By Jill Miller
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. For instance, Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonsall are researching sciatica, osteoarthritis and back pain. Their studies are ongoing and very motivating.
Unfortunately, back pain is not just for the over 50 set. I frequently 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. Shockingly (or not) Back pain is the No. 2 stay-at-home issue for workers after the common cold.
One student’s triumph over back pain:
One of my students 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 told me 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 spasms 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!
Finally, this student’s back pain began to taper when he started coming to my Yoga Tune Up classes. 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 by sitting in his office chair.
Here are a few key poses we used to help with his back pain:
Backbend poses such as Setu Bandha Minivini strengthen all his back muscles while simultaneously lubricating the spinal joints with synovial fluid.
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. Take a look at this video version of Revolved Abdominal 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.
If you suffer from back pain, try these poses and let me know how they work for you!