Remember the days when we were able to sleep on a rock or a fluffy marshmallow mattress and wake up fresh and ready to play for the rest of the day? Childhood knew nothing about waking up with a strained lower back, because I forgot to put a pillow between my legs and stacked my legs wrong, further exacerbating that pull I put on my back when I picked up a heavy grocery bag the other day.
Once we start the tango with any back pain, it seems like we're stuck for life with this dance partner. It comes and goes and tantalizes us trying to seduce us into the sweet comfort of our bed for days. But is bed rest really helping our backs? Nope, it does not. Finally my doctor completely agrees with me. If injured, he wants me to start gentle activities right from the first day, so I don't lose my muscle mass or overwork the compensating muscles creating a bigger imbalance.
So, what to do?
It is a trial and error process, but once you find the right fit for yourself, you can throw away your tango shoes.
A good yoga therapist would figure out what set you up for back trouble, from the dozens of possible causes, by examining multiple factors like posture, your work and home environment and even your emotions.
Why am I talking about emotions? Because a recurring emotional event, like your mother-in-law coming to visit or the boss demanding another pointless re-write of the same presentation, can trigger back pain flare-ups as the body's stress response is activated, increasing tension in the muscles which might create muscle spasms.
Why yoga? Because yoga is perfectly effective in addressing posture, muscle weakness, and muscle tightness and especially a lack of body awareness, which are all directly linked to back pain.
If you don't have the skills to assess yourself objectively, nor care to or can afford to go to a knowledgable yoga therapist or physical therapist (no emotional assessment), you can follow these simple yoga poses to sooth what's ailing you.
Warm up your body with couple of Sun Salutations.
1. Trikonasana or Triangle pose -- Increases flexibility of the spine, strengthens muscles of spine, back, abdominal area, neck, shoulders and legs.
Feet wide apart and parallel to each other. Arms open up to the sides palms down, parallel to the ground. As you exhale, bend at the waist to your right keeping your arms straight. Right hand will most likely touch the thighs. If you are supper flexible you might get lower, but warning to everyone else (me included), if your right hand touches lower than the knee, you might be twisting your pelvis towards the floor. If that is the case, please come back up slowly and correct the pose. Don't twist the spine, just stretch it to the side. Stay here five breaths, then come back up and do it on the other side.
2. Marjariasana or Cat/Cow Pose -- Stretches the spine that is being compressed all day long while standing and sitting.
Exhale and slowly arch your spine (like a cat), as you tuck in your chin in your chest. Inhale and slowly bring your head up and curve your back. If curving your back too much hurts, bring it only to a neutral position to keep your sacrum supported. Always listen to your body. 10 repetitions.
ii. While in the cat/cow neutral position, as you exhale turn your head towards the right side looking at your right foot. Inhale and come to the middle/neutral position. As you exhale turn your head to the left looking at your left foot. Inhale, back to neutral. Five repetitions on each side
iii. Back to neutral. Inhale, rotate your trunk and lift right arm toward the ceiling, following it with your eyes. Exhale and lower your arm. Repeat on the other side. Five repetitions on each side.
3. Superman Cobra -- Strengthens lower back muscles and mobilizes the middle back area which usually becomes stiff from sitting too long.
i. Lie face down, legs apart, knees turned toward each other (slightly), arms by your sides. As you inhale, lift your arms and your upper body. Hold for 3-5 breaths, exhale as you lower yourself back to the floor. Rest with the head turned to a side. Three repetitions.
ii. Same as above but when you come up, your arms are out, bent 90 degrees at the elbows. Three repetitions
iii. Same as the first one, arms will come up straight in front. Three repetitions
4. Sucirandrasana or Eye of a Needle -- Opens the lower back, increases the range of motion.
Lie on your back with knees bent. Cross left ankle over right thigh, making sure the ankle bone doesn't press against thigh. Flex the foot to protect the knee. Pull your knees towards the chest. Left arm goes between the two thighs and meets the right arms that comes from the right side of the body, under the knee or over the shin. Don't over-reach. You need to be here for 3-5 breaths. Come back to the floor and repeat on the other side for 3-5 breaths. Keep breathing!
5. Balasana/Yogasana or Child's pose -- Stretches lower part of the spine, strengthening the spinal nerves.
Kneeling, sit on your feet, with knees apart or together (check in with your body). Lean forward until your forehead touches the floor. Lower back rounded. Arms can be stretched in front of the head, near your head or toward your feet. Again, check in with your body -- and see which feels better for you, depending on what level of stretch feels good.
6. Chair Viparita Karani or Chair Legs up the Wall -- Relaxes the body and lower back while toning your legs and abdomen and improving circulation.
Grab a chair and set it against a wall or table with the seat towards you. Lie down on the ground, lift legs up, bend them 90 degrees at the knee and rest your calves on the chair. The soles of your feet should touch the back of the chair. If not, do this exercise against the wall (without a chair).
Inhale with awareness, paying attention to the curve in your lower back (the lumbar spine). Then on a long exhale press your feet into the back of the chair or the wall making the lumbar spine flatten against the ground. Inhale back to the natural curvature of your lower back, long exhale flatten.
Repeat this exercise 10 times or until you feel yourself relax. If you're doing this at work, please refrain from snoring as you fall asleep.
If you got away with snoring at the office after doing Chair Viparita Karani and still have a job, remember to take frequent breaks and change your position. So, if you're sitting, stand up and go grab water, or answer the phone standing up. Your back, spine and entire body will thank you.
Note: Please stay aware of your body as you go through these poses. Don't push through pain. Have a professional guide you. More info on my website.