Too Tight to Stretch Artwork
Season 2 - Episode 9

Stretch Your Back

30 min - Practice


Emily shares a practice to help relieve stiffness and achiness in the lower back, side body, and hips. We move through an easy lunge pattern to stretch the psoas, thighs, and hamstrings. This practice results in greater ease, relief, and support for the lower back. Both the body and mind will feel open and calm.
What You'll Need: Mat, Blanket, Strap, Block (2)

About This Video


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(waves rolling) Hi everyone. This next practice is a practice to bring ease and support to your low back. And for this practice you will need a blanket, two blocks and a strap. And we'll start laying down on the back, and you may want to use your blanket for a little support underneath your head. We'll start with the knees bent and the feet about mat width apart and the arms down alongside the body.

And just start our take three really nice, deep, diaphragmatic breaths. So as you breathe in, try to expand your abdomen. (breathing) And as you exhale just let your belly relax. (breathing) And take one more belly breath just like that. And then sweep your arms up a little bit higher so that they're shoulder height with your palms turned up.

Take an inhale here, and as you exhale slowly lower your knees to the right. And inhale bring the knees back to center, and exhale lower the knees to the left. And then with your breath just keep moving. Inhale, knees to center, exhale, knees to right, maybe your head turns left this time. Inhale, knees come to center, and exhale knees to the left, head right.

And just continue like this from side to side, moving the legs like windshield wipers of a car, and guiding each movement with a breath. Lets do two more rounds on each side. (breathing) And finishing up this last round here, on your next inhale bring the legs back to the center, and then draw both of your knees in to your chest and bring your hands over your knees, and then interlace your fingers around your right knee, and extend your left leg, and just reach your left heel away from you. And continue with those nice, deep, breaths, you'll really feel your abdomen expanding as you breathe in. And relaxing back towards the spine as you breathe out.

Relax the shoulders, relax the muscles of your face and your jaw. And on your next exhale draw the left knee in, hold both knees in for a breath round. And then both hands come around the left knee and extend your left leg out, and reach out through that right heel. And again just relaxing the shoulders, relaxing the muscles of your face, and filling up with your breath. (breathing) Your next exhale draw the right knee in, hug both knees in towards the chest one more time.

And then gently roll on over to your side, and make your way up to your hands and your knees. And you can place your blanket underneath your knees, for a little bit of extra support. Spread your fingers nice and wide apart and have your middle fingers pointing forwards. And we'll go through some cat cow waves. As you breathe in tuck your toes under.

Start to tilt your tailbone towards the sky, and your pelvis forward, and then begin to move that extension up into the low back, the mid back, the upper back, and the neck, and then as you exhale slowly lower the head. Press your hands into the floor to start to flex the upper back, the mid back, the low back, and then tilting the tailbone down towards the earth, and setting the tops of the feet down. And then just continue to move like that. Inhale, toes tucked, ripple the movement all the way up through the spine. Tailbone tilts up toward the sky, pelvis tilts forward, low back extends, mid back, upper back, head lifts, and then reverse that.

Lowering the head, upper back flexes, mid back, lower back, pelvis tilts back, tailbone towards the floor, tops of the feet down, and just do one more like that, rippling that movement from the feet all the way up. Sacrum, pelvis, low back extends, mid back, upper back, head lifts, and then reversing. Lowering the head, flexing the upper back, the mid back, the lower back, pelvis tilts back, tailbone towards floor, tops of the feet come down. And then from here just slowly return back to a table top position. And here we'll set up for downward facing dog pose.

But you always have the option to do a half downward dog, if you'd like. See, if you choose to do that, you can just keep your hips over your knees, and walk your hands forward and allow your forehead to drop down towards the earth, and you can stay right here, or else, from your hands and your knees, spread your fingers nice and wide, roll the upper arms away from one another and press the floor away from you with your hands. Step one foot straight back, and then the other, and then lift your hips and bend your knees here, really give your hamstrings and your calves some nice space, let your head hang. (breathing) See if once you find a comfortable place to stay, that you can find your breath again, and continue with those really nice breaths, this time drawing the breath up into the rib cage, filling up the side body, and just feeling that length that you're creating in your back body through the spine, the muscles that run along the spine, the backs of the hips, and your legs. Next time you exhale set you knees down, and just pause here for a moment.

So lets find our blocks. Bring your blocks underneath your hands and come back into that table top position, with your wrists under your shoulders, and then we'll bring the right foot forward between the hands. And remember that if it's hard for you to bring your right foot forward on your own, you can always pause and reach under your heel, and help that foot along. We'll come into a low lunge with the feet hip width apart, and then as you breathe in, just start to shift your hips forward, deepening that lunge. And as you breathe out, shift your hips back, walk your blocks back, and straighten the front legs.

You're going to try to keep your wrists under the shoulders in each position. Inhaling coming forward deepening the lunge, lifting the chest, and then as you exhale walk the blocks back, and just begin to straighten out that front leg, as much as you'd like. Low lunge on your inhale, and then shifting back to half split on the exhale, trying to keep a nice long spine here. Inhaling your way forward, deepening the lunge. And exhale, shifting back.

And then lets do one more just like that, inhaling, opening up the hip flexors, the hamstrings, just staring to create a little bit more mobility in the muscles, that directly affect our back. Next time you come forward slide your front heel back a little bit, so that you're creating two 90 degree angles with your legs, and then you can stay here if it's too much for you to bring your hands up, but if it's comfortable bring your hands up to your front thigh to start, and then bring your right hand to your hip, and stretch your left arm up alongside the ear. Take an inhale here, and as you exhale, hug the inner thighs towards one another, and then start to side bend, towards the right. So you should feel a really nice opening through the front of that left hip, and through the psoas. Breathing here.

(breathing) Next inhale come all the way back up though to center, place your hands down on your blocks, and then slide your right knee back, along side your left, and change sides. Feet are hip width apart, you can move that foot up a little bit more, and then as you breathe in, shift the hips forward deepening the lunge. And as you breathe out, walk you hand back as you straighten the front leg, tipping the pelvis forward a little bit. Inhaling coming forward to deepen the lunge, exhale, shifting back. Inhale, walking the hands forward deepening the lunge, lifting the chest.

Exhale, straightening out that front leg. You may feel like your leg gets a little bit straighter with each half split. Last couple of times, here, slowly opening up the body. Finishing up one more round. Next time you inhale walk your hands forward, bend your front knee and slide that heel back a few inches so that you're at about 90 degrees in that front leg, and then as you inhale slowly come on up.

Lift up through the low belly, bring the left hand to the hip, stretch your right arm up along side your ear, take an inhale here, and then with your exhale keep hugging the inner thighs towards one another as you side bend to the left. (breathing) Inhale, come all the way back through to center, place your hands back down on your blocks, and then slide your left knee back, and make your way back to your hands and knees. We'll move the blocks off to the side. And then just for a moment, just stretch your hips halfway back towards your heels, lower your forehead down, just take a couple breaths here. (breathing) And the next time that you inhale make your way back up to your hands and your knees, and then let's move the blanket off to the side as well.

Lay all the way down onto your belly. Prop your elbows just underneath your shoulders, and have your forearms shoulder width apart. Coming into sphinx pose, if this feels uncomfortable in your low back, you can try opening your legs up a little bit wider, or you can also try walking your hands and your elbows a little further forward, so that you're not up so high, and sometimes that can provide a little bit of relief here. So finding a sphinx that works for your body, and then wherever you are just feel for gently pressing your pubic bone slightly down, and drawing the navel towards the spine, and feel how that lengthens your tailbone towards your heels. It just creates a little bit of space in your low back.

And the next time that you exhale lower all the way down. Slide your hands back, fingers beneath your shoulders, and press yourself back to childs pose. And again you can decide how far back you'd like to go, so maybe that you're going half way back, or three quarters of the way, or you may shift your hips all the way back towards your heels and let your elbows rest on the floor. (breathing) Breathe into your back body. (breathing) On your next inhale make your way back up to your hands and knees, and then let's make our way down onto the back.

You'll need one block for the next pose that we're about to do. So you'll lay all the way down onto your back, and you have the option of a blanket underneath the head if you'd like. Bend your knees and walk your feet hip width apart, and then lift your hips just enough that you can slide your block underneath your hips at the lowest height, and you'll set that block just underneath your sacrum. So you'll feel that flat triangle of fused bones at the base of your spine and you'll know you're in the right spot. And then from here, hug your right knee in towards your chest.

You can stay right here or stretch your left leg out. And once you have that left leg stretched out and you're drawing that right knee in, you'll feel a really nice opening through the front of your left hip. Breathe here. (breathing) On your next inhale release your right leg and place your right foot back down. Bend the left knee, and then draw your left knee in towards you, interlacing your fingers around the knee, and stretch the right leg out, reaching through that right heel.

Think about relaxing the shoulders down away from the ears, reaching the right heel away from you and opening up the front of that right hip. (breathing) Keep coming back to your diaphragmatic breath, that expansion of the abdomen as you breathe in. (breathing) Sending the message to your entire body that it okay to relax and let go. Slowly release your left knee, place your left foot down on the floor, bend your right knee and place your right foot down, and then lift your hips just enough that you can slide that block out from underneath you and place your block off to the side. Draw your knees into the chest, place your hands over your kneecaps, take an inhale here, and as you exhale draw the knees in towards the chest.

Inhale, the knees move away until your arms are straight. Exhale, draw the knees in, draw the belly back. Inhale, knees move away until the arms are straight. And then exhale as you draw the knees in. Think about using your abdominal muscles a little bit more than your arms.

Let's do two more here. Exhale as the knees draw in, and inhale, full breath into the abdomen, as the knees move away. Last one. (breathing) Good, and then slowly release your knees, and place your feet back down on the floor. And then we'll find our strap.

Take your strap and, bring your strap around the arch of your right foot, and straighten the right leg as much as you comfortably can, and as much as you can, have your knee stacked over your hip. Send your tailbone down towards the floor, and walk your hands up the strap so that you're holding the strap pretty close to the foot, and your arms and your shoulders can relax. And you can stay right here, or if you'd like a little bit more, you can straighten that left leg, and send your left heel and your right heel away from you. Breathe deeply as you open up the back of your right hip, your hamstring and your calf. Think about drawing your right toes towards your face.

(breathing) Bring both sides of your strap into your left hand now, and again try to hold pretty close to the foot here, and just start to draw that right leg across the body, and stretch your right arm out to the side, palm turned up, shoulder height. And you can stay right here, just drawing that leg across until you feel this nice stretch through the outer hip and thigh, or else you can start to deepen the twist by rolling towards the outer edge of your left hip, bringing that right leg across the body a little more. And if it's comfortable you can turn your head to the right. Coming back to the breath, continuing to expand the breath into the valley, letting your rib cage expand. Notice how the breath affects your twist, and then as you take your next inhale, slowly bring your leg back to center, and take the strap off the foot, bend the knee, and place your foot down on the floor.

Bend your left knee, bring the strap around the arch of your left foot, and straighten your left leg. Send your tailbone down towards the floor, breathing here. Remember your knee can be always be a little bit bent in this pose if you need it to be. That may be plenty of stretch. Think about drawing the toes back towards the face, and breathing here, holding close to the foot so you can really relax your arms.

(breathing) If you'd like to you can straighten the right leg to make this pose just a little bit stronger, a little bit deeper. Reach through both of your heels. (breathing) And then bring both sides of the strap into your right hand, holding close to the foot. Stretch your left arm out, palm up, shoulder height, and start to draw that left leg across your body. Pausing at any time you'd like, and maybe making your way all the way over to the outer right hip.

And turning the head to the left, breathing here. (breathing) Deepening the breath. (breathing) On your next inhale slowly unwind, bring yourself all the way back through to center, and then bend your right knee to take the strap off of your left foot and place your left foot down on the floor. And just place your strap off to the side. Drawing the knees into the chest, and just holding the knee caps, and start to circle the knees.

Just giving a nice massage to the sacrum, and the back of the hips, and changing directions of your circles. And coming back to center, and placing your feet back down to the floor and then walk your feet to the outer edges of your mat, and let your knees drop in, and lean against each other, and just feel how that creates some nice space around the sacrum and the low back. And let your arms splay down alongside your body, take a nice inhale through the nose, filling up the belly, the rib cage, the chest. Open your mouth, exhale, sigh the breath out, and just let yourself rest here. (breathing) You are welcome to stay here in constructive rest for as long as you would like, or you can join me in bringing the knees apart, just enough so that you can roll gently over onto your side.

And pressing yourself up to a comfortable seat. And you can sit up on your blanket or your block if you'd like. And just taking a moment and feeling the effects of your practice. (breathing) Thank you for sharing your practice with me. Namaste.


1 person likes this.
this gave me such a wonderful stretch in my hips - and using the blocks for the first time like that was SO good - thankyou !
That is wonderful to hear, Glynis! Thank you for your feedback! I am so happy you found this practice to be helpful!
1 person likes this.
I have to watch my lower back, so stretching the hamstrings & calfs really helps. Having the block under the lower back and stretching out one leg gave me such relief in the low back. I will do that stretch every day. Thank you for a gentle stretching session.
Joan I am so happy to hear that this practice is helpful for you! Thank you for trying it!
Emily I do this practice often ( I really need it) and each time I feel more space in my back and hips, and length in my hamstrings. Question: sometimes I get a foot cramp when stretching the hamstrings, how can I avoid that without compromising the stretch. Grateful for your teachings.
Joan I am happy to hear you are finding this practice useful. I am sorry you are experiencing some cramping. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but also doesn't feel super good in the moment. In many cases, your body/brain is trying to figure out what is happening and all kinds of confusing signals get sent to the tissues. I am wondering if it would be helpful for you you to try some dynamic movement, such as flexing and extending the knee, to contract and relax the hamstrings, prior to holding the hamstring stretch if that will help prepare your tissues a little more for a deeper passive stretch. You may need to pause the video for a little bit to give yourself time. Also, maybe back off of the pose a little to start and then ease your way in as you feel your body inviting you to move a little deeper while maintaining a neutral low back (your natural lumbar curve.) Use deep and slow belly breath to calm your nervous system.
Emily thank you for responding and for your suggestions. It is an awful feeling in the moment, and I will do the flexing & backing off if it happens again. Hopefully my hammies will loosen eventually, and it won't be a problem. Many thanks, be well.
This practice helped my pain immensely, thank you! 
Crista  I am beyond thrilled to hear this. Thank you for sharing
I will be doing this practice again as I felt relaxed and at the same got a nice stretch to my back and hamstrings

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