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…
The National Health Association stipulates that exercise (sometimes combined with psychological support, see my previous blog here) is best for back pain, but this is obviously not any kind of exercise. It is not any kind of yoga either. I have one group class that is called “back care yoga” but I always have to specify that this class is for people who suffer from mild lower back pain, as caused by muscle tightness. It is great if you want to prevent your lower back pain from getting worse, or even if you have mild arthritis of the spine, but this class would be detrimental for people with back and leg pain that is caused by a nerve impingement.
Yoga therapy for back pain still works best in one-to-one sessions, especially because every student is unique and may bring other physical limitations. Nevertheless, there are simple poses that can be beneficial for anyone with back pain. Two of them are soothing for tight back muscles, one works the abdominal muscles in a safe way, and one helps you deal with the emotional stress of pain. When you try them out, know that pain still means “no gain”: in the unlikely event that these positions cause more pain, please don’t continue them.
Yoga poses that can benefit most causes of back pain:
Abdominal breathing: with legs straight or bent
-Choose a semi-hard surface to lie on: a yoga mat or a carpet are good, a mattress is too soft.
-Choose the lying position that feels best: with the legs straight or bent (feet hip-width apart on the mat). Depending on the cause of your back pain, there will be a big difference between having the legs straight or bent. There is no right or wrong, better or worse: choose the position that feels most comfortable. If you can’t feel a difference, choose the position with your legs bent.
-Spend a few moments feeling how the back touches the floor.
-With your hands on the abdomen, feel the movement underneath your hands as you breathe. Don’t change the breath or try to make it longer; just follow it with your attention. Notice how the breath naturally lengthens when you merely observe it.
Abdominal leg lift
-Lying on the back, extend the right leg on the floor and bend the left leg, quite close to the body.
-Push down slightly on the left foot to keep the hips and lower back stable.
-Inhale and raise the right leg to the level of the other knee. Exhale and place it back down.
Repeat a comfortable number of times with each leg.
Hold one knee
-Hold one knee in a relaxed way towards the chest while the other leg is extended on the floor. Feel your arms relaxing, as if they are just “hanging down” from the knee.
-Roll your head from side to side slowly, with the breath: exhale to the side, inhale back to centre, 3-5x to each side.
-Repeat with the other leg.
Restorative rest with releasing exhalations
Always finish with at least 5 minutes lying on the back. Place the legs in the most comfortable position: bent, straight, or as on the picture, with the legs on a support.
To aid the relaxation, do some “golden exhalations”: gently blow the air out several times through the mouth, breathing in normally through the nose. This gentle way to extend the exhalation allows you to relax physically, and to release physical and emotional tensions. The respiratory muscles are very often tight as well and these longer exhalations allow them to relax.
If you would like to find out how yoga therapy could help you, do contact me via the contact page. Skype sessions are available as well.