In my last edition of my blog on Healing Back Pain through yoga I will finally get to the physical; the body, the muscles, and the yoga poses. Before that I would like to reiterate how important our lifestyle, environment, and how we deal with emotions and mental stress are to our wellbeing. It is difficult to practice yoga poses mindfully if the rest of your life is in turmoil. In the following, I’ll try to capture the essence of physical yoga practice as a healing modality.
Practicing Yoga Asana (postures)
My first recommendation is to find good quality instruction with a teacher who will support, encourage, and facilitate how to practice yoga postures in a beneficial way. This implies individual attention to your body and back pain conditions. If you have minimal experience in practicing yoga it is especially important to practice the poses with good alignment and also attention from an experienced teacher – someone who will demonstrate how to stay safe during your practice. As a teacher observes your body in yoga poses she/he can make recommendations on how to adapt the poses to suit the uniqueness of your body in comparison to other students. Working 1 on 1 in private yoga classes is even better when starting out. This will assist you to develop a home yoga practice to heal your back. The relationship between teacher and student should always be supportive to the growth, wellbeing, and most importantly, the independence of the student. It takes time to understand which poses will relieve your back pain but the teacher can ensure you aren’t practicing in a way that worsens any symptoms you may experience. Yoga practice also takes time to master each pose and to progress your understanding of how the body functions in the pose.
Once you have learned some poses that bring relief from back pain you need to do them regularly. This is the independence that the yoga teachers impart to you, the knowledge of how to develop a home yoga practice. When the body is in pain and we do nothing, there is no change. When we find yoga poses that reduce or relieve pain, we must experience this relief over and over and over again for a change to take place. For a new pattern or habit to develop in our body there must be repetition, especially if you have experienced chronic pain cycles. A home yoga practice is empowering to the students who learn to free themselves from pain!
I’ll shed light on how I began to end my chronic back pain. As a machinist and engineer I spent long shifts hunched over computers and metal working machines working on high stress projects. My posture and work environment promoted this chronic pain even after work, while I was relaxing at home. Practicing yoga, I noticed that a simple spinal stretch with my hands on the wall would temporarily relieve my back pain. It then became my duty that, whenever my pain cycle began, I would end it then and there by taking 30 seconds to practice spinal stretch (wall dog or ardha uttanasana). I would do this during lunch, while shopping, on the trunk of my car, while skiing or halfway through a movie. It worked! I broke the spell of what I thought would be a never-ending pain cycle and, more importantly, it happened of my own free will. Yoga practice will not heal your back by taking one class a week. It needs to happen on a daily basis so new postural habits are engrained in our cells, our mind, and our existence.
Drop any idea you have of what your yoga practice should be. The mind is a funny thing. It often attaches itself to the idea that doing more, stretching more, or radically changing ourselves will bring about a wellness that will forever end our troubles. I do feel that we need a positive outlook but, if positivity keeps our mind contemplating what we think our practice should be, it distracts us from actually being in our bodies while practicing. Expecting our yoga practice to magically heal us overnight might also bring disappointment, as there is rarely such instant gratification. Yoga takes time, care, and patience. Any movement, stretching, or activity done in good alignment will bring about wellbeing eventually. Yoga practice hones our awareness to observe our body during each pose and during each action executed. Throughout life we will experience many physical circumstances that will require us to drastically change our approach to yoga practice. Not only does this diversify our skills as yoga practitioners but helps us break down habits and attachments to certain postural habits, exercises, and way of being. A yogi is nor just physically flexible but also mentally flexible.
All of this practice keeps us receptive. We feel our muscles, bones, and skin with great intimacy and even catch glimpses of the inner happenings of the body including the nerves, breath, and energy. The study of the self gives us the knowledge to intuitively heal ourselves. Once we have an understanding of how to feel good in our body that becomes our yoga practice, the maintenance of a light, subtle, and receptive body and mind.
My final thoughts about healing back pain with yoga practice are to get some support, practice with others, make new friends and most importantly be nice to your self. It is possible to physically heal our body all on our own yet the journey is enriched when you share it with others. Connecting with others, sharing conversation, thoughts, and emotions heals us on a much deeper level as it brings a deep satisfaction to our lives. We all crave friendship and you can find it very easily at any local yoga studio. There are many seekers on the path to bring more balance to their lives. When you learn to be kind to others you learn to be kind to yourself. This connection to community and others with similar struggles and goals will encourage and support wellbeing more that words can describe. I hope you have enjoyed these reflections and have found a new curiosity towards your own body and mind.