Practicing from the Sidelines, Part 5

In part 1, part 2part 3, and part 4 of this series, we look at ways injury will affect your practice and at strategies for coping. Now let’s look at back pain. It’s a major issue in aging bodies and, for many people, an incentive for beginning a yoga practice. Good! Yoga asana can help counter back pain, as can general relaxation and awareness. However, many of the moves you’ll find in a typical class are not appropriate, depending on the pathology of your own back pain. Have a detailed conversation with your health-care provider and, if you have one, your physical therapist about what is going on, and which moves are indicated and contraindicated as part of your treatment plan.

That said, here are some general and specific ideas for practicing to avoid and counter back pain.

If it hurts to flex your spine/fold forward:

Don’t do it! The rounding your spine takes in a forward fold can exacerbate disk issues and places great stress on the front of your vertebrae, a no-no if you have bone density problems. Instead of rounding in a forward fold, stop with a long back. This may mean you don’t go very far at all, and that’s OK. You can ensure your back stays long by lying down and lifting your leg to stretch, rather than leaning the full weight of your torso over it in a seated or standing forward fold.

Keeping your back long ensures you don’t exacerbate back pain.

Similarly, don’t do roll up or roll down exercises if they hurt. Instead, focus on keeping your back long and moving form your hips, not your spine.

Instead of flexing, focus on extending the spine, which will strengthen the muscles that support a tall posture. Prone backbends like locust pose are especially good for this.

Locust pose will strengthen the muscles that support your spine.

If it hurts to extend your spine/bend backward:

Don’t do it! If muscle spasms mean you have trouble bending backward, invite your muscles to release in a supported pose like legs to a chair.

Propping your legs on a chair encourages your back muscles to relax.

If it hurts to twist or lean to the side

Don’t do it! Problems with disks, vertebrae, stenosis, or the sacroiliac (SI) joint can cause pain with these movements. Revert to legs to a chair and talk to your health-care provider.

—Sage

Sweet and Safe Lower Back Stretches

In my last post, I wrote about the perils of rolling up from a forward fold position. Many of our students commented that they knew rolling up wasn’t particularly safe, but they loved how good it felt to stretch their lower back. There are more effective ways to find that same sensation. This week, I offer three easy ways to find a sweet (and safe!) low back stretch.

Problem

Rolling up to a standing position from a forward fold is not generally safe for the lower back, but for many people it feels good.

Solution

In this video, I offer several effective movements and poses that offer release for tight lower back muscles. These are safer than rolling up, although forward folds are still best avoided if you have bone density loss. Try exploring back stretching at a wall or in a doorway, try wiggling around in cat-cow on your mat, or sink back into a wide-knee version of child’s pose.

—Alexandra