We usually don’t think about our back until it hurts. And yet, a painful and stiff back can drain our energy, compromise daily functioning and make us feel old. Why is it that we have all sorts of potions to prevent skin ageing and fitness regimes to stay muscular, but we forget about a crucial part of our body that allows us to fully enjoy life? Arthritis of the spine is a form of wear and tear that we can to some extent prevent. A stiff lower back is often the result of inactivity or excessive activity. Both conditions makes us feel older than we need to be. Whether you have back pain or not, it’s never too soon or too late to look after your back. This blog discusses five guidelines for a healthy back, and the simple things you can do to keep your back in good condition. Incorporate these into your daily routine, and you’ll give yourself the best chance to feel younger and stay active.
An immobile back soon becomes stiff and weak. If your body is held in the same position for a long time, the muscles aren’t used and become rigid and weak. So, if you have a sedentary lifestyle, get up from your chair at least every hour, and walk according to your ability every day. This is about basic mobility. It’s actually better than sitting all day and then doing an extreme sports activity for an hour. The contrast is too much. Walking, on the other hand, is essential: with every step, we rotate our spine and move the whole trunk along with the legs and arms. Unfortunately, we sometimes walk with an incorrect posture. You can read more about improving that here: https://beneyoga.co.uk/correcting-bad-posture-4-walking-exercises/
Even if we do yoga every day, we don’t necessarily look after how we stand, walk and sit for the remainder of the day. Often, we have a habitual way of holding ourselves and, for example, shorten one side of the body. Observe your daily habits for a few days: do you lean on one foot when you stand, sit with the front of the body collapsed, or with the neck held forward? Doing yoga can wake up our body awareness, but it still requires an effort to observe and then know how to correct your posture. For help with posture, many of my previous blogs can help, such as this one about standing: https://beneyoga.co.uk/correcting-posture-standing/ . However, there is nothing better than tailored advice. My back care package will help you correct your posture, as well as change muscular patterns to attain better alignment.
Move your spine
Our spine consists of 24 movable vertebrae that can bend forward, backward and to the side in relation to each other. Doing these basic movements every day can keep the back, neck and shoulder muscles released and the spinal joints healthy. These daily movements don’t need to be difficult or acrobatic. We do not stay young by doing pretzel movements or difficult inversions every day, but by moving our joints in their healthy range of movement. Here are some simple movements that you can also do on a chair to keep the spine supple.
Whether seated or lying down, gently rotating the spine can be a wonderful release for the muscles along the whole spine.
-If seated, make sure you sit upright, with two sitting bones firmly and equally rooted.
-Exhale and gently rotate round to one side, without pushing or pulling with the arms.
-Inhale and turn back to the centre.
-Repeat a few times on each side.
Not every back likes twisting. Some back conditions may have to heal first before attempting this movement. If you would like to know exactly which movements are beneficial for you and which should be avoided, do contact me here to discuss my back care package: https://beneyoga.co.uk/contact-beneyoga-yoga-therapy-chiswick/.
Another pleasant release for the spine is this lateral stretch. It is especially good to release tightness along the side of the ribcage and side of the neck. Keep both sitting bones firmly grounded and use the exhalation to stretch to the side.
Some other essential movements for the spine include the cat-cow movements, about which I have written in many other blogs, for example in this one: https://beneyoga.co.uk/morning-routine-for-a-healthier-back/.
A healthy back is also a strong back. When we sit bent over a desk, or slouched on a sofa, the back muscles lengthen and weaken. The cobra pose is one of the many poses that can strengthen the upper back muscles. Notice on the picture below that it is not the arms doing the work, but the upper back muscles have to contract to lift the chest off the mat.
In my yoga classes we include many practices to keep the back muscles strong. Also the abdominal muscles have to engage at the right time, and work in harmony with other parts of the body to keep the core stable within movement. A further function of core muscles is to keep the lower back from overworking. Many of my previous blogs deal with abdominal strength and you can also check out my video series here: https://beneyoga.co.uk/videos/
This position strengthens the front and back of the body.
-Start on all fours and extend one leg and the opposite arm.
-The breath is essential here: breathe out and contract the abdominal muscles, breathe in to soften them a little.
-Never allow the lower back to sink down or the leg to be higher than the hips.
-Stay for a few breaths and repeat with the other arm and leg.
For more strengthening practices, contact me for a free consult, to see if my individual or group classes can help you. Because I need to look after everyone’s safety in my group classes, I usually advise at least one private session before anyone can join the group. However, do ask me about these groups, as we always love to welcome new students.
Finally, resting and breathing mindfully is extremely important. When you’ve overworked your body and your back hurts this is your best first aid. But also when you simply need a few moments to replenish and nourish yourself, simply breathing in a restorative position tops everything.