Can Yoga Help With Back Pain?
Yoga Moves to Improve Your Back
A Calming Experience
Anyone that has ever practiced yoga will admit it is not easy in the beginning, but it is a lot like running. While it is not always enjoyable while in the middle of poses, the end result is worth all of the hard work. Runners have that “runner’s high” after running, while those practicing yoga experience a sense of peace, relaxation and tranquility. The stretches, the moments of complete silence, the calming music typically played during a yoga instruction are enough to let anyone forget what is going on with the world allowing one to focus on themself. The rewards of breathing and stretching in the proper way can have a huge impact on easing pain not only in the mind, but the body as well. Those that experience back pain of any kind may find yoga is a useful tool in the perpetual medical toolbox. When practicing yoga, both sides of the body are stretched and strengthened equally.
When looking up the word “yoga” in the dictionary, Webster provides two meanings. The first “capitalized : a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation”. The second which is more along the lines of what is being presented here, “a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation derived from Yoga but often practiced independently especially in Western cultures to promote physical and emotional well-being”(merriam-webster.com). Yoga itself is not a pose or posture in itself. These poses are called “asana”, and the practice of breathing is pranayama, both play very important roles during yoga.
Yoga has many benefits for the mind and body. When attending a yoga class, the instructor will remind the students quite regularly to focus on their breathing. The poses are important, yes, but so is the breathing. Obviously breathing is important and required to live though one does not generally think about breathing throughout their day, however in yoga it serves another purpose. Each breath, when synchronized with the movements, allows the yogi to breath in energy allowing the body to complete begin and perform the pose. With the exhale, the student is coming out of the pose or relaxing. When considering the following poses to aid in the relief of back pain, remember to focus not only on the poses, but breathing as well.
Downward Facing Dog
Probably the most commonly known and joked about pose in the arsenal of yoga poses is the Downward Facing Dog. This pose allows one to stretch and loosen the muscles in the core of the body. But what about those that experience back pain? While it may not be wise to jump right into the more advanced poses of yoga as an unexperienced yogi, starting out with a few easier poses will help to develop the type of flexibility necessary to reach towards the more advanced poses. Even the Downward Facing Dog may help to alleviate some of the pain.
With this pose, the idea is to stretch out the cervical spine and strengthen the core, hamstrings and lower back by bending over and placing hands on the floor on either side of the feet. Step back with the right foot then the left so that the pose is similar to a push up. Ease up the hips onto the toes so that the body is in the shape of a “V” with the head being lower than the heart. Another way to ease into this pose is to start in what is known as the Child’s Pose which is kneeling with the buttocks on the feet. Allow the torso to rest on the thighs and place forehead on ground. With an exhale, spread knees wide and bring feet together stretching arms out in front with the belly between the legs and push back. At this point spine should start to stretch. To stretch just a bit more, lower the heals to the ground and hold for about five breaths. Once this pose has been practiced regularly, the length of the hold can be increased. This will help to ease the tension in the back by stretching the muscles that tend to get knotted up throughout the day (yogaoutlet.com).
Downward Facing Dog is one of the most universal and actively practiced poses included when doing sun salutations or vinyasa flows (lifehack.org). This allows one to focus on their breathing and pause between poses. Though it looks easy, it can be difficult to hold for long periods as there is a lot of weight being placed on the hands and wrists.
Upward Facing Dog
If there is a Downward Facing Dog, it goes without saying there must also be an Upward Facing Dog. To move into this pose, one needs to utilize the Plank pose. While Planking is fairly well known in the world of exercise, there is a right and wrong way to do it. The Plank pose is primarily used as a way to transition from one pose to another, making the process fluid, and almost dance-like. While in Downward Facing Dog, lower the hips, and come up on the toes. Gaze down between the hands, which should be spread out and even with the shoulders. While this is not what traditional Planking would look like, this pose is somewhat at an incline with the head elevated above the heard now.
Now that the yogi is in the Plank pose, it is time to move into the Upward Facing Dog. Untuck the toes, lower the hips towards the ground and ease the head back to look forward but not up, lifting with the arms holding chest and hips off the ground, hold for a minimum of three breaths. Be careful not to lift the head to far back as this will compress the back of the neck. This pose is beneficial towards back pain by improving posture, strengthening the spine, and helps to relieve sciatica (yogajournal.com). Many women that experience sciatica due to pregnancy will find this pose to be one of their favorites!
Low Lunge with Backbend
To do a Low Lunge with Backbend, one should first learn how to do the Low Lunge. This pose requires good balance. To start, lower to the ground with the right leg stretched out behind the buttocks and toes pointed back. Bring the left leg forward with the knee above the left ankle. Here comes the balance part of this pose. Inhale and lift the arms out in front then up above the head reaching for the sky. Gradually shift the weight to the right leg and lift up so that the hips are off the ground.
To move into the backbend, lean head and shoulders back as far as is comfortable. Locate the arch in both the upper and lower back, and keep the hips pushing forward with the torso lifting up and back (yogamagazine.com). Hold this pose for three to five breaths, then lower the hands to the hips with an exhale. Switch sides and do it again for the same length of time.
This pose has numerous benefits including relief from sciatica. This is considered a gentle backbend so by practicing this pose it increases the mobility of the spine, improving posture and relieving back and neck pain.
Seated Spinal Twist
One does not need to be a yoga master to experience the relief of pain some poses can provide. In fact, many poses do not even appear to be a yoga pose, but alas, they are. The Seated Spinal Twist is one such pose. While in a seated position, take the left foot and move it to the outside of the right knee. Then, extending the right arm up, hook the right elbow to the outside of the left knee and look over the left shoulder. Hold this position for at least three breaths, unwind the body and do the same pose on the opposite side. This pose is proven to improve posture and the mobility of the spine (huffpost.com). The increased elasticity of the spine helps to tone the spinal nerves and improves blood circulation throughout the spinal area while also improving the functionality of the spinal cord. How many times have physical education teachers requested this movement from their students? This certainly does explain why children are so flexible!
The Lower Back Clasp
As adults age, back pain is a normal occurrence for many. Whether it is from sitting too long, lifting heavy objects the wrong way, or being on their feet for long hours. Exercise is always recommended by doctors and almost always they first suggest yoga due to its stretching and breathing benefits. Lower back pain seems to be the type of back problems many adults face. Typically, upper back pain is a result of stress or tension, whereas lower back pain is a result of, well, living. Walking, sitting and simply moving can not be avoided by the majority of the world’s population. Therefor, back pain is something many can expect to experience at some point in their life.
The Lower Back Clasp may not always be a simple task to do when one is suffering from back pain, but regular practice of this pose will help to stretch and strengthen the lower back. When laying facedown on the stomach, bring hands behind and clasp palms together. Bend elbows if necessary. Lift the chest up off the ground and hold for a minimum of three breaths.
Upper Back Pain
As previously mentioned, the more prominent back pain people suffer from is lower back pain. However upper back pain can be just as inhibiting. Most people carry their stress in their shoulders and neck. These next three poses will help to ease the upper back and shoulder pains many suffer through every day.
The first can be completed standing up. It is called the Standing Forward Fold with Clasped Hands. Simply stand straight and bend forward at the hips, bringing the fingertips down to the ground. Clasp the palms of hands together behind the legs a hold for a minimum of three breaths. If it is difficult to clasp hands, bend the elbows.
The next two poses are slightly more difficult and should definitely be approached with caution. The Sphinx pose has the yogi starting by lying face down on the ground with the legs extended behind and toes pointed at hip width. Bring up the arms so that the body is resting on the elbows directly under the shoulders and forearms on ground. While inhaling press forearms into the ground and lift head and chest off the ground. Be sure to press the pubic bone into the ground, utilizing them as a form of stability. Continue drawing the shoulders towards the back and bringing the chest up in the front. Hold this pose for ten breaths. When rolling out of the pose, exhale and lower chest and torso towards the ground (yogaoutlet.com).
The final pose is quite possibly the most difficult. The Bow pose looks exactly as it sounds. Starting out by lying facedown once again, reach behind and hold the heels of both feet and lift. When attempting this pose for the first time, it may be easier to grasp the tops of the feet near the toes. The back will naturally curve. Hold this pose for a minimum of three breaths. This pose helps to improve posture and of course correct hunching.
Anytime that yoga is utilized, it is very important to always stretch before and wind down slowly at the end. The final pose that most yoga instructors have their yogi students perform is the corpse pose. That once again is exactly what it sounds like. With this pose the yogi will lay on their back, hands at the sides of their body, head tilted to the side. With eyes closed and continuing to focus on breathing, the body absorbs all the benefits of the healthy stretching it experienced.
Just like the Corpse pose, this article is going to wind down and encourage absorption of the information provided. Back pain is not something to be ignored. If yoga sounds like it may be the solution, speak with a medical professional and seek out a yoga instructor to guide along the way.