For us boomers, back problems seem to be epidemic that it almost seems chic to suffer. Yet, using common sense and a few simple techniques can go a long way towards making you and your back feel better. Below are a few of these ideas and how they helped transform a nasty ski accident into, among other things, a stronger, healthier and more flexible back.
A number of years before my skis stopped before I did, I started practicing a form of body work called Body Harmony®. Being an international sales manger with an incredible thirst to understand us humans better, I saw bodywork as a way to go beyond the intellectual bottle-neck of our “knowledge based society”. Beyond the obvious professional benefits of better “buy signal recognition”, I realized I might even get a bit healthier from this learning process. I did!
Don McFarland, Body Harmony’s founder, taught us various healing methods based upon little more than compassion, common sense and daring to gently touch a fellow human. Having gotten good grades in High School biology, I already “knew” what he was talking about. Yet, with his “hands-on” demonstrations”, it became apparent that these were viable alternatives to the remedies available from the local drug store. A gentle, inquisitive touch was a lot longer lasting, non-addictive and a lot more fun to apply! We learned simple breathing techniques; combined them with a compassionate and curious touch that always ended up bringing a smile to our faces and a laugh from our hearts. Upon reflection, I cannot think of one pill or shot I have taken that gave me the same healing effect.
One day I was skiing down a rather icy slope trying to catch up with some of “the guys” when my skis stopped and I didn’t. My head flew straight forward while my feet broke loose from the bindings. In sort of a forced forward roll, I landed on my head just past the top of my skull and then, as if in slow motion, I heard every piece of cartilage between each vertebrae in my upper back go “pop, pop, pop, pop”! It was incredible how calm it felt for the first few milliseconds after I came to rest.
Like a good boy scout, I immediately checked my fingers and toes to see if there was movement and, thank heavens, there was. Then I started breathing like I had learned with my bodywork and have yet to stop! Figuring everything was all right and knowing my friends would be waiting for me, I attempted to get up. I hope I never again have to feel the kind of pain I felt when I tried to stand up.
After a ride on the backboard to the local infirmary I was given an X-Ray. When the slides were developed, there was serious concern about a dark spot on the second neck vertebra. In the Doctor’s professional opinion, it looked broken. With that concern, I was immediately taken by ambulance to the regional hospital 70 miles away. During the journey, I was offered morphine and in retrospect it would have been interesting to experience that. It might have even changed my opinion about shots and their ability to produce smiles… But instead, I went back to my breathing and healing techniques plus experiencing where the pain was and how it felt.
12 hours after the first X-rays were taken the second set came back. These no longer showed any signs of the dark spot or any breakage at all! Even so, I was bedridden for the next six weeks anyway with a very stretched and sore trapezius muscle.
I kept practicing my healing techniques.
To make a long story short, I now have more movement and flexibility in my shoulders and neck than I had before the accident and in the process have become keenly aware of how stiff most of us are in this area of our bodies. Funny enough, I now also do not have the same stressed feeling about all the shoulds and needs in my life. Have you ever thought about that the word shoulder comes from the word should? I urge you to look around at your fellow man and if you dare, peek in the mirror. See if you don’t see the same connection between the stiffness in your upper back and the amount of shoulds, musts and have tos in your life.
Some simple tips to relieve your back pain:
– Breathe: We all “know” how to breathe, right? Although this maybe true, “understanding” breathing is both science and art. Simply put, the more air you take in the softer your body’s tissues become. Need proof, try dancing while holding your breath.
– Practice feeling each individual vertebra one at a time. While sitting upright and “square” on a chair, slowly bend your torso and head forward while you exhale. When you have relaxed your head as far down in your lap as you can, begin inhaling and let your breath raise your torso upright one vertebra at a time. With a little practice you will be able to feel each one of them and its condition.
– Stretch forward and back; side to side. During your busy day there are many opportunities to just move your back. Do it sensually! See if you can feel the individual muscles and vertebrae and how they interact. Get to know the body that supports you and your lifestyle. Get intimate with it!
– Learn to rock: each vertebra in a slow, gentle “figure eight” pattern an inch or two in either direction. See if you can visualize the fluids in the spine and every cell sloshing back and forth with the motion. This little trick will help your body release natural endorphins that will ease the pain and help the healing process.
– Stand correctly, use gravity, its free! Most of us have been trained to stand “up-tight” rather than “up-right”. The difference is, the first is tense and off balance. The second puts you, your body and the world in harmony. Stand up and gently roll your body’s weight up on the front part of your feet. Then gently come back down so 70% of your body’s weight is on the front pads of your feet and the rest is evenly distributed from your toes to your heels. If your calves start to ache after a while, congratulations! You are now standing up-right.
– Stand on muscle, not bone: Most of us stand “up-tight” with our knees locked and our weight placed firmly on the bones in our legs. For those of you that ski, skateboard or surf, how long would your legs last if you did this while engaged in your sport? Practice leaning a bit forward and using the muscles in your legs to support you mass instead. Not only will you get stronger, healthier muscles you will preserve the cartilage between your bones for another day.
– Get a massage: Intuitive or traditional makes no difference. Use the masseur’s hands as “flashlights” to explore and uncover muscles and tissue that are tense and stressed. Then exhale and practice loosening them up.
– Write a list of what you should, must, need and have to do: Whether on the computer or a sheet of paper, document all the obligations in your life. Lifting these burdens out from your head and on to a piece of paper will go a long way to lessening the strain on your back.
– Check the list for validity: See how many of the points on your list are actually true. How many are myths, how many are outdated, how many just don’t really matter, etc. See how this “spring cleaning” lightens your load.
– Learn more about your body: It’s the only one you have! Most of us go through life avoiding feeling what is really going on in our body and paying a huge price. If you do this by:
o consciously paying attention you are at the head of the pack.
o heeding your body’s advice you go a step further.
o learning more about its functions you go to the head of the class!
Not only will you get a gold star, but what if you live longer and healthier as a result!
– Reflect: Make some quiet time without the TV, radio, Internet, papers etc and go over what is happening in your life and how it is affecting your health and well-being. Consider it an investment in your life and health.
– Dance: There is no better way of insuring a strong healthy back than having a bit of fun on the dance floor! Don’t forget to breathe a lot.
– Smile: Have fun. Notice how when life gets too serious we tend to stop breathing freely. This could be an important clue.