It's no secret that yoga helps heal our bodies. The physical practice heals the physical body, and the mindful practice heals both the physical and emotional body.
It also cultivates new practices, routines and habits that are better for us as human beings. From eating more healthily, to choosing who we should and shouldn't have in our lives, and what we do with our time here.
Here are a few ways yoga can help with specific types of body pain.
Low Back Pain
Yoga helps to massage and soothe the muscles of the low back to relieve lumbar pain. It can also help create space between the vertebrae to encourage less impingements of discs and nerves. Over time, a regular yoga practice will decrease inflammation of all of these tissues.
To start, try coming to the ground and lying on your back. Bring your knees into your chest and roll side to side to massage the area, leaving your head on the floor or a pillow. If this is hard, put some blocks under your feet instead of lifting them off the ground. Try to melt all four corners of your back to the ground.
If this feels good and you can reach your feet, step it up to Happy Baby and start compressing the hips and stretching out the entire back. This will loosen up the tension your lower back is holding.
Yoga acts in much the same way for neck pain as it does for back pain—stretching while strengthening the muscles, and opening the space between the bones of the cervical spine. You will also want to try loosening your jaw.
For neck pain, you also want to look at modifying postures by aligning your chin to the ground or pressing the tip of your chin towards the base of your skull. This is particularly the case in Plank or Chaturanga, and Cobra or Up Dog, where many people look up before their neck is strong enough.
To strengthen your neck, have your hands interlaced behind your head in standing postures like Tree or Chair. Very lightly press your head into your hands and vice versa. Hold this press for about 5 breaths or maximum of 30 seconds.
Knee pain can be from any number of problems, but all of them result in inflammation and ultimately, destabilization of the knee.
Avoid kneeling postures and get really good at engaging your thigh muscles in all the Warrior poses—this will stabilize and strengthen all the supporting tissues to help the joint itself. Always make sure that in your Warriors, you can see your front big toe in front of your front knee and that the outer edge of your back foot is sealed to mat - this will align your knee joints more safely.
If your knee protrudes out over your toes in any yoga pose, then the pressure is on the knee (this includes Chair Pose).
If you are experiencing pain in a reclined position like Happy Baby or Knees-to-Chest pose, place your hands or a pillow between your thighs and calf muscles. This will remove the pressure and allow you to continue with your practice.
Your ankles generally need strengthening, and yoga is great for that. You can warm the ankles up by using Hovering Puppy Pose and pedaling the legs, and you can stretch them out both before and after you work them by using Child's Pose with the toes untucked.
If your ankles feel tender, honor your body and perhaps tuck your toes in Child’s Pose and don’t go so deep in the Warrior Lunges. This will remove pressure from the joint until they feel stronger.
Another great way to soothe and exercise the ankles is by taking Mountain Pose on your tippy toes, squeezing your ankles towards each other. Once your ankles are strong, there will be less pain and they will be less prone to injury.
There are plenty of other ways yoga can soothe your pain: deep breathing, meditation, mindful movement, dynamic flows, perspective changing, static stretching of the fascia in Yin Yoga…the list goes on and on and on.
If you’re reading this, don’t worry—you are on the right path to transformation. Keep going, yogi!
Image credit: Cetin Cetintas