Yoga for Back Pain
With back pain, either temporary or chronic, performing even a simple task can be difficult. Those with back pain may find that they avoid doing activities they used to enjoy. The frustration of having one’s life interrupted in this way causes many people to seek medical help that can be expensive, invasive, addicting, and incompletely alleviates the pain. Yoga is an affordable, non-invasive, healthy alternative for treating back pain.
How Can Yoga Help My Back Pain?
A combination of different yoga poses builds strength, supports alignment of the spine, and releases muscle tension, allowing the body to heal. Many yoga poses can be modified to address specific back conditions, or to provide a deeper stretch.
Yoga is effective in treating back pain because it is gentle and can be personalized to meet your physical needs. It is not competitive: The goal is not to be more flexible than anyone else. When going into a pose, you should only go as deep as your body allows on that particular day. This means stretching only to the point of resistance, and then holding the pose there. Your flexibility will vary from day to day. Stretching past the point of resistance can result in pain, the opposite of what any therapeutic yoga tries to accomplish.
After practicing yoga, you will feel relaxed and at peace. Continuing a yoga practice has can reduce or even eliminate back pain over time, as it increases flexibility and strengthens the back.
Yoga Poses for Back Pain
A yoga pose, known as an asana, is the positioning of the body for a period of time. Each yoga pose targets certain muscles or group of muscles. For example, the forward bend can lengthen the spine and stretch the muscles in the back, as well as the hamstrings. It is never advisable to bounce when holding a pose. Therapeutic yoga poses are designed to be gentle and safe for the back, while strengthening and loosening muscles. Calm, controlled movement from one pose to another creates a yoga practice. Holding each pose with continuous yoga breathing yields the best results. The following poses start lying down on the mat face up.
Single Leg Raise
The Single Leg Raise strengthens the abdominal and the lower back muscles. Make sure that the full length of the back is making contact with the mat. Relax the neck and shoulders. With legs together and palms down by the side of the body, raise one leg while the other remains flat on the mat. Alternate legs by using the abdominal muscles to raise and lower the legs.
The Fish Pose
The Fish Pose relieves stiffness of the neck and shoulder muscles and improves flexibility of the spine. Arms should be at the side of the body, palms down. Feet should be together. This time, instead of making sure the full length of the back makes contact with the mat, press down on the elbows, inhale, and arch the back so that it is not touching the mat. The head will slide so that the chin is pointing straight in the air. Resting on the elbows, remain relaxed and breathe deeply. Slowly come out of the pose and repeat.
The Corpse Pose
The Corpse Pose strengthens the back, and should result in greater flexibility. Extend the arms and legs away from the body with the palms facing up. Turn the head from side to side until it is centered. Imagine that someone is pulling from each direction: legs, arms, and head. Stretch the body in this manner for several minutes, breathing deeply from the abdomen.
Be Cautious With Some Poses
Some poses that may be beneficial to the back, such as the Cat pose, or Sage Twist, may not be good for those with chronic or recent back pain or injury. These poses may be appropriate after the back injury heals. However, to avoid injury, yoga poses that involve deep twists should only be done under the supervision of yoga instructor.
What is Yoga?
Yoga, an ancient practice that is 5,000 years old, involves movement, stretching, and breath to achieve overall wellbeing. Because everyone’s fitness needs are different, a variety of yoga classes exist to focus on fitness, strength, flexibility, meditation, relaxation, and rehabilitation. Yoga that is designed to be therapeutic can offer gentle relief from joint and muscle pain, and is especially helpful for back pain.
Depending on the severity of one’s back problems, many who practice yoga experience:
- Greater flexibility
- Better posture
- Stronger stomach muscles to protect the back
- Relief from pain.
Always check with your doctor before starting a yoga practice.
How Can Meditation in My Yoga Practice Help with Back Pain?
Most people think of yoga as a practice of physical poses (hatha yoga). However, incorporating meditation into a yoga practice may also help eliminate stress and enhance your asana practice. This can be effective in treating chronic back pain because it eliminates tension and promotes relaxation. Meditation is fast and easy to learn. It is not the length of meditation that is important; it is the frequency. One can reap benefits from practicing meditation once a day for only a few minutes. Meditation is focusing your attention away from thoughts and emotions. The focus could be on your breath, a mantra, or an image.
In addition to a feeling of relaxation and reduction in stress, meditation results in:
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased blood flow
- Improved immune response
- Relief of chronic pain
It is common to end a yoga practice with a few minutes of meditation. Start lying down on the mat, face up, with your eyes closed. The idea is to start with one area of the body such as the head, and then flex and relax each muscle. Flex and then relax the muscles around the eyes, then the mouth, then move to the shoulders, etc. Eventually, cover all parts of the body. At the end of this meditation technique, your body should be completely relaxed.
How Do I Start My Yoga Practice?
Those who have never practiced yoga before may want to take a class or two at their local yoga studio before practicing at home. A yoga instructor can teach the basics of posture and breathing, and provide valuable instruction for which poses are most appropriate for various back conditions. It is common for yoga instructors to adjust a student’s pose using their hands or other parts of their body, allowing the student to experience the feeling of a correct pose. Performing the pose correctly is important for gaining the maximum benefit from each pose, and for avoiding injury. Many prefer the more affordable option of using a DVD at home for its convenience and privacy.
What Equipment Do I Need?
Some Yoga studios utilize props such as blocks and straps to support various poses. Such props as the block can be especially helpful for people who have back pain, as they can help you reach a pose without straining the body. Most studios provide props to their students in the yoga studio. DVDs usually indicate on the box if any equipment is required. Regardless of whether one attends a class at a studio, or uses a DVD at home, loose, comfortable clothing, and a yoga mat are necessary equipment.
Finding a Yoga Instructor
The International Association of Yoga Therapists provides professional resources, publications, and membership to yoga therapists and people interested in beginning yoga practice. Their website is: http://www.iayt.org/.