5 September marks the beginning of National Back Awareness Week. Get back to basics and empower yourself through yoga to evaluate how modern living may perpetuate back pain.
In 2005, Americans spent $85.9 billion in a bid to seek relief from back and neck pain via surgery, doctor’s visits, X-rays, MRI scans and medications.1After headaches, back pain is the most common cause of job related disability or workplace absenteeism in the US, with over 30 million Americans suffering from back pain.1
According to Natalie Botha, an experienced registered yoga teacher and trainer with the Yoga Alliance US, a regular yoga practice can assist in building core strength and help unlock and release deep-seated pain and even uncover the cause of the pain – whether physiological or emotional. “We can empower ourselves to become less reliant on medication and progress more towards self-healing,” she says.
“Sadly, our modern-day lifestyles have us bound in a series of twenty first century slouches, slants and uncomfortable strains as we go about our work; drive our cars and spend hours at our computers. We have moved away from the 7 natural movements of the human spine namely; bending forward and back, bending side to side laterally, twisting from left to right and extending or elongation. The result of our sedentary lifestyles is lower and upper backache and pain. As a nation that responds well to instant gratification, we often turn to quick pain relief, rather than identifying the root of the problem,” says Botha.
Botha says, “A strong, flexible and healthy spine is the mainstay of a happy physical experience and the foundation for a balanced energetic spiritual being. The joy and empowerment that comes from being confident and secure within your own physical framework is the reward of a relatively small amount of self-investment.”
Get started today
Herewith a few basic movements and guidelines:
“You can get started today with a few basic movements. You will be investing in a lifelong relationship with yourself that will bring you clarification of mind, joy, strength and relief from pain andtension," says Botha.
Approach these poses slowly and allow yourself to relax into them gradually, always being mindful of your body’s feedback.
If already experiencing back pain, preferably begin with one pose at a time and gradually add more as your back begins to release from patterns of strain and tension.
Ideally, these poses are practiced to keep the back loose and pain free or to ease and manage moderate discomfort.
Note: This sequence is designed to release and relieve ordinary back tension. Please consult a healthcare practitioner if you suspect injury or disease before you attempt this or any other exercise.
Pose 1: "Rag Doll"
Stand with feet hip width apart and parallel. Bend at the knees and slowly allow your spine to fold over your thighs, possibly resting your chest and belly on your thighs. Hold onto the opposite elbow with opposite hand and allow the back of your neck to be empty of effort as it hangs softly down towards thefloor. Breathe in and out deeply through the nose and allow the weight of your bones to release into the pull of gravity. This will create a gentle traction of the spine to release tight muscles from the lumbar back and across the thoracic spine, into the neck and shoulders. Ready to come out of the pose? Let your arms hang down loosely and take a deep breath in. Ground the feet strongly and engage your abdominal muscles, exhaling to slowly reverse out of the pose, one vertebra at a time until standing tall and strong.
Modification: sit in a chair for more support and fold over seated, allow the arms to go through the legs or rest on either side.
Amplification: allow the legs to elongate with strength, slowly drawing the belly up to the spine in the standing variation for a hamstring stretch.
Pose 2: Parsva Sukhasana (easy seated twist)
Sitting comfortably, elongate the spine (reach the skull and the sit bones apart). Place the left hand on the right knee or thigh and reach the right arm behind you. On an exhale, gently start to rotate the spine by drawing the belly muscles up, back and around. Breathe in to get taller and breathe out to take the twist deeper in increments. About five to eight breaths should suffice; inhale to come back to centre and repeat the process on the other side.
Modification: sit in a chair and use the back support to help you twist a little more gently.
Pose 3: Upavistha Konasana (wide angle seated forward bend variation)
Sit on the floor with legs wide apart, possibly on a folded blanket to prevent you from rounding into the lower back. Take your right arm behind you and press the left hand down in front of you to assist the torso in rotating to the right leg side. Breathe in deeply as you then reach the right arm up and overhead to the left side, exhaling anchor the right sit bone down as you continue lifting up through the chest and gently bend your spine and rib cage to the left side. Let the whole spine be involved from the sit bones to the neck, you should be facing forward and letting your neck hang softly down. The quality of the breath may be challenged here, keep it deep and even for around 8 rounds. Ground down strongly through the tailbone to slowly come back to sitting uptall. Repeat on the other side.
Modification: sit upright in a chair and gradually allow one arm to get very heavy and pull you over to the sidekeeping the chest lifted and the neck softly going in the same direction.
Pose 4: Marichyasana C (seated twist)
It is important that the hips are un-squared in this pose to maintain the correct alignment of the lower back and direct the twist into the mid-upper back. Sitting upright, bring the right knee up and place the right foot slightly away from the left inner thigh, in line with the right sit bone. Take a deep breath in as you extend the left arm up and place the right hand behind your right buttock on the mat. As you exhale, maintain the length throughout the left side of the body, bend the left arm and press the left elbow against the outside of the right knee or thigh to assist you in the twist. Again, inhale to get longer, exhale to get stronger into the twist, gradually, breath by breath. Keep both sit bones anchored down and the shoulders above the hips. Release to centre and repeat to the left.
Pose 5: Passive Backbend
You will need two thick blankets for this restorative pose. Fold them up long and narrow, they should be about ten centimetres high and as long as your body from mid-thigh to shoulders, shoulder width or more wide. Sit onto one end of the stacked blankets and gradually lie back down over them, the top of the shoulders just hanging over the edge. Extend the arms overhead and keep the toes pointing up as you extend the legs long and release the pelvis away from the lower back. Rest your head back on the floor and allow your body to be “poured” over the stack of blankets into a state of relaxation.
Modification: add a pillow for the arms to rest on.
This pose will lengthen your abdominal muscles to balance the new length of yourback muscles. Therefore, it should only be added when the previous poses have begun to release the tension through your back. Use the exhale to consciously release tension wherever you sense it along the body and spine, and the inhale to create a sense of space and wellbeing. Enjoy this pose for a few deep breaths and then roll over to the side to come out.
(Bespoke Communications press release)
- (Health24, September 2011)
1. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Feb 2008.
2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Website 2006.
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