At some point in our lives, 85% of us will experience back pain. As anyone who has experienced back pain knows, it can be mild or completely debilitating. With certainty, back pain will have a negative effect on our quality of life. A regular yoga practice can be beneficial in easing the pain, strengthening muscles, and keeping the spine flexible to avoid an occurrence. As the expression goes, “Yoga is the fountain of youth. You’re only as young as your spine is flexible”.
In this busy world, it is often difficult to take time out of your busy schedule for self care. As we cruise through life on top speed, our bodies begin to let us know we have neglected them in many ways. One of the most common pains we all have experienced is a debilitating back pain. A simple move, like reaching for a bottle of water, sneezing, picking up the baby, and boom! The spine locks up like you’re trapped in a vice and even the smallest movement is met with excruciating pain. Why? There are number of reasons, but what we are discovering is, yoga can be the basis for both avoidance and healing.
There are many reasons for flare up of back pain. Genetics, neurological, and every day wear and tear. While we can’t generally change the first two, we can work on the latter. My everyday theory is basically, use it or lose it. Our bodies need to move and to be somewhat active. When we recognize the amount of time we spend sitting behind a desk, in a car, staring at a phone, or in front of the TV, we must realize we are not giving self care any type of priority. Our spine can rebel to this lack of activity by becoming inflexible to the point of causing us insufferable pain. The antidote to this miserable pain can be precise movement.
While it’s important to check with a doctor to ensure there is nothing medically wrong, acupuncture and chiropractic care will help with addressing the pain, and realigning both the flow of energy and adjusting the spine. Yoga can help with providing the gentle, yet strong movement necessary to release the tension, and lengthen and strengthen the muscles. It is important to recognize that not all yoga schools have teachers trained in alignment based yoga, which can immensely help the body’s natural healing and strengthening process. I was fortunate to earn my certification from Tarra J. Madore, DC, E-RYT 500. Tarra’s Smart Asana Yoga teacher training provided me with the skills necessary to help and support my clients. As Tarra states in an article in The American Chiropractor, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”1
In helping my students with back pain, the focus is on proper alignment and slow and steady movement. Flexibility and strength are not the same thing. We have to be aware that someone may be naturally flexible but this can actually cause them injury if they move too quickly or deeply into a pose. Using blocks and props can help with lengthening the muscles slowly and steadily before going deeper into strengthening muscles. A yoga practice that includes gentle poses, progressing to standing poses, including downward facing dog, can be helpful in lengthening and strengthening the lower back muscles. This will also help enhance proper muscular movement. Establishing good form is imperative for a strong practice.
There are several yoga asanas (poses) that can be helpful both in alleviating back pain and in strengthening back muscles. Again, the key is in slow and steady movements and ensuring proper alignment. The goal is to build muscle strength and help ease the pain. Several poses help us reach this goal by activating core strength and lengthening the spine. The strengthening and lengthening movements in yoga are often what the back needs to heal itself. With a consistent practice, you will strengthen the multifidus muscles that stabilize the vertebrae. Also, you will improve the core strength, the transverse abdominis, which is so important to help stabilize the spine.
Last but not least, a very important key to success in healing your aching back is consistency. Many times we begin a yoga program with the best of intentions, to heal our back pain. But once the pain is gone and we start to feel good, we decide we do not need to continue. I have had many students return after another bout of suffering from excruciating back pain. They all say the same thing, “Why did I stop coming to class. I felt so good before this happened!” Consistency is the key! Even if you can only attend class once a week, make sure you do. Your back health depends on it. Set aside one day and time each week to attend a full class. You will start to see results within a few weeks. If your schedule allows you to go more often, then do so. The key is to be consistent in your practice to maintain the strength and avoid another episode.
About the Author.
Sandra Mancuso Machiaverna
Owner of Kiryoku Training Center in NJ, which she refers to as a Zen Haven for all.
Her mission is to offer enjoyable and unique fitness for EVERY body.
Sandra is an E-200RYT, a Certified Personal Trainer and 3rd degree black belt in Okinawa Goju Ryu Karate.
1Madore, DC, Tarra J. “It’s Not What You Do But How You Do It.” The American Chiropractor, p34-38, May 2018, http://archive.theamericanchiropractor.com/issue/20180501#!&pid=38