Yoga Poses for Chronic Back Pain
By Faye Martins
The American Chiropractic Association states that 80% of people will experience a back problem in the course of their lives. Studies suggest that about 31 million Americans suffer from lower back pain, and it is the most common disability for people worldwide. Chronic back pain can impact a person’s quality of life, but a strong asana practice can relieve some of these symptoms.
Things to Remember
Age, occupation, prior injury, and spinal disease can affect a person’s pain level and mobility. Yogic methods can work for students in every situation, but some asanas may not be suitable for some conditions. Students must consult with physicians about injuries to determine what is safe. Yoga teachers are not doctors, but we can adapt our instruction to fit within medical recommendations.
Almost any asana can be beneficial for spinal health. Some of the most common postures in class are excellent ways to decrease chronic back pain and increase spinal mobility. For all of the postures that follow, using props such as blocks, blankets, and bolsters, or adding the support of a wall can increase their restorative properties.
To the outsider, mountain pose looks easy, but a carefully executed tadasana can be challenging. Mountain pose improves posture, which is a great starting point for eliminating chronic back pain. Many people go through their entire day with poor posture, and over time the spine changes shape to accommodate chronic slouching and hunching. Mountain pose also provides relief for sciatica.
Cat Pose/ Cow Pose
Starting a warm up with a few rounds of cat-cow sets students up for success. Many people sit with their spine in a fixed position for several hours, whether they are in a car or at a desk. Cat-cow breaks up the monotony and awakens the spine with gentle flexion.
Downward Facing Dog
As one of the mainstays of the asana practice, downward dog can be excellent for chronic back pain. This asana puts students in a position that is the opposite of sitting. In this gentle inversion, spinal muscles get a gentle stretch, and by encouraging axial extension, the cervical spine also benefits.
Extended Side Angle
In addition to creating a nice lateral stretch along the side-body, extended side angle can relieve lower back pain and sciatica. It is essential to avoid collapsing into this shape in order to receive the full benefit.
Garudasana provides a challenge while also promoting spinal health. The position of the arms provides a stretch through the thoracic spine and shoulders, while wrapped legs relieve tension in the lower back.
Dandasana is another asana which appears to be simple, but practitioners will notice the challenge that comes with maintaining a straight line from the crown of the head to the tailbone. This is an excellent pose for strengthening back muscles and improving posture.
Half Lord of the Fishes
Not only is ardha matsyendrasana great for your posture, but it can also relieve backaches. The effectiveness of this position relates directly to a practitioner’s ability to deepen the pose through the breath rather than force. This asana encourages axial rotation of the entire spine.
In terms of relieving back pain, the supine twist is a tour de force. The twisting action releases tension in the lower back, and it offers a stretch across the length of the spine.
Chronic back pain affects many of us, but yogic practices can promote spinal health and alleviate pain. Students who practice these postures regularly will notice a difference on the mat and in everyday life.
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