Oh, My Aching Back!
Kermit of the Muppets said it so clearly when he announced, “It isn’t easy being green,” and when we have a back condition or backache, it isn’t easy being human! Pain is exacerbated and intensified by our awareness of the discomfort, frustration, and fear which perpetuates more suffering.
Back pain comes from many sources ranging from lifestyle choices, activities, occupation, transportation, nutrition, accidents, injuries, and genetics. Everything we do affects the back. That is why back care is something we have to do all day, everyday, not just when we feel the screams from the backside.
Keeping a healthy back means keeping it well tuned with rest, extension, stretch, and strengthening. The very best kind of stretch for the spine is yoga because it encompasses the body holistically, utilizing the breath and the mind.
For most every back, there are numerous asanas (yoga exercises) that are appropriate for prevention of and treatment of common back pain. Most back issues are a result of surface tension and can be remedied over time with learning yoga techniques of spine tuning. The following tips are helpful for day to day living:
A good bed, high quality shoes, an ergonomically correct computer station and a car seat adapted to your posture with pillows and supports are a must.
Remember that emotions can affect your posture and back health.
Proper nutrition is important, also understanding how drugs affect the back and that proper hydration with water and water rich fruits and vegetables is necessary.
Muscles that affect the curve of the spine, the hamstrings, quadriceps, and abdominals all need balance. Spot strengthening is not the answer. Yoga works these muscles in the context of the entire neuromuscular system from the premise of the body being one unified structure.
How well you breathe is directly correlated to the health of your back and the body as a whole. Observe your posture and breath all day long. The body needs to feel the power of breath throughout the day
Even a few everyday yoga asanas (exercise moves), like the ones here, can work wonders. Breathe each pose 1-2 minutes. At the end, lie down in rest pose. Try them for yourself and see if your backside doesn’t begin to smile.
#1. Be Long and Wide - With your feet hip distance apart, lift your toes and feel your thighs activate. You’ll notice you also have arches! Keep those arches and place the toes down. Lengthen long from your tail bone to the crown of your head (like a marionette puppet). Lengthen from your belly to the collar bones. With your legs lightly firmed, grow your neck. Feel lightness, a good foundation, and a different kind of strength. This Mountain Pose is good posture medicine! Now expand yourself. Keep the same action in your legs and trunk. Simply step your feet wide apart and stretch your arms wide, sending energy out the fingertips. Relax your throat and breathe. Remember each fresh, conscious breath is nutriment for the body. Each exhalation clears tension and calms the mind.
#2. Awakening the Hips - Use your imagination as you sit on a blanket. Pretend you are a magnificent flower, having emerged from the earth. Bend and open your knees bringing the bottoms of your feet together (legs are the leaves). Hold onto your toes or ankles and grow your spine long (the stem) as you breathe in. Stay elongated as you breathe out and lower your thighs toward the floor. Your face becomes the flower.
#3. Easy Bridge Sling - Lie down on your back. Bend your knees. Place your feet on the floor, hip distance apart, with your arms down along side your body. Press your arms into the floor and gingerly lift your hips a few inches from the floor to create a little hip sling, releasing pressure from the lower back. There you are in an easy bridge pose balancing on your shoulders and feet.
#4. Dog It - After every nap the canine takes care of the back starting on all fours and lifting the hips skyward, pulling them way back while exhaling to release the head, neck, and the throat. Copy cat this action. Take in long breaths and release the spine. Downward stretching dog is a gift from the animal kingdom teaching us how to build upper body strength and have mercy on the aching back. Too tight for this pose? Do an upright version with the wall or chair.
#5. Frog It - Last but not least is frog pose, which Kermit would, I’m certain, say that it makes being green a little easier. From all fours, separate your knees. Keep the big toes together. Pull the tail back as far as possible over the heels. Drop your elbows to the floor and release your head and neck. Your back will love you for this. Breathe fully. After a few minutes, lie and rest on your back. And then... you’ll be ready to hop on into the day.
Originally published in Healing Garden Journal
Libby Robold, RYT, Yoga Therapist, trademarked Breathercise, a relaxation therapy system for children and adults in 1992. Libby specializes in therapeutics, having managed her own back dysfunction with yoga for many years. She is co-director of Yoga for Health Education, Center for Conscious Living in Traverse City. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (231) 922-YOGA.