As a specialized yoga teacher and yoga therapist, my job is to help people heal themselves through the art and science of yoga. This includes postures, breathing, emotional support and stress reduction. I have witnessed miracles on the mat and in the classroom. The successes I have seen are not unusual. Teachers of yoga of any style see their students’ lives improve on every level with disciplined practice.
Thankfully, many studies supporting yoga’s efficacy are springing up on a regular basis. Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonsall are researching sciatica, osteoarthritis and back pain. Their studies are ongoing and very motivating. See my previous blog for more info.
Back pain is no longer for just the over 50 set. I often see younger students nearly crippled by poor office ergonomics and bad exercise habits. Often these are weekend warriors who spend the other 70 hours a week chained to their desks and cell phones. Back pain is the No. 2 stay-at-home issue for workers after the common cold.
Raymond’s back pain
Raymond (not his real name) is a 29-year-old Internet executive and an avid weekend snowboarder. He flies internationally and sits through dozens of daily meetings. When I met him, he’d had back pain since graduating college. His back can seize up anywhere along his 24 precious vertebrae, but most often clinches in the lower back by mid-day.
His spasm can quickly spiral into debilitation as the spastic back muscles tighten, interfering with the proper function of the breathing muscles. When a body doesn’t breathe well, it stifles the body’s healing responses. The stress of the pain and the poor breathing is a loop that leads to even more stress, muscular freezing and spasms.
On an even deeper level, when those muscles turn into concrete, they also lock up the membranous dura mater that surrounds the spinal cord, essentially reducing efficient nerve flow to the limbs. This is one of the many reasons why pain in the back grabs our full attention: All of our nerves are recruited to remind the body how much it hurts!
Ray’s back pain persisted daily, but once he found a Yoga Tune Up class near work, he started using his lunch hour to reset his spinal musculature using a combination of deep core and hip work that reduced the compression on his spine caused from sitting in his office chair.
Ray’s back pain remedy sequence:
Backbend poses such as Setu Bandha Minivini strengthen all his back muscles while simultaneously lubricating the spinal joints with synovial fluid. Try this dynamic version from my Yoga for Weight Loss Workout Kit: The Jill Miller-Gaiam Bridge Pose
Deep abdominal twists like Jithara Parivartonasana (also know as the Revolved Abdominal Pose) strengthen the core muscles, especially the obliques, and wring out stagnancy in the gut. Here’s a video version of that same pose.
Lower back lengthening and hamstring stretching poses such as Supta Padangusthasana #3 (also know as Leg Stretch #3) twist his pelvis away from the compressed lumbar spine.
Lastly, the power-building Prasarita Lunges tone his inner and outer thighs and lubricate the hip sockets to improve strength from hips to core.
Ray does not get back pain anymore, and can enjoy his weekend and his week as long as he maintains his yoga practice. If you suffer from back pain, try a few of these poses, and let me know how it works!