Tag: how to yoga

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

Asana of the Day: Dancer

Lord of the Dance, or Dancer Pose, is a graceful and powerful pose.

I love this pose because of the strong backbend that targets each side of your back. In this respect, you can isolate the left side backbend and the right side backbend. It strengthens and compresses the low back, opens the chest, tones the core, and can be a great active quad stretch. Because of the focus on opening the front of the body in Dancer, it's great to pair with forward folding and twisting.

Trouble balancing? Grab a wall.

Trouble catching your foot? Grab a strap or tie.

Try out these Dancer variations!

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Asana of the Day: Pigeon Pose

Pigeon pose is either a nightmare or a dream.

I’ve heard many people call it their favorite pose, while to others, this pose only causes discomfort.

The pose includes a major external rotation of the hip and deep stretch of the piriformis (muscle in the glutes). It’s a wonderful stretch for those at a seated desk job or cyclists/runners.

Even if you find pigeon pose to be a pain in the rear (quite literally), with so many variations of pigeon, you’ll be able to find at least one that works best for your body.

 

Bare Bones Pose

  1. Place your left knee on the outside of the left wrist

  2. Shimmy your left foot toward the edge of the mat

  3. Lengthen out the back leg.

  4. Try to keep your hips squared off. If you find your left hip is way off the ground, put a block under your hip.

 

 

 

Offbeat Variations

 

Lying pigeon

If pigeon is uncomfortable or you can’t feel the glute stretch, switch to lying pigeon pose. While lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, cross your left ankle over the right knee. If you want to go deeper, grab the right thigh and pull the shin towards your chest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mounted pigeon

Not the nicest name…but oh my, what an amazing passive stretch. Put your legs up the wall, the cross the left ankle over the right knee. Start to bend your right knee allowing the foot to slide down the wall. If you notice your left knee caving inward, push it away with your left hand.

 

 

 

 

 

Craddled lying pigeon

For an even deeper lying pigeon, release the right leg and hug your left shin into your chest. Craddle like a baby 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleeping pigeon

Get a deeper stretch by lowering your pigeon to the floor or blocks. Try your best to rest and relax in this pose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thread the needle pigeon

Before you enter sleeping pigeon, slide the left arm across the right knee. Lie on the back of the left shoulder. Wrap the right arm behind your back for a great shoulder opener.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seated pigeon

Looking for a quick hip stretch? Just have a seat with the knees slightly bent and your hands behind your back. Cross your right ankle over the left knee, then slowly bring the right foot towards your body as the left shin meets your chest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double Pigeon

From a seated position, cross your right ankle over the left knee so that the knees and ankles stack on top of each other. Lean forward to deepen the stretch.

To add the twist, place your hands in prayer. Cross your right elbow over the right foot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mermaid

Still a pigeon variation in my eyes. From upright pigeon pose, reach back with your right hand to grab the top of the right foot. Slide your right foot into your elbow crease. Reach up with the left arm and bend at the elbow to interlock your fingers. Square off your chest to the front. Yes, you’re a real creature of the sea now.

If your really want to get crazy with the backbend- try ROYAL PIGEON.

 

 

 

 

Quad pull in sleeping pigeon

Your quads will thank you after this. Make a loop with your strap. Put the loop around your back leg as you find pigeon pose. As you fall forward to sleeping pigeon pose, pull the strap in front of you so the back knee naturally bends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pigeon in chair

Practice your balance and stretch your glutes! Cross your left ankle over the right knee. Use the strength of the right leg to sit back into your “chair”. Keep your chest up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flying pigeon

Arm balance time! From chair pigeon, lean forward to place your hands on the ground. Keep your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle to make a shelf for your right shin. Transfer your shin to your triceps as you lean forward. Lift the back toes off the ground and slowly extend your back leg. Let your pigeon fly!

 

 

 

 

 

How do you OFFBEAT pigeon pose?

Asana of the Day: Locust Pose

Locust  (Salabhasana) is a back strengthening pose that will invigorate your practice and activate key muscles for more challenging poses like inversions.

Before you try Locust, practice Balancing Table Top to get an idea of the appropriate back activation without compressing the low back too much.

The goal is not bend your back in half!
Rather, this pose should feel supportive for your back.

Locust is an isometric hold that should strengthen the entire back of the body.

Continue reading “Asana of the Day: Locust Pose”

Asana of the Day: Tabletop

While not truly a “pose” in a traditional yoga practice, tabletop is a staple for transitioning to many other poses like cat, cow, child’s pose, and downward dog.

Mastering tabletop can help make more difficult poses more accessible for beginner yogis.

On it’s own, tabletop position is hardly a rest pose. To hold tabletop, you must stay engaged in your shoulders and core.

Continue reading “Asana of the Day: Tabletop”