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Oh! My Aching Back! (Part 1)

In today’s post, I am going to present some simple poses that can help relieve back pain. Back pain, especially pain in the lower back, is perhaps the single most common reason why people seek medical attention. This is also the most common cause why people come to me for help through yoga. On a quick google search, I found several studies that have confirmed that yoga indeed provides a lot of relief to backache sufferers. Despite the well-known benefits that can come with a regular yoga practice, it is strongly advised that in case of severe pain you consult with your doctor before commencing a yoga routine.

What Causes Back Pain?

I will not attempt to go through any details on what can cause back pain. I suggest that you consult a book on the subject or visit one of many websites that deal with the topic in detail (e.g., http://www.backpaindetails.com/pain/). Briefly, these are the possible causes: injury (particularly casued in an auto accident), arthritis, spondylitis, osteoporosis, back pain during pregnancy, poor sitting, standing or walking posture, emotional stress, obesity, herniated disk, diabetes, aging etc.

General Guidelines

Here are some basic guidelines that will help you with the back pain and also prevent any futher injury or aggrevation of the existing condition.

  • Keep in mind that the body functions as a unified, integrated whole. A dysfunction in one part of the body can have repercussions in other areas of the body. Back pain is no exception. As stated above, it can be caused by reasons that are internal or external to us. Stress and poor posture are two of the important factors that can easily aggrevate an otherwise mild discomfort in the back. Thus, an integrated approach involving body, breath and mind needs to be used in dealing with and alleviating back pain. I do not recommend an approach that is limited to just a small, fragmented set of asanas only. An integrated approach should include asana, pranayama, relaxation and meditation to heal the body at all levels. Of course, in the routine that you develop for yourself, you should emphasize the asanas that are mentioned here.
  • Avoid deep forward-bending poses – standing (Uttanasana) or seated forward bend (Paschimottanasana)
  • Avoid deep back-banding poses – wheel pose (chakrasana), upward-facing dog (urdhva-mukka shvanasana), full locust (shalabhasana) and any other pose that creates a deep back bend
  • Most twisting poses (lying spinal twist, seated spinal twist etc.), poses that develop a good abdominal strength (e.g., boat pose) etc are highly recommended

Step-by-Step Instructions

Cat and Cow Stretch (Marjarasana)

Cat-and-cow is a popular warmup stretch that helps strengthen and align the spine muscles. In addition to the spine, it also strengthens the abdominal muscles.

  • Come on all fours with the spine flat like a table top, hands directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips
  • On an inhalation, drop the navel down, lift the head and chin up and move the tailbone upwards, creating an arche in the spine
  • On exhalation, do the reverse movement – lift the navel upwards, tuck the chin softly against the chest and also tuck the tailbone in
  • Repeat the above moves for 6 to 8 deep breaths and finally bring the spinal back to its neutral position and relax.

Cat-and-Cow Varation

  • While inhaling, stretch the left arm out in front and the right leg behind you. Keep the stretched arm and leg straight and lifted as high as comfortable. Keep the head and chin lifted up.
  • On exhalation, fold the right knee toward the chest, use the left hand to pull the knee closer to the forehead lowering the chin toward the chest.
  • Repeat this move on the other side stretching the right arm and the left leg
  • Repeat the two moves three more times
  • From the neutral position of the spine, roll the buttocks back and relax in the child pose. In this pose, allow the buttocks to rest on the heels, and keep the arms resting alongside the body. Stay in this position for 4-5 breaths.

Modified Child Pose (Balasana)

  • Keeping the buttocks on the heels, slide the hands out in front, keeping the palms on the floor.
  • Try to pull the arms and shoulders in front, thus stretching and elongating the spine.
  • Stay in the stretched out position for 3-4 breaths and then come back to the original resting position.

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana):

  • From the resting child pose, bring the arms out and start sliding the body forward, finally lowering the knees and the belly to the floor with the palms under the shoulders.
  • As you inhale, begin to lift the head, neck and chest as high as comfortable, keeping the navel on the floor. This is the Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
  • Exhaling, lower the chin down to the floor
  • Repeat the above moves three more times, maintaining the movement synchronized with the breath
  • In the final round, when you lift up into the Cobra Pose, stay up there for about 3 to 4 breaths and then lower the body with an exhalation
  • Relax back in the child pose

4 comments to Oh! My Aching Back! (Part 1)

  • donna denton

    Dear Subhash,
    i want you to know my daughters Connie who was in your class these past ten days. and Jennifer who brought me to meet you in the moving mantra studio in July have set up a morning class for the two of them on our porch.
    i was invited to join them this morning so Jennifer fixed a wicker chair for me with pillows and a footstool and a lap quilt for warmth for me.
    i did the breathing exercises and a few chair yoga poses.
    i have had two back surgeries, you might recall. i have found the cat and cow pose is very good for my back. but the one foot forward and one back for support are not . that pose causes the nerves in the lower back on either side of the sternum to have a lot of pain.
    i thought i would try the yoga class at the health club this morning. just to watch what the teacher did.
    i found i could do the stretches as long as i did not bend from the waist.
    or do the plank or the sphinx poses. they were hard on those nerves. and i did not want to do anything to strain my back nerves,etc.
    i thought i would write to you about this. just to share my experience of today.
    Thank you for all you do to promote the wonderful benefits of Yoga.
    Sincerely, donna denton

    • admin

      Dear Donna,
      I am delighted to receive your note. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It is so nice to see that you are trying yoga to help you provide relief from your back problems. It was great to have Connie in the recent 10-day program on pranayama/meditation. I was kind of amused to read that both Jennifer and Connie are doing a class for two on the porch.
      In addition to the cat & cow stretch, you may also like to try some of the simple reclining twists and a couple of other simple stretches mentioned in part 2 of the article. Breathing exercises should definitely help in cleansing and energising the nervous system which should also provide relief to the muscles of the back. I wish you all the best. Please write to me with your progress through yoga. Regards.

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