Yoga Wellness Educator. Certified to teach Hatha Yoga, Meditation, Pilates, Reiki. Yoga Therapist-in-training. I love to write.
People who have a problem sitting down for meditation because of back pain can benefit from a few movements that are effective in easing tension and pain in the lower back. These movements help ease sitting in meditation.
In addition to these movements, there is an effective exercise to help you relax your facial muscles. Relaxing your facial muscles will neutralize emotions that might distract you from going deep into meditation.
Movements to Help Ease Back Pain
Mukunda Stiles, yoga teacher and author, recommends a sequence of movements[i] to help ease chronic tensions and pain in the back, especially the lower part.
The sequence includes the wall hang, half forward bend on a wall, runner’s stretch, groin stretch, pelvic tilt and thrust, and the rolling bridge.
I describe here two of these movements.
This is a stress-relieving exercise that is also practised in some Pilates classes. It can release tension of the muscles located deep in the spinal column. You use these muscles when you sit down or stand up.
This movement can be practised at any time during the day, more than once.
If you have pain shooting down your hip or the back of your thighs, do only phases 1 and 2 then straighten up.
If you have low blood pressure, hold your head up so that you are looking forward as you bend forward.
Move slowly and breathe fully while doing this movement.
- Stand with your buttocks, shoulders, and head against the wall.
- Take your feet about 30 centimeters away from the wall. Your feet are parallel and a little wider than your hips.
Phase 1: Head
- Relax your face and jaw and start moving your head slowly off the wall while keeping your shoulder blades on the wall.
- Stay with your head flexed forward for a few moments.
- Maintain a regular and deep breathing throughout.
Phase 2: Shoulders
- Slowly move your shoulders forward off the wall. Stop when you feel the vertebrae of the upper and mid back against the wall.
- Stay here for a while to release the muscles of your neck and upper back.
- Your arms are hanging freely in front of your thighs.
Phase 3: Lower spine
- Tilt the top of your pelvis back pressing your lower back into the wall.
- Continue folding forward until only your lower spine is in touch with the wall. Your arms hang loose so that your hands are hanging below your knees.
- Breathe deeply and feel the pressure of the lower back into the wall.
- If your hamstrings [the muscles at the back of your upper legs] feel tight, dig your feet into the floor, and let gravity pull your upper body toward the floor. If you feel a strain in your lower back, bend your knees. You must feel the pull in your legs as this reduces strain in the back.
- Let your spine release passively; do not stretch forward actively.
Phase 4: Hips
- Boost your pelvic tilt by contracting your abdominal muscles and pressing your lower back into the wall. This will let your hips slide up the wall, which will free your hamstring to stretch and your lower pelvis to rotate forward and upward.
- Stay in this forward-bending position until you feel rested.
- For a few moments, bend your knees so that your hands touch the floor.
Phase 5: Coming Out of the Pose
- Now bend your knees a little more to take the pull off your lower back and hamstrings. This will make your quadriceps and abdominal muscles work harder.
- To come back up, use your pelvic tilt to press your sacral areas then your lumbar spine to the wall, one vertebra at a time.
- Pause for a moment to steady your breathing, then slowly bring the rest of your spine back to the wall to rest at phase 2. Your shoulders stay open, and your arms and head hang freely.
- Then slowly roll the rest of your body to the wall until you’re standing straight.
- Once you’re comfortable in the standing position, stretch your arms up the wall. Open your fingers to stretch the full length of your arms, shoulders, and spine. Inhale deeply and extend your arms out to the side, then bring your arms down to a natural relaxed position.
Half Forward Bend With Your Hands on a Wall
- Stand tall facing a wall.
- Place your hands on the wall at the level of your hips and spread your fingers.
- Open your feet at hip width, walk back and lower your torso so that it is parallel to the floor; your ears are in line with your upper arms.
- Press the 4 corners of your feet into the floor.
- Move your pubic bone and your inner and outer thighs back. This will press the top of the front thigh against the thighbone and will lengthen your lower back.
- Draw your scapula down your spine, towards your hips.
- Let your breath be long and smooth.
- To come out of the pose bend your knees, step your feet toward the wall and straighten your body. Bring your hands by your sides and stand tall breathing naturally.
Neutralize Facial Muscles
To neutralize the face means to give it an expression without emotion. Neutralizing emotions produces quietness.[ii]
You don’t have to linger in one spot in your face; let your attention there for a few seconds before moving to the next spot. You can always do the whole exercise a second or a third time.
The more you do this exercise, the easier it becomes.
- Lips can express subtle emotions of the thoughts and feelings.
- To neutralize your lips, place them horizontally as if you have you're starting to smile. It’s the start of an internal smile.
- Direct your attention to the flesh of the chin and relax it.
- More than muscle relaxation, it is the interiorization here that is important.
Your Lower Jaw
- Constraints and the aggressiveness that we meet in daily life are localized in the jaws. Clenching the teeth is an instinctive preparation for the fight.
- Loosen the teeth then let your attention go up symmetrically along the ridge of the lower jaw to the ears.
- Be aware of your ears. You don’t have to stay here more than 5 seconds because it’s not possible to neutralize the muscles of the ears.
- From the ears, take your attention to the temples.
- Let your attention linger here for about 10 seconds and try to feel both sides equally.
- You might feel blood pulsations here.
- From the temples take your attention slowly to the middle of your forehead. Relax your forehead and smooth its entire surface.
- Linger here for a moment.
- Now become aware of your eyelids.
- Keep your eyelids closed but don’t tighten them. They should barely touch each other. Relax the lower and the upper eyelids. Then let your attention be on your eyeballs.
- Go around the two eyeballs internally, simultaneously, to feel their volume, their weight. Relax these muscles which are, in so many people, permanently contracted.
- Direct your gaze slightly downward. Linger a little longer in the eyes than in other parts of the face for about a minute.
- Try to feel the pulsations of blood around the eyes.
- Relax both nostrils.
- Now, let your attention go to the cheekbones relaxing each cheek.
- At this point, the cheeks might feel flabby and the face expressionless.
- Become aware of the lips for 1 to 2 seconds, then become aware of the volume of the oral cavity.
- Notice your tongue and how it attaches to the back of your mouth.
- Feel the whole tongue, and let it flatten out in the mouth soft and warm.
- If you notice a stream of saliva appear, simply swallow it.
You can redo all the steps of this exercise a second or a third time.
In the final phase, become aware of your whole face relaxed. This emotional neutralization is a relaxed vigilance, not apathy or indifference.
This exercise is useful to prepare yourself to meditate. But you can also do it at any other time during the day.
It‘s beneficial to do this emotional neutralizing exercise before you start your yoga asanas and to keep your face neutral during the whole session.
You can also do it at night before you go to sleep. It‘ll quickly give you an emotional appeasement.
No special body position is required. You could sit or lie on your bed. If you practise this exercise at night while lying down in bed, it‘ll put you to sleep quickly.
[i] Structural Yoga Therapy. Stiles, M. (pp 157-169).
[ii] Yoga Revue Mensuelle number 128. Van Lysebeth, A. December 1974.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.