Yoga helps heal back pain

The back can ache in many different ways and to different degrees. I have long put off writing about this, because it is such a vast topic. Having had issues with my own back for some time – which over the years I have addressed in quite a few different ways – I know only too well the level of skill required when wanting to assist someone in healing it. Dealing with someone else’s back, particularly when there is pain, is a responsibility yoga teachers have to take seriously.

Saying that, some simple rules apply:

  • One is more prone to a sore or injured back if the spine is stiff and/or weak.
  • Lack of body awareness and a physical predisposition can result in back problems
  • A lack of skill in how to use one’s body appropriately, especially when lifting any kind of weight, can cause back ache (e.g. lifting your child, a box, or the shopping out of the back of the car etc)
  • A sedentary life style or equally, the overuse of one’s back, can bring about backache.
  • Emotional and/or mental worries can manifest in problems in one’s back

AND

  • Yoga can help with all of the above!

Where to begin?

At first it is helpful to know within which kind of movement the back is pained, and exactly where; or which kind of movement aggravates the condition. The next step is to determine which part of the yoga practice and which kind of postures include those kinds of movements. The seeming paradox is that the postures which hurt, are often the ones which help to heal the back. Therefore it is important to break these movements down to a manageable level and increase both strength and flexibility incrementally by skillfull practicing. The worst one can do when experiencing problems with one’s back, is to stop using movements, which engage the spine.

There are certainly some sequences of postures, which help improve back strength and flexibility; often they need to be tailored to one’s particular condition and needs. An experienced yoga teacher with extensive training can help with this.

Throughout times of discomfort and frustration it is important to remember that our body consists of many more parts than the effected area, and we need to keep using, strengthening and making flexible, the whole of the body. We tend to get absorbed by our aching back, even fearful of using it, and forget about the rest of our wonderful body and its’ many amazing capabilities.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a great tool in that respect, as it naturally – by following a wisely sequenced series of postures – makes us move our spine in all the different directions possible, using every part of our body with its amazing range of motion. There is so much we still can do, despite the affected area, and a lot of fun is to be had! The least we’ll experience is some relief from the pain, or the sense that we are on the right track in healing it; all wonderful outcomes.

Best is to establish a solid yoga practice before any problems arise in the body. The healing from any occurring aches or injuries will be quicker, and more enhanced; and to start with, the possibility to acquire painful back-ache much smaller. Some say that their back only started causing them trouble once they began with the practice of Yoga. Lucky them, because obviously there was a weakness in that area and Yoga, which incorporates many movements we don’t’ readily use throughout our normal day, would have detected that issue early on, giving us a chance to address it then. We then have the ability to cure the problem before it accrues more serious problems later in life. Often old injuries flair up when starting out with Yoga, where the practice gives us the chance to then heal them fully.

I personally find back pain has become one of my best teachers. It has provided me with many insights as to how to practice postures skillfully, and in which areas in the body the postures are working. As a ground rule, I ensure to keep my back strong through regular practice.

More so, one of the greatest insights I have gained after years of trying to tweak my practice in a way that it would suit my back, is that the most important and at least for me, the most useful, is to be fully present when doing my asanas (postures). And this applies to all else in daily life. With asanas, what is keeping me ‘on my toes’ mentally, is the consistent use of my ‘Bandhas’ (muscle seals or locks); especially Muladhara Bandha (the root lock). This has been my big healer as it draws my full concentration inward, ongoingly. It immediately makes me aware of even the slightest lack of support in e.g. a forward bend, where I have to hold the whole weight of my trunk with my back and bandhas – (for which the modern term is ‘core’).

Any unskillful practice of a posture, which might result in back ache, is much more easily detected when one is being inwardly focused and present. Once I had committed to focusing in exactly which parts of the practice I lose my bandhas easily, and then with diligence worked on maintaining them throughout, my back immediately improved.

It is only in our own practice that we learn about the weaknesses in our bodies. Our Yoga teachers can be a wonderful support and guide in resolving any issues we might have. But in the end it is only us who ‘feel’ our body, and who ‘are in our body’, and therefore have the ability to heal ourselves. The only way to improve any discomfort and gain mastery over pain, is to ‘practice skilfully and mindfully’.

Practice, practice, practice!

OM Shanti,

Angelika