Back Pain & Yoga
Whether it be shoveling off your driveway after another snow storm, slipping on a patch of ice you didn't see, or even picking a toy up off of the floor you swore you just cleaned....back pain can strike anywhere and is something most of us experience at one point in our lives. Lower, middle, or even upper back pain is, to say the least, annoying and it can prevent us from accomplishing pretty much any task without wincing or grumbling about its presence. Fortunately (or not so fortunately, depending on how you look at it!), I know a thing or two about back pain. I was diagnosed at a young age with scoliosis, which can cause neck, back, leg, and nerve pain. My experiences, and training, have enabled me to recognize back pain early on and avoid it entirely, or at least manage it properly if avoidance wasn't an option. Therefore, in an effort to help you at some point in your life, I want to share some of what I have learned and practice regularly.
Now, if you have managed to escape back pain up to this point, bravo! You're one of the lucky ones, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit jealous! Yet, the possibility of it happening does still exist for you, so I encourage you to read on. But, if you haven't been so fortunate, like myself, and have had a run in with back pain before, please read on, as you may pick up another good nugget of information.
My personal opinion is that to maintain a healthy spine, one must be mindful of and practice Prevention, Awareness and Continual Self-Care.
Prevention - also known as avoidance. How can we avoid back pain and injury? For starters, and something most, if not all, of you already know is that you have to have strong back muscles to protect your spine, which is accomplished through working those muscles. But it doesn't stop there! A strong back is a healthy back, yes. BUT you can't have a strong back unless you have a strong stomach! Many people forget about the importance of the abdominal muscles in protecting the spine. They are super important! So, be sure to exercise both areas!
I know, I know...some of us just can't stand working out, OR don't have the time to fit it in, and I completely sympathize! Some days I don't even feel like doing it! But, working the muscles that matter in this case really doesn't take that much time and you may not even break a sweat. Seriously! A few minutes every day can bring you closer to a stronger back. Plank pose (see resources below) is an awesome pose for strengthening those abdominal muscles, with the added benefit of elongating the spine. Locust Pose (see resources below) is perfect for helping to build strong back muscles. So, if you absolutely despise working out, try hold these poses for a few breaths, a minute, or more!, once a day and you'll be on your way to building up your defense against back injury and pain!
Awareness - acknowledging the signs and accepting them.
Back pain strikes. You pause and think: Hmm. That's odd. But you have so much to do that you just move on with your life without giving it another thought. And yet, before you know it, the pain starts to become more constant and more intense. At which point, you think: Oh, alright. I'll just take it easy for a few days and that should do the trick. Yet it doesn't. Soon you find yourself in your medicine cabinet reaching for the pain pills or in the chiropractor's waiting room wondering what exactly was it that you did to cause this, and if that pesky pain will ever go away.
Stop right here and think back. Remember the moment you first felt that initial twinge? The one you acknowledged briefly but chose to ignore? Most likely, that was the first sign you needed to address the situation. And, no, I'm not saying that first inkling should send you right to the chiropractor, or even to your medicine cabinet. Instead, what I mean to point out here is that the first twinge you experienced was your body telling you it needed something...a break, a stretch, some attention! So, please listen to your body and honor it. It's constantly sending you signals!
I'll use myself as an example. Mornings are sometimes a slow start for my back. I have a wonderful mattress and I don't tend to sleep awkwardly, yet some mornings I wake and immediately feel weak in my lower back. Weak in the sense that if I do anything too quickly, or twist/move the wrong way, I could potentially throw it out. So, instead of just jumping up and going about my day with the mentality that I just don't have the time to worry about it and it'll get better on its own, I stretch. Right there in bed. Childs pose is usually my go-to, because not only is it a gentle stretch after just waking up, but it's wonderful in the sense that it helps to elongate the spine and introduce length back in between the vertebrae. And if I feel that doesn't do the trick, I move onto additional poses such as Cat/Cow, Seated Twist, and Easy Pose with a Side Bend (see resources below). But the key here is that I listen to my body and follow its cues. If something is uncomfortable, painful or just doesn't feel right, I DON'T DO IT! And you should follow the same mentality for the sake of your back. Listen to it, try to help comfort it the moment something doesn't feel right, and if something feels painful back off a bit or stop whatever you're doing entirely. Awareness is something super important to develop if you haven't already, and is something you can also learn and develop through a regular yoga practice.
In the case where you were unsuccessful in avoiding an injury, it is critical to remember that you need to allow your body time to recover. Recovery means to return to a normal state of strength, or health. Your back pain will never heal if you do not allow it to return to its normal state. Instead, you'll either make matters worse or risk re-injury. So please honor your body, and take care of yourself by allowing your body to properly recover. I know it's hard! We live in a face paced, high-stress world where there is so much to do and not enough time to do it all. But for the sake of yourself, your body, your happiness and your health, please accept and come to terms with the fact that some things on that to-do list are just not going to get done right away or the way you want them to. The most important thing to remember here is that your to-do list will always be there, so take care of yourself to ensure that you're there to finish it!
Once you do start to feel better, try to incorporate some exercise/movement back into your life so that you can, once again, strengthen your body in an effort to potentially avoid another injury. But take it slow! Be aware of how your body feels and never, ever push through any pain. Yoga can help your recovery if you start when your body is ready. Easing back into it with a more gentle practice, such as restorative yoga, which consists of gentle poses, will be a better transition for the body. As your body heals and you feel you're ready to move on, you can transition to a more challenging practice, such as power yoga, which consists of poses aimed at working the body a bit more.
Never tried yoga and are either nervous or unsure? Or maybe you've taken a class before and think it just isn't your thing?
Well, first let me say that if you're practicing Prevention and Awareness, you're basically already doing yoga! Prevention is where I recommend strengthening the BODY through a series of poses and Awareness is using the MIND to be conscious of the body's signals. Body + Mind + Breath = Yoga! So, really, the only task left to accomplish is identifying a type of yoga that feels best to you at your level. There are many different styles of yoga and a ton of teachers online sharing their teachings and videos (beginner, intermediate or advanced levels!) with the world, so try out a few and find what you think might be the best style and level for you! And if I can help in anyway, via advice or maybe to point you in the right direction, please let me know! I'm always here for you as a resource and to help in any way I can!
In the meantime, be good to yourself, listen to your body and I hope that whatever back pain has troubled you, or continues to trouble you, that you experience less of it or find relief with some of the lessons that I've learned and shared with you here!
Plank Pose: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/plank-pose
Locust Pose: https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/locust-pose
FREE! - I've created this PDF for you to refer to whenever you need. These are the poses I gravitate towards when my spine needs some extra lovin'. I hope you enjoy it! 3 Poses for a Healthy Spine