above).
How to: Place your hands on the floor a few feet in front of your feet (or farther if need be). Straighten your legs and press your chest and head through your shoulders towards the floor, while pushing your hips upwards. The end goal is to make a perfect upside down “V” shape with a straight line from your hands, through your shoulders, to your hips, and back down through your knees and ankles.
If you do these stretches regularly, you should notice an improvement in your overall flexibility in just a few weeks. Similar to exercising, stretching relieves stress, boosts confidence, and improves mood, in addition to increasing flexibility and physical health.
I’m a visual person, so sometimes I prefer working out or stretching along with a video. Here is one of my favorite stretching routines from FitnessBlender: