“I knew I was prone to lower back pains, but I forgot about it for a while as I bent down to touch my toes during a Surya Namaskar. I pushed myself a bit too far trying to get that full stretch, and suddenly, I felt something go pop in my lower back—and then came the intense pain. I couldn’t stand up straight and it felt like my whole lower body had seized up. It took an MRI to diagnose the issue— I had a ‘disc bulge’ between two of my lumbar vertebrae, and bending down had pushed the disc out more, causing the muscles around the spine to seize up. Finally, after an injectible muscle relaxant, several days on painkillers and weeks of physiotherapy, I was better. I even restarted my yoga practice, but I’m not going to try and touch my toes again for sure,” says 40-year-old Manisha Pandey, recalling her brush with a yoga injury from a couple of years ago.
A full back stretch while touching the toes without bending the knees is among the most potentially dangerous poses for those with lower back disc issues to perform. Over-stretching the major muscle groups in your back, or forcing muscles into elongation can result in injury, say experts.
These are some of the poses you should approach with caution if you have a history of injury in the areas of the body they impact, or even if you have a tendency to mild pain and discomfort in these areas, indicating weak musculature.
Adho Mukha Shvanasana or downward-facing dog
Besides causing the back to stretch out, this pose can also put the weight of the body on the upper limbs, causing pain in the wrist, elbows and muscles of the upper arm. Softly bend the knees in this posture. How you get into the pose also matters: many yoga teachers advise getting into the plank position and then sliding the hips up into a downward dog, keeping the hands and feet where they are, to achieve the correct posture without any risk of hurting yourself.
Uttanasana or standing forward-bend
This posture can be dangerous for those who have an existing lower back injury or persistent lower back pain, which may indicate a pathology in the lumbar spine (a disc issue) or inflamed muscles around it. However, over time one can ease into this pose (as it is a crucial part of Surya Namaskar) with one caveat in mind: don’t try to bend forward more than your body allows and keep the knees softly bent at all times. Another modification is to keep the legs slightly (hip-width) apart. “The first lesson in ‘Folding Your Body Safely 101’ is to begin with a non-competitive attitude. It’s often the urge to fold as deeply as others fold that causes us to push ourselves too far,” writes Beth Spindler, a yoga instructor with Yoga International.
Chaturanga or Four-Limbed Staff Pose
In this posture, there is a risk of injuries like strained wrists or carpal tunnel, pain in the elbows or in the shoulders. The best way to avoid these issues is to start with a perfect plank where the core is engaged and the lower body including thighs and glutes are firm, and then shifting the plank forward till you are on your elbows. The elbows should be tucked into your body.
To be absolutely safe, don’t try to do this pose without an instructor if you are a beginner and haven’t mastered the correct way to ease into the pose correctly.
Ustrasana or Camel Pose
While this deep back-bend pose has several benefits like stretching and opening the front of the body while strengthening the back and shoulders, it can cause injuries if done improperly, without the guidance of a qualified teacher. It can hurt your lower back or your neck when you drop the head back. While performing this pose, it’s important to remember not to collapse the lower back abruptly but to ease into it slowly, and similarly to not jerk the head back. Also, if the hips are not in line with the knees, you risk injury. Taking all these things into consideration, it’s best to learn this pose thoroughly from a guru before performing it on your own.
Halasana or Plow Pose
This is an advanced posture that gives a wonderful stretch to many muscles in the upper and lower halves of the body, but must be approached cautiously. With a considerable amount of body weight pressing on the spine, the pose can cause injuries to the neck and shoulders. Avoid practising the Plow Pose if you have injured your neck or are suffering from diarrhea and high blood pressure, are pregnant or during the first two days of your period if you have a heavy flow, advises Art of Living’s yoga centre.