Lower Back Stretches that Prepare You for Sitting Meditation
If you can sit in meditation for 10 or 15 minutes each day without discomfort, congratulations! You needn’t spend any additional time learning how to stretch and strengthen your body — unless, that is, you’re so inclined. But if you’re like most people, sooner or later your body will start clamoring for your attention.
These poses will help to stretch and strengthen your lower back to prepare for sitting meditation.
Cat pose with variations
Watch how a cat stretches after a nap, and you’ll understand how this pose got its name. Not only does the pose stretch and strengthen your spine for sitting, but it’s also a great way to start your day.
Here’s how you practice the Cat:
Begin on your hands and knees with your spine parallel to the floor and your arms and thighs perpendicular to the floor (like a four-legged animal).
As you exhale, arch your spine upward slowly like a cat, beginning the stretch at your tailbone.
Feel your spine flexing vertebra by vertebra.
At the culmination of the stretch, tuck your chin slightly.
As you inhale, flex your spine downward, beginning with your tailbone and lifting your head slightly at the end of the stretch.
Continue to breathe and stretch in this way for 10 to 15 breaths.
You can also do two variations of the preceding Cat pose, as follows:
Variation 1: From the four-legged position (Step 1), gently turn your head on an exhalation and look at your left hip, as you simultaneously move your hip toward your head. Inhale and come back to center and repeat to the other side. Continue for 10 to 15 breaths.
Variation 2: From the four-legged position (Step 1), move your hands slightly forward of perpendicular and draw broad circles with your hips, moving forward as you inhale and backward as you exhale. Continue for 10 to 15 breaths.
Named for its resemblance to the graceful serpent, this asana provides a great backward stretch for your spine — and an antidote to any tendency to slouch forward.
To get the benefits of this stretch, do it this way:
Lie face down with your forehead on the floor.
Place your hands under your shoulders with your fingertips facing forward and the outside edge of your hands even with the edge of your shoulders.
Draw your elbows in so that your arms touch the sides of your torso.
Keep your feet together and press your legs and thighs into the floor.
Raise your chest slowly away from the floor, lifting and extending from your upper back, with your head and neck in alignment with your spine.
At first, you may find that your chest doesn’t rise very far, but don’t force yourself in any way. Your back will gradually become more flexible.
Keeping your shoulders relaxed, gently press your chest upward and forward, and open your abdomen while pressing your pubic bone into the floor.
Breathe deeply and smoothly, holding the pose for five to ten full breaths.
As you exhale, slowly unfold the pose, vertebra by vertebra, until you’re once again lying face down with your forehead on the floor.
Turn your head to one side and relax completely.
Also named for an animal, this asana recalls a grasshopper with its abdomen lifted into the air behind it. Because it stretches and strengthens the lower back, the Locust pose provides crucial support for the practice of sitting up straight, whether in meditation or any other sedentary activity.
Here are the steps you follow to practice this pose:
Lie face down with your chin on the floor and your arms at your sides, palms up.
Making a partial fist with both hands, move your arms under your body and position your hands under your pubic bone, thumbs lightly touching.
At this point, you can do either the half Locust or the full Locust, as follows:
For half Locust: Contract your buttock muscles slightly and inhale. As you exhale, lift one leg completely into the air without bending your knee. Hold for five to ten breaths; then lower your leg and do the same with the other leg. Repeat three or four times on each side. When you’re done, turn your head to one side and relax.
For full Locust: Contract your buttock muscles slightly and inhale. As you exhale, lift both legs completely into the air without bending your knees. Hold the pose for five to ten breaths, breathing deeply into your abdomen; then lower your legs, turn your head to one side, and relax.