A few simple techniques can make the difference between a sore back (or other body part) and a strong, healthy one.

A few simple techniques can make the difference between a sore back (or other body part) and a strong, healthy one. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

A few simple techniques can make the difference between a sore back (or other body part) and a strong, healthy one.


Co-owner and director of Liberation Yoga, Los Angeles

Downward-facing dog: The body bends at the hips in an upside-down "V," with arms straight, hands on the floor and heels pressing toward the floor. The head is aligned with the spine.

• Don't: Drop or hang into the shoulders. People do this in an attempt to truly stretch, but it prevents the joints from stacking properly and puts stress on the shoulders, elbows and wrists.

• Do: Lift the shoulders and slide the arms forward a little, taking some of the pressure off the shoulders. Also, open the hands and press them into the floor. (Curling the fingers up will put the pressure right back into the wrist.)

Warrior I: The body is in a modified lunge position, with the front leg bent and the back leg straight. Arms are straight and parallel, reaching upward, palms together.

• Don't: Push the knee too far over the ankle. When the knee goes too far forward, the knee joint is in a precarious position. This puts strain on the kneecap and the knee joint, possibly causing pain. It's like building a structure — you don't want to have boards on an angle, you want to have a square foundation.

• Do: Make sure the ankle is under the knee so that the leg is in a straight line perpendicular to the floor. To balance in this pose, push into the back leg. This is easier to do if the front knee is directly over the ankle. The back leg tends to get underused, and it can sometimes take you too far forward.

Warrior II: Legs are as in Warrior I, but the arms are outstretched at the sides, perpendicular to the sides of the body.

• Don't: Let the shoulders rise toward the ears. The shoulders are a common place to hold tension, and people sometimes tend to let them move up when they're tired. But holding the shoulders up can shorten the trapezius muscle (which extends from the base of the skull across the shoulders and down the back) and can cause a bit of spasming.

• Do: Concentrate on using the rhomboid muscles (back muscles that connect the shoulder blade with the spine) and the core to prevent the tension from riding up into the shoulders. This is a challenging posture and also an endurance posture. Because the core is at the center of the body, maintaining the right form is grounding — helping lift through the chest and promoting proper alignment of the spine.

Plank: Facing the floor, the body is elevated and supported by the feet and arms, with the arms straight, as if starting a push-up.

• Don't: Lift your bum, especially if you're not feeling that strong in the upper body. It puts extra pressure on the shoulders, elbows and the wrists. Most likely the shoulders will be ahead of the wrists, a position that doesn't use energy efficiently and is unnecessarily exhausting.

• Do: Drop into a gentle diagonal from the shoulders to the heels. This employs the core muscles, taking pressure off the shoulders. It also stacks the elbows over the wrists and the shoulders over the elbows, so excess pressure isn't on any of the joints. There's an even dispersion of energy. Because the plank is often used to connect one pose to another, the proper form will make transitions easier, without unnecessary shifting.

Cobra: With the body lying on the floor, the legs are stretched back with thighs and feet touching the floor. Back is arched and chest is lifted, supported by the hands, which are underneath the shoulders.

• Don't: Get the chest up too high. Some people tend to push their arms straight, thinking they'll naturally assume a deeper and more advanced version of this pose. But this makes the shoulders start to move up toward the ears, putting strain on the shoulders.

• Do: Bend the elbows so that the back muscles are engaged. This is an upper back bend that's meant to open the chest, heart and lungs — and sometimes being a bit lower makes that easier. Bending the elbows helps the shoulder blades knit toward each other, and the shoulders don't have to go up toward the ears.