Movement as Medicine

Much of our day to day activities forces us to be in sedentary enclosures, say a desk or a car, which greatly inhibits the movement of our bodies. As human beings who have evolved from a physically active, hunting and gathering existence, it is challenging for the mind and body to adapt to the dramatic changes of modern living.

 

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Healing Back Pain Through Yoga (Introduction)

            Everyone will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Whether it be chronic or debilitating pain, or simply some stiffness and soreness, back pain and discomfort is part of being human!  I’m sure we can all agree that back pain isn’t fun and drains us of energy and lowers our quality of life.  In this series of articles, I will articulate a few thoughts about how practicing yoga can alleviate and prevent current and future back pain.

 

            To start, we must understand what “yoga” is.  The word “yoga” can be defined as to yoke, union, integration or intimacy and it is a practice that entails becoming more conscious of reality.  Meaning we strive to yoke our mind, body, consciousness, relationships, and our environment.  Yoga is being awake and aware of all the wonderful connections that are present in our lives and in the world around us.  To practice yoga one must treat the body as a whole, and this frame of mind gives a different lens from which to approach healing ourselves and maintaining health.

 

            The current model of healing found in contemporary western society can be thought of as mechanical and scientific.  We all want to know why our back hurts and exactly what to do to fix it.  How can I take apart the parts of my body and reassemble them to work properly? The answers aren’t so simple when we consider the totality of our existence.  Many modalities and modern medicine relate to the body as mechanical and compartmentalize our symptoms to specific areas leading often to overly specific diagnoses.  I’m not saying that modern medicine, science, anatomy, and bio-mechanics aren’t miraculously amazing, it’s just usually the language and the need to pinpoint the exact location and factor for pain tends to be insanely specific and gives us a feeling of dysfunction and alienation. For instance, can you receive a “diagnosis” (stenosis between out 4th and 5th lumbar vertebra with a slight fusion of the sacroiliac joint) and still feel like a whole and integrated person?  I’m being facetious but honestly trying to dissect and understand ourselves with this level of detail takes us away from the big picture, the whole picture: the deeply integrated nature of our body, mind and spirit. The viewpoint of what a healthy body is has been reduced to the concept that our physical body was built, has parts that can be broken, and someone else can show us how to repair, reassemble, and fix things back to a mechanically perfect body.  There are some missing links in this outlook.

 

            I would like to share my back pain story to situate how I turned my pain story into a new narrative of change and healing.  When I was a 26 year old active, fit and strong young man I started experiencing debilitating back pain and sciatica.  I paid to have an MRI after numerous therapies garnered no results and found I had severe osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis near the sciatic nerve, and an extreme case of degeneration of the spinal disks (the cushions between the vertebrae).  Needless to say this was devastating news for me.  All of the top back pain specialists I saw suggested surgery after manipulations, steroids, nerve numbing concoctions, and cortisol injections repeatedly failed. None of these specialists spent more than 15 minute with me.  WAIT.  FIFTEEN MINUTES.  In our current system, it was a rarity to find someone with compassion, an open ear, or someone who will sit down and help me for more than 15 minutes.  Of course this is my experience but it is hard to get know someone in 15 minutes.  Every doctor, specialist and therapist I saw took a look at my MRI, but not the person in front of them: me.  There wasn’t any consideration of my quality of life, postural habits, diet, love life, family affairs, or what I do for fun.  They missed all of the contributing factors to back pain in my life like dissatisfaction with my workplace, anxiety, loneliness, heartbreak, depression, and extreme stress.  Every single specialist failed to see the entirety of me and who I am as a person, but rather focused on the symptom, the physical, the mechanical and how my broken pieces might be individually fixed. I came to an important realization: healing my back would be a process of healing myself. I decided to look at my whole life and being and was able to create a new story, and new narrative around my pain. Through a practice of yoga, I found a union within myself and connected to my inner capacity to heal body, mind and spirit.   Luckily the union I found through yoga helped me connect with myself before I was under the surgeon’s knife.

 

There are too many words and too many emotions to tell my whole story and thoughts about back pain in one blog post! Check back tomorrow for the next part where I discuss the role of the mind and the emotions in healing back pain.

 

Why Beginners Yoga is a great introduction to Yoga Practice

So you’ve decided to try yoga, but are a little worried and maybe skeptical about your first yoga class.  When beginning to practice yoga our usual concerns are: we aren’t fit enough; flexible enough; or strong enough to make it through our first yoga class.  This is pretty normal for anyone new to yoga especially if you google yoga and see your stream fill up with advanced poses, handstands and twenty something year old fit women.  This isn’t a very good reflection of what happens in most yoga classes and can create some speculation about what yoga practice really entails.  Yoga practice is an amazing tool to increase strength, balance, fitness, flexibility, and encourage wellbeing while also promoting stress reduction.  Practice is unique to the abilities of each student and complementary to supporting your lifestyle ensuring you can continue to do all of your activities and hobbies.

Here are some reasons you should take a beginners yoga course to help you start practicing yoga without the worry’s and intimidation that comes with being new to yoga.

Learn with other beginners!:

When you take a beginners yoga course you will learn with other students completely new to yoga.  There is something comforting and reassuring about practicing yoga with others that are learning and trying something new for the first time.  A friendly and encouraging environment is so important when learning.  Nobody feels centered out for not being able to perform a pose and the pace of class is slow to give time to comprehend how to move your body, feel things, and most importantly breathe.  There is opportunity to chuckle at difficulties and failures and celebrate all of your successful yoga poses together.  The bonding that happens when learning and practicing with a small group is great way to build friendships and community!

 

You will learn about your body:

A beginners yoga course is a slow paced class where there is opportunity to feel your body in the poses and be receptive to how you practice the pose.  You find a relationship between yourself and the poses. This relationship helps teach you what poses come naturally and what ones are difficult.  You will also learn that your body is completely unique to everyone else’s and therefore so to your yoga poses will differ from others. Yoga should feel good so contorting your body to fit into the pose isn’t the goal.  The yoga pose should fit your body. Learning about yourself and being comfortable in your own skin is the yolking that is yoga.

 

Small class sizes:

It is so reassuring when beginning a yoga practice to have a teacher’s guidance and observation to help be sure you are practicing the poses correctly. In beginners yoga the teacher is there to make your first experience of yoga enjoyable.  The teacher will observe you in the poses and help you to find what works for your body.  The teacher can help with suggestions of what poses would benefit you to practice regularly and advise not practicing poses that aren’t suitable for you. 

Learn the Basics:

There seems to be an infinite number of yoga poses nowadays some of which you will never have to worry about.  This is good as when a new student becomes familiar with the basic foundation of yoga practice the more advanced poses come easier.  Beginners yoga will cover the fundamental yoga poses that you will encounter in a drop-in class.  Each pose is broken down so the student can learn if they need props, or how to modify the pose to suit their body.  It is amazing to see how differently you might practice a pose compared to your neighbor.  Yoga isn’t a “one size fits all” practice and by learning the basic shapes, your practice will become unique.

Explore Different Styles of Yoga:

Beginners yoga will expose the new student to many different ways of practicing.  Sun Salutations are faster-paced movement following the breath, standing poses build strength and stability, restorative yoga relaxes the nervous system, and seated poses held for a length of time have a yin quality to them.  Once experienced, the new students can distinguish what practices might be the most beneficial for them to practice.  Someone who sits at a desk all day would often be invigorated and awakened by a faster moving class, while someone always on the go might calm down in a restorative class.  We acquire a yoga toolbox that can help balance our daily lives.

 

Feel the Benefits Right Away:

Even after your first class of moving, stretching, breathing, and relaxing you will notice the benefits and joy that come from yoga practice.  Yoga builds strength and power while at the same time opens and stretches stiff parts of the body.  This combination helps keep the body resilient and improves overall fitness. Some poses increase core strength while others do the opposite and allow the abdomen and organs to relax.  These oppositions encourage balance in the body.   The restorative and relaxing qualities of yoga let the entire nervous system unwind, significantly decreasing stress levels.  All the benefits associated with yoga practice will ensure you stay fit, healthy, and can pursue an active lifestyle.

Find Your Confidence:

After graduating the beginners yoga course you will have the confidence to go and try any class!  You will have a general understanding of basic yoga poses and know how keep within your body’s capabilities. You will have a personal responsibility of practicing in a way which keeps you curious, encourages growth, provides a challenge but maintains your health and wellness.  The confidence that comes with learning yoga might even have you practicing at home with your own inner teacher guiding you!

 

If you are still on the fence about trying yoga check out our other article about Beginners yoga practice HERE.  We encourage everyone to come and learn yoga if there are any questions or concerns please contact us at practice@liveyoga.ca

Our Beginners Yoga courses run regularly at the lovely Live Yoga that serves White Rock and South Surrey with the highest quality yoga classes.