“Bend and stretch, squat and lift, twist and release…” Sounds like the words coming from the mouth of an aerobics instructor. But, actually they are the sounds of a typical mom’s day, as we “bend” to pick up clothes off the floor, “stretch” to put the groceries away on the top shelf of the pantry, “squat, lift, twist and release,” to pick up the toddler and get him or her in the stroller, etc. And with all that bending, squatting and lifting comes the #1 bane to moms everywhere… back pain!
But, did you know that Yoga is a great drug-free way to ease back pain!
Yoga can be very beneficial in treating most forms of back pain, however, it is important that you see your doctor and determine exactly what is causing your back pain, and rule out certain conditions such as spinal stenosis that can actually be worsened by certain types of yoga. As with any exercise regimen, it is important that you seek the advice of your physician before starting yoga therapy to resolve back pain.
For many, yoga is a path to enlightenment. For others, it is a great way to exercise, relieve stress, and stay in shape. But for whatever reasons you chose to participate in yoga, and whichever type of yoga is practiced – for there are many – understand that yoga is first and foremost about balance. Balance in yoga is key and that is why it can be a great way to treat back pain because most back pain is caused by an imbalance between the muscles, nerves, and joints of the spinal column and the rest of the body. By releasing this tension in the muscles associated with the back such as the hips, legs, neck, and shoulders, yoga can relieve much back pain.
As mentioned, there are many forms of yoga. The most appropriate for back pain relief is Hatha yoga. Unlike some of the more esoteric forms of yoga such as Kundalini and Ashtanga yoga, Hatha is a primarily a physical form consisting of moving into specific positions known as Asanas, while using specialized breathing techniques referred to as Pranayama. By adopting these sometimes simple sometimes more complex ancient poses, along with the appropriate breathing technique, the practitioner is able to bring about significant positive mental and physical changes.
How Does Yoga Help Back Pain?
There are specific yoga positions or “exercises” that can be used to relieve specific types of upper or lower back pain or strain. In general, yoga is good for back pain because it reduces stress and increases strength. Many of the positions in yoga, over time, will begin to subtly strengthen the muscles in the back and in the abdomen. The spine takes much of its support from the back and abdominal muscles. In conjunction with the muscles of the spine, the back muscles and stomach muscles help the body achieve correct upright posture and mobility. When these muscles are in good shape and working in proper harmony, back pain can be significantly lessened or eliminated.
In addition to strengthening muscles much of yoga has to do with stretching and relaxation, which literally reduces stress in muscles. Yoga positions must be assumed and then held for seconds or minutes at a time. While locked in pose, some muscle groups flex, others stretch, always in balance, always in harmony – equal, opposite reactions that promote tranquility and flexibility in joints and muscles.
Yoga trains the body to be healthy, flexible and be held in proper alignment. Proper spinal alignment is critical to health and well-being, and essential to alleviate back pain. After a time, the practitioner of yoga develops a keener sense of body awareness. He or she becomes much more aware of the physicality of their bodies and understands more of the body’s strengths and limitations. In this way, yoga improves back health by making individuals more aware of movements and actions that can affect the back in a negative way.
And finally, yoga reduces mental fatigue and emotional stress and improves the state of mind and being. An improved mental state such as can be achieved through yoga, and enhanced via meditation, may not “cure” the disease or condition causing pain, but through mental discipline, the person can perceive it less. Some practitioners have the ability to block out pain entirely. We have all seen examples of advanced Yogis walking over hot coals and the like.
While no one is expected to achieve that level of physical and spiritual consciousness to alleviate back pain, yoga helps people focus their energy on proper breathing and maintaining posture. This rhythmic and therapeutic breathing coupled with the poses has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and therefore, much of back pain that can be related to physical strain as well as psychological and emotional factors.