Yoga for You and Back Pain
Yoga increases flexibility and strength, but some find it to be a spiritual experience that brings peace and joy.
I attended my first yoga class when I was 21 years old. At the time the purpose was purely to appease my ego so I could tell my family, friends and coworkers that "I do yoga". To me, yogis were "cool" and I liked being associated with that healthy lifestyle. My twenty-something year old mind was in a self-absorbed place and I fully enjoyed the freedom of devoting myself to yoga and other fun ways to fill my time.
Yoga in its purest form is supposed to be practiced without ego and is intended to aid the individual's mind and body. Yoga increases flexibility and strength, but some find it to be a spiritual experience that brings peace and joy.
My first yoga class was at an established yoga studio in Oshawa, Ontario where I had an unforgettable teacher named Maureen. I loved her gentle encouragement. Maureen inspired me to stick with yoga and gradually—as my ability and confidence grew—I progressed to more advanced poses. As I went to my weekly yoga classes, bending and twisting and telling myself "I can do this," I started to reap the benefits. I was sleeping better. My body felt less sore and I noticed a calmness come over me. I felt more patient dealing with life's irritations, too.
But, here's the irony. Yoga isn't something you do. It's something that you experience. It's called a practice because over time, it gets engrained in you. Maureen's teachings were planted in me like little seeds that didn't really fully flourish until much later in my life. Though I didn't intentionally give up my regular yoga practice, someplace along the way it took a back seat to running. Those little seeds were still there but lay dormant for now.
Running was different. I felt free moving swiftly along the road. Being goal oriented, I found tracking my mileage to be a satisfying accomplishment. Running was enjoyable for another reason, too. My best friend Linda was also a runner, and we would meet most Sundays for long runs. We'd put in 15 to 20 miles each week and participated in occasional half marathons together. Running that distance took time—two hours or more. But I always looked forward to running with my friend.
Finding My Way Back to Yoga/Destination Yoga
Since then my life journey has taken me to many unexpected places, and I eventually found my way back to yoga. Those little seeds were there all along. Like I said, yoga has a way of becoming engrained in you.
My Back Pain and Yoga
If you've been following my blog, you know that I've had back pain through most of my life. In my thirties, the pain became more pronounced, but I hadn't been to a Yoga class in a very long time. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, my little friend "yoga" quietly arrived back on the scene. My pain riddled body seemed to intuitively know it needed yoga again. Before getting out of bed in the morning, I started feeling the need to roll over on my back and pull my legs towards my chest. (The knees-to-chest pose stretches your lower back muscles and is a gentle, soothing way to start your day.) The simple stretch felt really good and energizing.
There are numerous benefits of yoga, especially for managing low back pain and maintaining health. In a recent study conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institute of Health, individuals with chronic lower back pain were shown to experience less pain and more mobility after 12 weeks of yoga. A follow up experiment was conducted after 26 weeks, and those same yoga participants were still experiencing less pain and increased functioning. For me, the continual practice of yoga has relieved my pain to the point that I no longer require pain medication to get me through the day.
Other Ways Yoga Relieves Back Pain
- When practiced regularly, yoga builds flexibility in the back and strengthens abdominal muscles both of which help support the spine.
- Holding yoga poses, for up to a minute, helps stretch the muscles over time.
- Properly stretching the muscles in the lower back decreases the stress across the area.
- Yoga offers relief from pain, stress and anxiety. All low back pain suffers know this is a vicious cycle. You start with pain that doesn't go away. You find out there is an anatomical reason for the pain. But, you still have the anxiety, and stress of worrying about how long this may last. Yoga can counter that triple threat.
- Yoga improves posture. To maintain a strong, healthy, flexible spine good posture is essential. Seated and standing yoga poses help improve posture and the alignment of the spine. Proper posture removes some of the pressure from the spine and reduces back pain.
So, let's get started with a few poses that are easy to do and great for maintaining flexibility in your spine. Try these three poses daily for increased flexibility and your spine will thank you!
Knees to Chest Pose (Picture below)
- Lie on your back with arms and legs extended
- As you exhale, bring both knees to chest. Clasp your hands around legs
- Back is flat on the floor (mat)
- If it is comfortable for you, gently rock back and forth, which gives you a little massage
Cat/Cow Pose (Pictures below)
- Begin on all fours in a tabletop position
- Place your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips
- On the exhale, round your back up to arch like a cat
- Bring your chin to chest
- On the inhale, drop your belly and raise your head, extending your sitting bones (sitz) back up
- Move from table top to a kneeling position. Rest your arms by your side, press your shoulders down and simultaneously reach your head tall
- Slowly lower your buttocks towards your heels feeling a nice stretch in your lower back/hips.
- Let your forehead rest on the floor
- You can place arms resting alongside your body
- Or you can place arms above head, gently stretching as they are placed on the floor
- If it is easier too, you can widen knees as you stretch out
Those little yoga seeds—planted by my first teacher so long ago—have continued to grow/flourish. Today, I am a fully certified yoga teacher and enjoy sharing my practice with students every week. May you find peace on your journey and pain relief as well, one pose at a time. Namaste.