A few weeks ago I strained my lower back. It may surprise you because yes, I am a yoga therapist specialised in back pain. In fact, I wouldn’t have specialised in yoga for back pain if I didn’t know what back pain is like. I probably demonstrated a pose too quickly and without proper warm-up and the next day a painful tightness gripped the lower part of my spine and hindered fluid movements. It didn’t feel like something that could easily be stretched out. When you strain your lower back, part of the healing will just involve time. However, there are several things you can try to prevent it from getting worse. In this blog I discuss the three measures I took to ease lower back strain within a few days.
Can you squat down to the floor and come up again with a straight back? Coming up from a squat while keeping the back straight is the best way to stand up if you want to keep your back healthy and legs strong. It is a safe way of coming up from the floor if you have back pain. This movement strengthens the legs and keeps the back in a neutral position, thus allowing you to pick things of the floor or lift without straining your back. In my yoga therapy work I have found that many people, with or without back pain, find it challenging to come up in this way. This blog demonstrates how to master coming up from the squatting position in 5 easy steps.
In my blogs about yoga for back pain the emphasis is often on relaxation: releasing tightness and relaxing the body and the mind. However, even with back pain we need a bit more ‘oomph’ sometimes. Stimulating yoga poses include standing poses, back bends and dynamic flow sequences, but many of these could make your back pain worse. Try this feel-good yoga sequence if you want to feel energised in a way that is still gentle and caring enough if your back needs plenty of TLC.
If you have trouble falling asleep or if you wake up during the night with your mind in overdrive, I have just the right thing for you: an easy yoga bedtime routine! The idea is not only to release physical tensions, but also to calm the mind, so that falling asleep and staying asleep become easier. Beneficial for most kinds of back pain as well, the short session is designed with yoga poses and breathing techniques that can settle the nervous system.
When I was very young, someone told me that we can never “own” a person: no person is ever ours to have and to keep. At that tender age I was impressed, but understood it to be true: people move on, people change, age, die, … Yoga philosophy teaches us that we find inner freedom when we let go of attachments. Of course, understanding this does not make it any easier when the time comes to part with a beloved person. Loving without possessiveness, and thus freely letting go, is hard, very hard. My son is ‘leaving the nest’ and even though I considered myself prepared, and I have had to feel grief before, it hurts. Yoga practices have given me an array of tools to help me deal with grief. They can, as it were, hold me by the hand and bring me back to a sense of inner peace. Because I know we all have to deal with loss and grief sooner or later, I decided to share some of these practices with you today.
When you have back pain it is not easy to find the one sleeping position that will keep you comfortable for several hours. You may have been used to sleeping on your abdomen, only to find recently that this increases your lower back pain. Even when lying on your back or side, you wake up with pain at night and feel stiff in the morning. Back pain is difficult enough as it is, so if your sleep suffers as a result, you may feel even more miserable. This blog gives a few suggestions about what to do for your back before going to bed, and shows which sleeping position has been found most comfortable by other people with back or neck pain.
One of the greatest causes of back pain in our Western societies is the amount of sitting we do every day, and the way we sit, out of alignment or slouching. I realise that sitting straight is not cool; it is less relaxing and may look uptight. However, there are so many negative side effects from slouching, that it is essential to include a good sitting posture in our self-care programme. Reducing slouching habits can have a positive effect on our breathing, digestion, mood, energy and back health!
Not many people find long periods of standing easy. If you have to stand while listening to a long speech, for example, does your back start aching? Pain and muscle strain arise when the body is not aligned with and hence not served by the line of gravity. When we manage to find this straight downward pull, standing becomes more natural and effortless. It can make us experience a deep sense of peace. This blog considers two common types of misalignment that make long standing harder.
Posture and habitual movement patterns contribute hugely to back health. The way you walk, stand, sit or sleep can influence whether you develop back pain or not. My four blogs this summer will analyse different elements of posture, and how posture relates to managing and preventing back pain. After all, doing yoga once a week is not enough if during the rest of the week you slouch on a sofa or car seat, round your shoulders forward over a computer, or stand out of alignment so your muscles have to work harder to keep you upright. Together with the right exercises, this focus on postural habits can hopefully help you correct bad posture and shape lifelong, sustainable wellbeing. This first blog in the series focuses on good walking habits.
Unless we keep our spine mobile, moving it through its full range of movement, which includes twisting, sideways extensions, forward and back bends, the upper spine may tighten and round forward with age. This is even more so when our work demands long hours of focusing forward and down over a desk, workbench or computer. There are many ways to counter a tight upper back, but the yoga crocodile rest is easy, effective and soothing.