As a child I had a poster in my room of a shepherd and sheep in an early morning field, with the text “It is not the great heroic acts that demand most of our courage, but the small tasks we have to perform every day”. Looking at the man in the freezing morning field, I saw the point. Thinking back at your New Year’s resolutions, you may agree that the daily disciplines, however promising the results, require most effort. The more regularly we stick to them, of course, the easier and more rewarding they become. It is probably most manageable to stick to one particular discipline for a few weeks, until it becomes a habit. For all of you with back pain, each of the next few blogs will give you a short yoga sequence to focus on for a couple of weeks. Today, we start with a morning routine for a healthier back.
I can’t really claim that my children are devoted yogis, but they have inevitably had to put up with yoga as a solution for all sorts of challenges, such as exam stress (“breathe!”), performance anxiety (“breathe! Connect with the feeling of your feet on the floor”), core strengthening (“this is a better way to do it”), and back pain… unfortunately also back pain. Over the years I have warned my children about the consequences of slouching until I myself slumped down in desperation. For young people the consequences of bad posture are not immediate, and all their friends slouch or practically lie at their desk… Unfortunately, at some point the chronically rounded spine has had enough, and the consequences are bound to be painful and limiting. My son had some back pain over Christmas, and so at the end of the holiday he begrudgingly took a yoga mat with some instructions. Below I explain the yoga poses my son took back to uni, as they are not only useful for students but for anyone who has to sit for many hours.
Quite exhausted from the autumn term, you have now arrived in the festive season, with rest and good times in store, but possibly also hours of cooking, entertaining, tidying and decorating the house, long car journeys, etc. We all take the required sitting, bending, twisting and lifting movements for granted … until our back starts to hurt. To prevent your back pain from getting worse over the holiday season, this back pain survival guide is a reminder of how to keep your back safe. The last thing you want is a relapse into an acute back-pain episode you so slowly recovered from. This blog aims to show you the safer ways of moving while doing daily tasks. My guess is that you know all this already, but the difficulty is to actually change the familiar ways of doing things and embrace better back-health habits.
Back pain is not just one symptom that can be cured by one particular remedy. It is a generic term for different kinds of pain in the upper, middle or lower back, which can have a variety of causes, and require radically different approaches to heal. For example, the dull ache in the lowest part of the back caused by sacroiliac joint derangement, demands a different yoga therapy intervention than the sharp, electrical pain shooting down the leg caused by a nerve impingement. Nevertheless, there are a few yoga poses that can benefit most causes of back pain. If you have back pain and you would like to try yoga therapy, practise the mini session below and let me know how you get on…
Dear yoga friends, I am very excited to invite you to a yoga and mindfulness retreat, which will be in southern Spain from 26 to 31 August 2019. Whether you have been to a yoga retreat or not, this could be your time to relax and enjoy the benefits of yoga and mindfulness. The retreat is your opportunity to pause, step away from the stresses of daily life, release physical tensions and feel replenished.
We will be spending 5 days in the most beautiful and peaceful place in southern Spain, overlooking the sea and perfect for a yoga retreat. Next August, my friend and mindfulness teacher Monika and I will be taking a group of 10 to 15 students for five days to this fabulous location. Each day will include two hours of yoga in the morning, and one and a half hours of mindfulness in the evening. The aim will be to find more ease and freedom in the body, and to feel deeply rested.
Despite trying to avoid negative self-talk for many years, I can still occasionally catch my negative and critical inner voice. I don’t know about you, but I would never talk to someone in the way I sometimes talk to myself. While practising yoga, for example, this inner voice tells me that my slow practice makes me very boring, and with a faster yoga practice it is eager to comment that I must be very superficial…
During the past months I have been trying to be more aware of my yoga practice’s running commentary, and to introduce more kindness. Yoga is a process of becoming more mindful: we become more aware of our body, our breath, and also our mind. This blog suggests some ways in which we can quieten self-criticism while practising yoga, and transform our inner speech into a positive and supportive voice.
Many helpful stretches for the back are done on all fours: it feels wonderful to arch the spine in cat pose, rest in child’s pose, loosen the hips by circling them around on hands and knees. These are all simple and beneficial movements, especially if you want to release tight lower back muscles. But what if you can’t kneel easily? What can you do, for example, if your knees prevent you from putting weight on them, or if this position with the head looking down is counter-indicated for glaucoma? There are many soothing yoga poses that you can do lying on your back, but mobilising the spine in a seated position can be beneficial too. Today I am looking at how you can stretch your spine in a cross-legged position or seated on a chair.
If you feel unstable and even uncomfortable in standing yoga poses, balances and other asanas that require strength, it is possible that your abdominal muscles are not engaging properly. Weak abdominals will fail to hold the trunk steady in static or dynamic yoga poses. As a result you may feel wobbly and quickly tired. Even if you have done many abdominal workouts, your strong abs may have become too rigid to freely release and contract during movements. This blog demonstrates that if you know how to use them, abdominal muscles can improve stability in yoga poses.
For my third blog this summer I promised to tackle core strength. Abdominal strengthening is a necessary part of any back care programme, but incorporating it into a yoga regime can offer a different and effective approach. Strengthening abdominal muscles in isolation is not necessarily the best way to create core strength. Likewise, it is not healthy (or possible?) to hold your abdomen in all the time. Both lead to holding patterns that do not facilitate free breathing, easy movement or relaxation. This blog looks at true core strength from a whole-body perspective: demonstrating movements that engage core muscles in coordination with other muscles, the aim is to show you how to lay the foundation for a healthy back.
If you can easily do press-ups, keeping your body straight as you lower it to the ground and effortlessly raise it again … this blog is not for you. This blog is for those of us who don’t know how to even start arm strengthening. It is for those of us whose back is suffering more because our arms are not strong enough when lifting or carrying. It is aimed to help you feel more ease when doing yoga poses that require arm strength. And, since this blog is part of the summer-body series, it is for those of us who would like to have a bit more tone in the upper arms when wearing summer tops.