"Yoga deepens the awareness of how you hold and move your body," says Thia Ashonoah, a Viniyoga teacher in Sonoma County, California. "In Viniyoga, the needs of the individual are honored. Sometimes we forget that the whole body is integrated and that habitual patterns of how we sit at a desk, or how we stand with our heads forward, can strain the spine and cause lower back pain."
Ashonoah recommends the following two poses, or asanas, to help keep the muscles in your back limber, supple, and strong, while offering this caveat: "Yoga should not create pain. If it doesn't feel good, then don't do it."
Specific to Viniyoga practice, this pose, while low impact, "can be challenging if you are stiff or if your back hurts," says Ashonoah. Proceed slowly and gently.
Begin on your hands and knees, back flat and weight evenly distributed. As you inhale, lengthen your spine without arching it, but so you feel an extension throughout. As you exhale, gently draw in your belly, rounding your lower back. Move your forehead toward the floor and your hips toward your heels, coming into Child's Pose, as seen above, if possible. Allow your elbows to bend and your shoulders to relax. As you inhale, come forward again onto your hands and knees, moving backward and forward with the breath. Repeat six to eight times.
Bhujangasana (Baby Cobra)
"This pose is very helpful in strengthening the back muscles," says Ashonoah. "But it's very important that you use your back muscles and not the strength of your arms."
Lie on your stomach with your head to one side. (If this is uncomfortable for your neck, you can hold your head straight.) With your hands by your shoulders and your elbows in by your sides, inhale as you lift your chest and bring your head to center. Gently draw back on your palms to draw shoulders back and down, making sure to use the strength of your back—and not your arms—to lift your chest. As you exhale, lower your chest back down to the floor and turn your head to the other side. Repeat six to eight times. "By lifting and lowering," says Ashonoah, "you repeatedly activate impulses along the spine. By turning your head from side to side, you help create flexibility and fluidity in the neck." Just remember to keep your head in line with your spine, so you lengthen through the spine without compressing the curvature of the neck.
For more information, see www.viniyoga.com.