he muscles of the back are essential to our overall ability to move, bend, balance, and stay upright. They are categorized into three main groups: intrinsic, superficial, and intermediate. The intrinsic (or deep) muscles extend from the base of the skull to the sacrum (the triangular bone in the lower back between the two hipbones of the pelvis). These muscles stabilize the spinal column and assist with its movements. They are also involved in proprioception (your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location) and maintaining balance and posture. The superficial muscles help with shoulder and neck movement. The intermediate muscles support the rib cage and assist the upper spinal column and head with bending (flexion) movements. Strong, flexible back muscles will support the head, neck, and spine and facilitate good balance, posture, and mobility. 1 Yoga is a great way to build strength and improve flexibility for the entire body, and these five poses can help strengthen and stretch back muscles for better mobility and balance.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)2
- Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder width apart.
- Turn your right toes forward and your left toes angled out.
- Lift arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor, palms down.
- Take a deep breath, then exhale as you bend at the hips and extend your torso over the left leg toward the left heel.
- Reach your left arm down to your left foot, gently clasping your ankle or resting your hand on the floor (rest your hand on a block or box if you cannot reach your ankle). As the left arm reaches down, the right arm reaches up, with fingers pointing to the sky.
- Look up at your right hand, look forward, or look down. Concentrate on keeping the sides of your waist extended and lengthen your tailbone towards your back heel. Hold the pose for several breaths. Repeat on other side.
Staff Pose (Dandasana)3
- Sit on the floor, back straight, with legs together and stretched out straight out in front of you, feet flexed, and toes pointing toward the ceiling.
- Place your hands on the floor slightly behind the hips with the fingers pointing forward.
- Inhale as you press your hands down and lift the lower back, imagining you are reaching up with the crown of your head. Shoulders should be back and down.
- Exhale as you pull your abdominal muscles in. Maintain this pose as you slowly breathe in and out for several breaths.
Pyramid pose (Parsvottanasana)4
- Stand with your feet together and place your hands on your hips, making sure your hips are squared.
- Step your right foot back 2 to 4 feet, keeping the heel of the right foot aligned with the heel of the left foot. Turn the right foot out slightly.
- Pressing down through your right foot, face your hips forward and lengthen your waist. Breathe in while spreading your arms out to the sides. Exhale as you rotate your arms down, bending at the elbows and bringing palms together behind your back (reverse prayer). If this is not possible, you can rest your hands on the floor alongside your left foot on blocks or on your shin in the next step.
- Lengthen your spine as you breathe in, and fold forward from the hips as you breathe out. Keep back straight (do not round your back). Roll your left hip in and keep your right hip back. Hold this stretching pose for several slow breaths.
- Pushing through the back heel, slowly release the pose and return to standing position with straight spine. Repeat on the other side.
Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)6,7
- Lie face down on the floor with tops of feet on the floor and arms stretched along the sides of your body.
- Bend arms at the elbows, keeping them close to your body, and place your hands flat on the ground alongside your chest.
- Pressing into your palms with chest open and neck long, gaze upwards.
- Keeping your shoulders away from your ears, lift your torso up off the ground while pressing down into your feet to lift thighs and knees off the ground. Draw your shoulder blades together and down your back. Only your hands and tops of feet should be touching the floor. Do not allow your shoulders to round forward. Do not allow your knees or thighs to droop to the ground. Hold this pose for several breaths.
Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)5
- From a standing position, take a big step back with your left leg, left toes pointing slightly in.
- As you breathe in, raise your arms out to the side, parallel to the floor, keeping shoulders down and neck long.
- Breathe out as you bend your right knee, making sure to keep your knee over your ankle (this is a Warrior 2 pose).
- Place your left hand on your hip, and, with your right arm, reach out and place your fingertips on the floor in front of your right toes or on a block.
- Slide your left foot forward a little as you shift your weight onto your right leg.
- Pressing down into the right foot, slowly extend the right leg as the left leg is lifted from the ground. Keep the left leg in line with the hips.
- Keeping the right hand on the floor or on a block, positioned directly under the shoulder on the outside of the foot, extend the left hand up, keeping it in line with the left shoulder.
- Keep the right leg strong and waist lengthened and engage your left leg by pressing through the ball of the foot. Gaze at the floor, straight ahead, or up to the ceiling. Hold this pose for several breaths, then lower your raise leg, and come back to Warrior 2 pose and then to standing. Repeat on the other side.
1. Henson B, Kadiyala B, Edens MA. Anatomy, Back, Muscles. StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537074/. Accessed 18 Jan 2022.
2. Yoga Journal site. Extended triangle pose. https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/extended-triangle-pose/. Accessed 19 Jan 2022.
3. Eckart yoga site. Staff pose—dandasana. https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/staff-pose. Accessed 19 Jan 2022
4. Yoga Journal site. Pyramid pose- intense side stretch pose. https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/types/forward-bends/intense-side-stretch-pose/. Accesed 19 Jan 2022.
5. Eckart Yoga site. Half-moon pose-ardha chandrasana. https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/half-moon-pose. Accessed 19 Jan 2022.
6. Everyday Yoga site. How to do upward-facing dog in yoga. 12 Apr 2015. https://www.everydayyoga.com/blogs/guides/how-to-do-upward-facing-dog-in-yoga. Accessed 19 Jan 2022 .