Back pain is a part of many people’s lives. From long hours of sitting in a chair staring at a computer to the moments spent lifting up a heavy box to the hours spent toting a three-year old around on a hip, pain often manifests in one of the workhorses of our body: the back. While this sort of pain may simply seem like a load to bear, something with which we all must deal, there are ways of lessening it, getting the proverbial monkey off our back completely.
Many people plagued by back pain have recently turned to yoga, using it as a way to condition their body by the way they think and feel about its relation to their mind and spirit. Yoga moves every joint in your body. You begin to realize where you hold tension in your body and this allows you to let it go. You can actually make changes and live your life in a tension free relaxed manner. Along these lines, pain is sometimes informative. It’s your body’s way of saying that it’s time to change your habits. Yoga encourages us to explore pain, using it as a way to understand our body and habits.
Restorative yoga helps you become aware of and relax chronic tension held in the muscles, for example, muscles along the spine and in the neck and shoulders. Decreased chronic tension can begin to relieve back pain that manifests. A healthy resilient spine distributes weight throughout the whole body. With correct posture, you can help prevent muscular tension in the back and future structural problems, as well as give your internal organs room to function normally.
Conditioning the entire body – especially the legs, back and stomach muscles helps support the back and spine. These muscles bear a lot of the body’s physical load and they are highly conducive to proper posture and correct alignment. Thus, when these muscles are strong and resilient, the support comes from the inside out. A well conditioned body
allows it to self-regulate and the pain that once plagued you begins to subside.
In addition to relaxing and strengthening muscles, yoga also elongates them through flexibility. For people with back problems, particularly lower back problems, flexibility is highly important. Stretching and improving the flexibility of a seemingly unrelated muscle, such as the hamstring, decreases the amount of stress placed on the back,
ultimately decreasing tension and pain.
But, flexibility doesn’t stop there, flexing its muscles in other aspects. In addition to relieving the stress and tension placed on a person’s back, flexibility also increases circulation, sending nutrients into back muscles and filtering toxins out of them. This nourishes back muscles and muscle tissue, leaving them healthier and more properly armed for pain prevention.
Proper breathing, one of the backbones of yoga, is also essential to quieting back pain. Many times people erroneously perform yoga poses with their breath held, creating stress on their body. This tendency, however, must be broken in order for proper breathing to promote the body’s natural healing potential. Once people have learned to take deep, rhythmic, natural breaths, their body becomes relaxed, freeing them of pain-causing restrictions and facilitating proper circulation. Proper breathing also oxygenates the body, which creates harmony and calm, producing a better balanced being.
Making a commitment to the techniques taught in yoga can help commit our backs to a less painful existence. The practice of yoga is intended to improve a person’s well being not merely for one 75 minute session at a time, but for a lifetime. When a person begins applying the knowledge they learn in yoga class – correct posture and relaxed breathing to all their waking hours – proper body alignment begins to manifest. This, while improving general health, also protects the curvature of the spine, an element that is essential to the decrease in, and prevention of, back pain.
While the ways yoga physically helps a person’s back can be researched, checking out medical journals and highlighting important phrases, only those who practice yoga can fully grasp the way it mentally benefits back pain. One benefit is through the art of self-awareness. Self-awareness helps us to better understand our body’s capabilities, and its limitations. By knowing these, we are far less likely to strain our body in such a way that causes back pain. This is because self-awareness leads to empowerment, empowering us to be proactive in our own pain prevention.
Another way yoga mentally benefits back pain is through the concept of perception. Perception is the way we look at things; it conceptualizes the old “glass half empty or half full” adage. We all recall scraping our knees as children and thinking that it didn’t hurt until we saw our own blood flowing through an open wound. At the sight of this, our
perception of the injury worsened and the pain skyrocketed. The perception, alone, fueled the pain. Similarly, when we perceive our back pain with negative thoughts – thoughts of hopelessness and despondency – the pain will undoubtedly worsen.
Yoga, however, is a vehicle of positive thinking. By teaching people to embrace thoughts of gratitude, hope, and encouragement, yoga helps us to alter our perception of things, spinning our perception of pain into a more positive light – a gift actually. This is, ultimately, one of the greatest ways to get pain off our backs for good.
TWISTED is a medical yoga studio at the Center for Osteopathic Medicine in Boulder, Colorado. Twisted integrates osteopathic medicine, hatha yoga and mindfulness practices to teach optimal balance between physical, mental, and emotional health. It aims to educate and help people to live a healthy life from the inside out. Rehabilitation programs offer a comprehensive treatment regime for the whole being, empowering each person one breath at a time to stimulate the body’s natural healing potential.
Jennifer Jordan is senior editor of http://www.yogatwisted.com Specializing in articles that not only teach yoga techniques, but also teach techniques on fulfillment and enrichment, she aims to educate students proudly enrolled in the school of life.