The majority of us will deal with back pain in our lives. In fact, researchers suggest that 80% of Americans will have an episode of low back pain in particular at some point. Back pain affects all aspects of life, including productivity at work and the ability to do the activities we love.
Also, it is associated with many other conditions like arthritis, sciatica, depression, and sleep issues. Based on my time working as a yoga therapist specializing in pain relief, here are a few key yoga tips that can help you alleviate and prevent back pain.
1.) Don’t sit for too long.
They say that sitting is the new smoking. (I may actually change this to: “Sitting too long and improperly is the new smoking.” Or “living a sedentary lifestyle is the new smoking.” However, those don't have the same ring to them.)
Our bodies are not meant to sit all day. Researchers suggest that we should stand at least 2 hours of our work day. Standing desks can be a good option, but I recommend to my students and clients to satisfy their body’s hunger for movement with “yoga snacks” throughout the day (ideally, about every 30 minutes).
When you are sitting to work on something, try setting an alarm to remind yourself to get up and do a Chair pose or Tree pose (even just 60 seconds counts). Take every opportunity you can to integrate simple yoga moves into your day, like in those moments that you are alone in the elevator or the bathroom stall.
Moreover, when we sit improperly, slouching without core engagement, we are exacerbating bad habits that may contribute to numerous issues such as poor circulation, inefficient digestion, fatigue, poor mental focus, and back pain.
2.) Strengthen Your Core
When I say core, this includes the abdominals, spinal extensors (the muscles along your spine that help keep you upright), low back muscles, and pelvic floor (see my article on the pelvic floor here https://www.doyouyoga.com/how-to-find-your-pelvic-floor-for-mula-bandha-78338/).
Strengthening the core doesn’t just mean doing crunches anymore. It means engaging your core gently throughout your yoga practice and simply having good posture more often through your day. How you hold your body in those few minutes while you are waiting in the line at the grocery store and while you sit reading this article make a real difference.
(Did you just adjust your posture? Me too!) All of these moments add up to memory in your muscles and nervous system. (For more insights on this, check out my article on posture.)
When you are bored standing in line, try imagine your head is a helium balloon and your spine is the string, with your head floating upwards. Actually, try that right now and feel your core immediately gently engage to support you. Do you feel a difference?
3.) Do a Balanced Yoga Practice
For your spinal health and longevity, it is important to do a yoga practice that incorporates all 6 movements of the spine: back bending like the cow in Cat/Cow (aka spinal extension), forward folding like the cat in Cat/Cow (aka spinal flexion), spinal twists to the left and right (aka spinal rotation) and side bending to the left and right (aka lateral spinal flexion).
This helps to stretch, strengthen, and restore balance to the muscles supporting the spine. Also, a balanced practice helps us maintain our optimal mobility and vitality as we age, so we can continue to do the activities we love.
In addition to the physical poses of yoga (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation are also key in a balanced yoga practice for pain management. Research suggests that yoga practices that include deep relaxation and meditation can actually help reduce pain, including back pain.
Remember that your yoga practice shouldn't increase any pain in your back. If it does, stop, back off, and seek a personalized pose modification or suggestion from a highly trained yoga teacher or a certified yoga therapist.
Has yoga helped with your back health? What yoga practices help you alleviate or prevent back pain?
Image credit: Sanaa Jaman