Actually I recommend people to follow a sort of a more or less complete program instead of doing a couple of asanas to relieve their back pain but I understand that not everybody is able or willing to follow a program. So I’m going to mention some yoga poses for upper back pain that a newbie can do, and which won’t take much time to perform.
The first will be two asanas that are usually performed together and in a dynamic way: they are called upward dog and downward dog (in Sanskrit their names are Bhujangasana (a variation of it) and Parvatasana or Urdhva-mukha Svanasana and Adho-mukha Svanasana).
Stand straight, your arms are relaxed along your body; raise your arms above your head with inhale then bend forward with exhale trying to place your palms next to your feet. Now you need to move your legs back with a jump or just put them one after another by stepping. Do it when holding your breath. You will be in the position shown on the picture 1. This is called Adho-mukha Svanasana or downward dog pose.
Now, with inhale you need to lower or eve drop your hips towards the ground and make your body sag; your body only rests on your palms and toes. This yoga posture is called Urdhva-mukha Svanasana or upward dog pose (picture 2). Stay in this position for a couple of seconds and then come back to the downward dog pose with exhale. Repeat three or five times, and then come back to a standing position from the downward dog pose with inhale (because you exhale taking the downward dog posture).
These yoga asanas are the part of Surya Namaskar practice and are also vinyasas in Ashtanga-vinyasa yoga in Sri Pattabhi Jois Yoga School.
Do them as many times as you feel comfortable but never do them to get exhausted – yoga means preserving and increasing your energy, not losing it too much (some loss of the bodily energy is there, especially when you perform physically intense or difficult asanas, but ultimately the good yoga routine means that you feel yourself refreshed after you completed it – this is your criteria of a successful daily yoga workout).
Another good posture from yoga for upper back pain and neck pain is the cobra pose or Bhujangasana. The pose looks simple but it should be done properly or you may harm your lower back. It may also look similar to Urdhva-mukha Svanasana, but the difference is that the hips are on the floor in Bhujangasana.
So the technique: lay on your belly, relax; breathe freely. With slow inhale start raising your head bending it slowly backward, but do not push it too much, very gently. Once you have reached the position when you cannot lift and bend your neck anymore continue rising but with the upper part of your body; do not list the hips, they should stay on the floor. When it becomes difficult to raise your body on its own (with the help of back muscles) use your arms to help the bending. Here is the hint about your breathing: you are inhaling while you raising your head and the upper body part, but you start exhaling when reaching the top bending position – this will allow you to bend even more, but do not over strain your back! Do everything gently and slowly.
Once you reached the top position, you completely emptied your lungs; now inhale again, and with exhale start lowering your body slowly back to the floor; you should reach the floor with your head when having exhaled completely. This is the cobra pose. Since the pose works on the upper and lower back though back or inverse bending, you need to balance it with some type of forward bending. There is a simple way to do that.
When you completed your cobra pose, just raise above the floor a bit with the help of your hands and bend your legs, moving backwards into a so called “moon” pose or Shashankasana (see the picture 4 below). Stay in this pose for a while and relax your back as much as you can. Once you finished, just turn on your back gently and lay for a few minutes, relaxing.
Maybe this is not the best yoga for upper back pain, but it is still pretty effective, and what’s important – it can be performed by a newbie. There are many other yoga stretches for upper back pain and various poses but not all of them are easy to perform and require some experience to do them effectively and safely.