According to the Canadian Spine Society, 80% of the Canadian population will suffer from back pain. That translates to four out of every five Canadians, enduring what ranges from an annoyance to a debilitating condition that greatly affects the quality of life. Back pain occurs for several different reasons, and it is important to know the cause of back pain if effective solutions are to be found. Western medicine commonly prescribes pain killers, mobilization exercises and supportive therapy (for example hot and cold packs) for different types of back pain. Acupuncture and yoga are proven alternative practices that offer back pain relief. In this article, you will find a simple yoga sequence that includes postures that can be practiced alone, to alleviate common types of back pain.
Cat & Cow Pose
Alternating cat and cow poses are excellent to gently warm up and increase flexibility in the entire spine and back. Cat and cow combination is excellent for back strain due to poor posture, overworked back muscles and or emotional stress. Persons suffering from back strain normally experience aching in the lower back, which in Traditional Chinese medicine is known as local qi (energy) and blood stagnation. The gentle motion of the spine performed in these two movements increases movement of qi and blood in the muscles and connective tissues of the back.
TO DO: Start on all fours, knees under the pelvis and hands under the shoulders. On your inhale allow the belly to drop, send the sit bones and the chin towards the ceiling as you pull the chest forward. On your exhale round your spine, pull the belly in, allow the head the drop and send the sit bones toward the floor. Focus on feeling the movement in the spine as much as possible. Try several rounds.
This moderate back bend strengthens the muscles on either side of the vertebral column and buttocks. It is helpful for alleviating back pain due to conditions such as herniated discs and improper pelvic positioning that reduces the natural curve of the lower spine. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) locust pose releases stagnated qi and blood in the meridians that travel through the legs and lower back.
TO DO: Lie face down, hands by the hips. On exhale tuck the tailbone and push the pubic bones into the floor while reaching strongly back the legs. On inhale, lift chest, arms, and hands off the floor, the feet stay on the floor, on exhale release. Do up to 5 rounds. An alternative option for stronger students is to lift the chest and arms for 3 complete breaths before lowering the chest to the floor. Persons with herniated discs frequently experience numbness or tingling in the legs. When performed correctly this pose should not reproduce these symptoms.
Reclining Pigeon/ Back Release Pose
This pose increases flexibility in the lower back, hips and buttocks and is a great choice for back pain due to hypertonicity in the muscles of the lower back, buttocks and hamstrings. It is an excellent choice for persons with tight hamstrings and iliotibial bands and persons with excessive anterior tilt in the pelvis that increases the normal curvature of the lower back.
TO DO: Start lying on the back, with the legs bent, soles of the feet on the floor. Place the left foot on the right thigh a little below the right knee. Pick the right foot off the floor. Left arm goes through the leg, and the right arm goes around the thigh, interlock fingers over the right shin or the back of the right thigh. On exhale gently draw the left foot and right thigh towards the chest. On inhale feel the breath expanding the muscles of the lower back and pelvis. Hold each side 3 to 8 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
Reclining spinal twist
Reclining spinal twist increases flexibility through the entire back and can improve health to the organs within the core. It is a good pose for back pain due to SI (sacroiliac) dysfunction, piriformis syndrome and some arthritic spinal disorders. In TCM the pose gently invigorates the meridians that support the back and front of the torso.
TO DO: lie on your back, arms either overhead or straight out from the shoulders, draw the knees towards the chest and on exhale release the knees close to the right armpit, relax the legs. The twist should feel good on the back and spine, if it doesn’t, move the knees away from the armpit until a comfortable pose is attained. Hold each side 3 to 8 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
Savasana at the wall
This pose reduces the curvature of the lower back and is a great option to practice if you find you constantly need to rest in savasana with the legs bent to feel comfortable. To do, come into savasana with the legs either elevated at the wall or on a chair. The pose greatly eases tension and increases circulation in the tendinomuscular meridians of the legs and lower back.
To conclude, remember the importance of understanding the exact cause of your back pain can not be overly emphasized. It is also always a good idea to see your primary health care physician if you are suffering from severe or chronic back pain. There is a growing movement in the world today, where acupuncture and yoga are being practiced together. The two modalities complement primary health care and can aid in speeding recovery from several different types of pain. As a yogini and acupuncturist, I am excited to be a part of this movement. Watch out for future yoga and acupuncture syntheses specific for back pain.