Tag: askayogi

Ask a Yogi: What poses can I do to ease low back pain?

Whenever I teach yoga at workplaces, low back pain seems to be a common problem area.

In fact, back pain is the second most common reason for visiting MDs, the top for chiropractors, and leading cause of disability of people under forty five. Doctors used to recommend bed rest to treat low back pain--ironically, not moving to prevent further strain is actually counterproductive. The longer you stay sedentary, the more muscle mass you lose. The best treatment uses gentle movement and strengthening.

Yoga examines posture, strength, mobility, and emotional states to treat back pain with a holistic approach.

The low back supports the weight of the upper body and provides mobility for everyday motions such as bending and twisting. Our lower back is the area with the most nerve endings in the back. It also produces the largest range of motion in the spine, so when we back bend our lower back does the majority of the bending as it compresses. To maintain good posture, we must encourage a healthy curve of the low spine. Our backs require certain amounts of compression, strengthening, and stretching. Yoga does all three to maintain the physical health of your back. It also helps develop the mind-body connection that brings awareness to the subtle signals in the body. For instance, we might catch ourselves slouching at our desks or notice how mental stress translates into physical stress in our backs.

WHAT CAUSES LOW BACK PAIN?

Everyone's back pain stems from unique causes. There are 4 main causes (and perhaps more!) of low back pain.

  1. Weak core and leg muscles - muscles in our abs, back, and legs play a critical role in supporting your lower spine.  And 100 crunches is not a cure-all. Your core will not be worked by doing crunches alone, there are a lot of muscles there that support the spine. Obliques and low back extensor muscles are especially helpful for holding an upright posture.
  2. Stress (in every context of the word) - When we are mentally or emotionally charged, the body responds with tension. Prolonged physical stress on the back also leads to chronic tension and pain. Back pain is connected to psychological stress. Breathing and relaxation techniques help calm stress related responses.
  3. Tightness in legs - The health of your lumbar spine is directly affected by the action of the hip flexors (aka psoas) and hamstrings. Everything is connected!
  4. Misalignment - Hunching shoulders and forward neck position can lead to back problems. When we sitting for prolonged periods, the natural tendency for most people is to slouch over and sit with the pelvis tilted forward. This posture can overstretch the spinal ligaments and cause the low back to round. That's why some compression and strengthening is necessary to maintain the curve of the lower back. I've also heard so many stories about people with complications in their knees and hips that end up with back pain while trying to favor one side of the body. If you do encounter an injury in your body, be aware of movement patterns that could lead to injuries elsewhere in the body.

POSES/STRETCHES THAT WORK

Strengthen

Locust pose

Baby Cobra

Warrior 3

Bridge pose

Triangle

Compress

Sphinx pose

Dancer pose

Reclined hero pose - not for acute pain

Stretch

Lying hamstring stretch

Spinal twist

Forward fold

Low lunge

Reclined pigeon pose

Cat/cow

Thread needle with arm reach

Restorative Poses to Ease Back Pain

Child's pose

Supported shoulder stand

Restorative savasana with cushion under knees

Resources 

McCall, T. (2007). Yoga as Medicine. New York, NY: Random House Publishing.

Peloza, J. (2017). Low Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/lower-back-pain-symptoms-diagnosis-and-treatment

Ask a Yogi – How do I set an intention for my yoga practice?

A goal is different from an intention. A goal focuses on a future outcome, an intention focuses on what is of most value to you in the present.


When I first started my practice, my teacher would often instruct us to “set an intention for the yoga practice”. Not understanding quite what that meant, I usually ignored her and wrote it off as just another “woo woo” aspect of yoga.

As I grew more interested in the philosophical aspects of the practice, I realized intention setting is a way to tune into my physical and mental wellbeing. Between teaching classes and working on my business, I sometimes forget to stop and check in with myself. Setting an intention each morning encourages me to self-reflect. How do I feel physically? What’s lingering on my mind? Is there a strong emotion present? Introspection helps me set an intention that will guide me toward action that’s directed and purposeful.

Steps to Creating an Intention:

  1. Relax into a calm state. Notice how you feel physically and emotionally. Identify what you’re feeling: Exhausted? Anxious? Lonely? Peaceful? etc.
  2. Focus on a word that resonates with you. It can be as simple as 1 word. Find a positive word that supports your current emotional or physical state. The word can be a specific action like energize or relax. It can also be a more abstract feeling like love or gratitude. A few other options are listed below.
  3. Repeat the word to yourself. Use every exhale to repeat the intention out loud or internally. Whenever you negative feelings arise, come back to your intention. Recalling the word throughout the day breaks the stream of unconscious thought and mental stimulation. It reminds us to live intentionally— providing a framework for decision-making and action.

FEELING –> INTENTION

Fear –> Comfort

Weakness –> Strength

Sadness –> Joy

Doubt –> Peace

Insecurity –> Confidence

Instability –> Balance

Betrayal –> Truth

Indifference –> Compassion

Constraint –> Freedom

Emptiness –> Fulfillment

Loneliness –> Community

Ask a Yogi: How Do I Start Meditating?

Recently, I’ve seen a surge of requests for meditation instruction.

Fast-paced lifestyles, high-levels of anxiety – it’s no wonder people are looking for ways to slow down.

Learn the basics here: why start meditation, benefits to your mind and body, and meditation methods.

Yoga first started as a meditation practice with only 1 pose – seated meditation. Gradually, poses were added to enhance the meditation experience. Asanas (poses) help the body connect movement to breath, which can be it’s own form of meditation. As well, it’s easier for many people to find stillness in a seated meditation practice after moving. That’s why I like to practice a still meditation after the physical yoga practice.

Yoga: the practice of observing the fluctuations of the mind and achieving relaxed, focused attention.

Why Start a Meditation Practice?

Continue reading “Ask a Yogi: How Do I Start Meditating?”

Ask a Yogi: Understanding the Spine

Geek out on anatomy with this brief overview on your spine. We’ll discuss the parts of the spine, how they interact, and what causes back abnormalities.

How does the spine move?

The spinal vertebra form facet joints, and just like any other joint in the body, we must put an appropriate amount of stress on them to promote strength and range of motion. The facet joints are a type of synovial joint, a capsule formed by fascia, tendons, and ligaments. The joint contains glycosaminoglycans, one of which is a called hyluronic acid. Once the joint is stimulated by movement, it releases hyluronic acid that hydrates our tissues, including the tissues around the spine.

When we manipulate the spine, the intervertebral discs also receive pressure and stress. The disks are made of a particular type of cartilage. It accounts for 25% of the length of the spine!

The outside of the disc is a stronger fibrous substance, while the inside is more of a jelly-like substance. As the spine receives pressure from our twists, the gel moves inside the more fibrous outer disc and redistributes itself to absorb the impact of the pressure. While a person ages, the inner gel loses moisture and the spinal discs become more rigid and less resilient.

Twisting, bending, and strengthening of the back may provide an appropriate amount of stress for the back. It encourages healthy facet joints and discs to relieve pressure on the spine.

What causes curvatures of the spine?

The curvatures of the spine typically seen with lordosis and kyphosis are caused by the shape of the vertebrae. Scoliosis is idiopathic (no defined cause). Thinning of the vertebrae often cause the shape to change. In my opinion, the best thing you can do to buffer back problems is performing plenty of weight bearing exercise and stretching. Personally, it helped me overcome a lot of back pain from scoliosis.

 

 

 

 

Resources

Healthline Media, 2015

Clark, 2016

Ask a Yogi: Can I Lose Weight Doing Yoga?

With New Years approaching and new health goals on the horizon, I feel obliged to answer this question.

Short answer: Yoga’s not going to help you lose weight in isolation.

However… it may be a great tool to supplement a balanced diet and adequate exercise.

Regardless, we will see newcomers to the yoga studio this month hoping to shed pounds the “easy” way by taking yoga classes. 😉

I’ll tell you a little story of said student and offer ways yoga may be the perfect addition to your weight loss plan. Continue reading “Ask a Yogi: Can I Lose Weight Doing Yoga?”

Ask a Yogi: What are the best poses for a quick stretch?

When yoga students ask me what they should do for a quick stretch, I’m often hesitant to give them a straight answer unless I know them well enough. Sometimes, I’ll tell them some of my go-to poses that target general weak spots for most people like anjaneyasana or gomukasana… Continue reading “Ask a Yogi: What are the best poses for a quick stretch?”