It is estimated that over a lifetime there’s an 80% chance of developing back pain. Some back pain passes quickly never to be seen again but all too often those niggly little twinges develop into a chronic and costly problem. Of course the logical thing to do is prevention! Most lower back pain that doesn’t come from some congenital problem is caused either by heavy lifting, prolonged sitting, stooping or other poor postural habits, most of which can be prevented and many fixed. For example the simple recommendation of getting up from your desk every half hour and having a walk around or even, as is gaining popularity, alternate between working while seated and working while standing.
Through a careful yoga practice we may be able to successfully manage and prevent our back problems. Let’s look at how asanas can manage the back.
On a very basic level when we move the spine in the six directions that are available to it (bending forward, back, to the sides and rotating each way) we massage the muscles. This provides a healthy flow of blood and nutrition to the back whilst draining away waste products and keeping the spine flexible and easy to move. The core strength developed from a great yoga practice provides support for the spine while the postural intelligence which we learn in asana class helps us to maintain the natural curves of the spine which are nature’s way of providing maximum resilience to damage.
As such basically the keys to back health then are flexibility, strength and good posture and they all hinge on one another, we cannot single one out as more important than the others. To have good posture we need to have our back freely moving, not in a stuck position with tight muscles; we also want a balance of flexibility and strength so our posture can be supported; and then of course all our joints and bones need to be in the correct position for spinal health.
All of these components can be addressed in a very simple yoga session. From Mountain pose we learn the most supportive way of standing and then we can apply this to all the poses and to all movement. From the bandhas (muscular engagements) we learn how to develop the strength and openness to maintain Mountain pose in all our postures and from a whole yoga asana session which includes forward and backward bends, side bends and twists we strengthen our muscles and keep them nice and flexible while providing nutrition to and support for the intervertebral discs.
Although there are specific poses to help manage and maybe even cure back pain the above basic points are great groundwork for it. In future articles the Bandhas will be discussed, and special asanas to help strengthen the back and ways in which we can prevent back problems which all too often may ensue from our yoga practice.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training