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.
When faced with a health challenge such as back pain, what we do every day will count, all the many small steps, the daily rituals that we install in our life. If you think about it, you already have daily rituals: the way you get out of bed and stretch, stumble into the shower, walk with eyes half closed to the coffee machine… all these involve physical habits that may or may not be beneficial for your back. This and subsequent blogs will walk you through everyday rituals for a healthier back, exercises that you can do every day to maintain a pain-free, flexible and strong back. We start with a morning routine that prepares our back in the best possible way for the day ahead. These movements are suitable for general lower back stiffness and mild back pain. If you would like more tailored advice, please contact me here to see how individual yoga therapy sessions could help you.
Mobilising the lower back: Circle knees
Before getting out of bed, lie on your back and bend both knees up to the chest, place one hand on each knee and circle them together, a few times in both directions.
Getting out of bed
Roll over to the side and push yourself up with your arms. This is a safer way of getting up than scrunching yourself up and over, which may be difficult if your back has tightened up during the night.
Strengthening the feet, expanding the chest
Once out of bed, and preferably in front of a window, stand with the feet hip-width apart and come onto the toes with the inhalation, lower the feet with an exhalation. You can add the arms by raising them to the side when you come onto the toes, and relaxing them down when the heels touch the floor again. Coordinate the breath with this movement: use the whole in- or exhalation with one movement. This means you move more slowly and you have to control the action of your feet.
Mobilising shoulders and deepening the breath
Stay with the two feet firmly on the floor while moving the arms up and down: inhale and turn the palms forward to raise the arms. Turn the palms down as you lower the arms. Repeat several times.
Slowly shift your weight over the left leg and foot. Stay tall on this side, without bending into the left hip.
Once you feel stable on this leg, lift the right foot and place it below or above the knee.
Focus on one point in the distance, preferably eye-level.
Visualise the breath going down the leg into your roots as you exhale, and going up towards the head as you inhale. This helps both the feeling of stability and the lightness in this pose. Repeat with the other leg.
Mobilising the spine: kneeling cat-cow-child
Find a soft surface for your knees, a yoga mat or carpet and lower yourself on all fours.
Exhale and arch the back, bringing the navel up towards the spine. Allow the head to hang down so the neck gets a lovely stretch.
Inhale and reverse this arch: lift the chest and move the shoulder blades down towards the back. Keep looking down to avoid crunching the back of the neck.
Rest in child’s pose. Fold your arms or hands under your forehead if it doesn’t touch the mat.
Repeat the sequence a few more times and then take a minute to rest in child’s pose. With every exhalation allow the head and the hips to relax even more.
Lying on the back, one leg up with opposite arm
Turn around to lie on your back. Hug the knees towards your chest and bring the chin softly towards the throat (use a cushion under your head if the neck muscles are tight).
-Inhale and straighten the leg towards the ceiling as you move the opposite arm next to your ear.
-Exhale and return to the starting position.
-Repeat several times, alternating sides.
Don’t worry if the back of your legs feel tight, they are bound to feel tighter in the morning. Just make sure the hips stay heavy on the floor. If this means not straightening the leg completely, that is fine.
Concentration and rest: abdominal breathing
After this short sequence, stay a few minutes on your back with the legs bent and feet on the floor. Unless this hurts your back it is best to keep the legs bent.
Tell your mind to just follow the breath for a while, without pursuing any other thoughts. If your mind wanders, don’t get frustrated but simply bring your attention back to your breathing. This is harder than you think, so challenge yourself to stay concentrated for 5 minutes. This concentration sets the mind up for more clarity during the rest of the day.