Back Aches & Pain: Could Yoga help ?
Updated: Mar 16
“Yoga is the fountain of youth. You are only as young as your spine is flexible.” Bob Harper
Why is it important to keep your spine flexible yet strong and mobile ? If you are dealing with back pain, yoga may be your answer. I have helped many including my fiancé who recently suffered from lower back pain after working for months on his laptop from home, not being set up properly due to confinement following the Covid pandemic. A lot of driving on top did not help either. Suddenly, his back went and he literally could barely move in and out of a chair. His back had locked. After 2 weeks of daily yoga somatics practice with me, he fully recovered.
Yoga is a mind-body approach that is often beneficial to treat back pain and the accompanying stress. Appropriate yoga poses together with breathing can help relax & strengthen your body.
If you have any history of lower back injuries, problems with your discs, or experience pain, it is always best seeing a physical therapist before doing any exercises. If your lower back pain is more of a general achiness or discomfort, it is worth trying some yoga to address any tightness and alignment issues. As my students say: "Bye bye back pain; they feel fitter and stronger than ever"
Our spine is our central support system. Its key role is to keep us upright, connecting our different body parts and is our link between earth and sky. Our relationship to our environment is defined by our spine. If you work from home, you need to be properly set up to support your back and neck. How healthy and aligned your spine is will impact your mood, your health, wellbeing and your feelings towards the world and yourself. The reverse is also true. Your thoughts, emotions, environment will shape your posture affecting your spine alignment, your state of being and physiology. Have a good set up, take breaks, move and invest in a strength and mobility practice.
A forward rounded posture will close and compress the front organs (heart, lungs, digestive system) preventing them from functioning at optimum level and creating strain as they now have to work twice as hard to keep you going in a reduced space. A back held rigidly in a military fashion will also create tension and lack flexibility. A misaligned spine due to stress, bad posture or habits invites aches and pain in your back and neck, impinging most likely also on your shoulders’ freedom of movement.
For a healthy back, it is best to address flexibility with core stability, correct your posture opening the chest, mobilising shoulders, upper back, ribs and really connecting to your breathing.
Your spine should naturally be upright feeling supported and yet flexible enough to keep you moving with ease in every day life. For walking, running, bending to pick up the kids or grandchildren, twisting to reverse in your car, shopping, gardening, playing sport... Firstly, you need to maintain or re-establish alignment and space within your body, within your organs by bringing your posture back in neutral. It dramatically changes your practice and your state of being. Good breathing is key. Most importantly, it is a safer approach. Secondly, including strength and flexibility in your yoga practice is essential. Your spine and pelvis were made for action.
The spine has three natural curves that form an S-shape to absorb forces through the body. Regular stretches relieve tension and strong muscles keep the natural alignment. This means a strong back and core. The spine loves movement. Yoga offers us extension, forward bend (flexing at the hip – not in your lower back so bend the knees if you need to), lateral flexion, inversion, backbend and twists. Variety is the spice of life and brings joy to your back.
Our spine consists of 33 bones, named vertebrae, divided into five sections: the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine sections, and the sacrum and coccyx bones. In between each vertebra, discs allow movement so we can stand, bend, extend, twist. Strong muscles and bones, flexible tendons and ligaments, and good communication via your central nervous system contribute to a healthy spine. The spinal nerves act as “telephone lines,” carrying messages back and forth between your brain, body and spinal cord to control sensation and movement.
As we age, our discs increasingly lose the ability to reabsorb fluid and become brittle and flatter. This explains why we get shorter as we grow older. Somatics helps to decompress the spine and the whole body, helping us to feel longer and taller. A regular yoga practice helps to lubricate the discs and keep the spine strong and mobile. I like to mix both Somatics and yoga in my classes.
One of my all-time favourites at the end of the day is Constructive rest: Lying on your back with your legs bent, feet on the floor hip width apart. It releases and decompress the whole spine. You can stay in this one up to 10 min. Simply focus on your breathing. I usually follow this with bringing my knees to the chest rocking from side to side with gentle spinal twists. Twists are nourishing for the spine bringing mobility and fresh blood supply to your discs. It feels so good !
Back care is key in our practice so we can feel strong, balanced and move with ease in a safe manner in our daily lives. It will also improve our posture, our breathing, the function of our organs (as we avoid unnecessary compression) and uplift our mood giving us more energy for life. As for clarity of mind, BKS Iyengar once said “Focus on keeping your spine straight. It is the job of the spine to keep the brain alert” Brilliant example of mind body connection, don't you think ?
Yoga for Backs. This month, each week, we focus on a different part of the back: lower back, then mid and upper back. Expect stretching, twisting, backbends, core, back and glutes work. Bye Bye aches and stiffness. Stay mobile, feel stronger and better ! See you on the mat.
Group classes and private tuition available online via Zoom.