Yoga is a wonderful way to help heal the body from the aches and pains we feel from overactivity and underactivity. When we move a lot, the muscles are active and can become tight, even at rest. Without enough stimulation, underactive muscles become short and weak, causing stiffness and pain even during normal functions. Lower back pain is common. Back pain is often chronic and can keep us from being active, sleeping well, or moving and living the way we want to.
When you encounter pain, on or off the mat, the first thing to do is speak with your doctor. If your doctor suggests more exercise, speak with a well qualified and experienced yoga teacher about how to approach a healthy practice.
Below is the answer to a question posted by a student regarding chronic back pain, and what to do about it.
“What can I do to get rid of chronic back pain? I’m more or less at my wits end. Every doctor I go to tells me that the xrays and MRI are showing nothing wrong with me and that I need to exercise. I’m 22 years old, I shouldn’t be having chronic back pain that has no apparent cause. And at very least if it were a muscle strain I’d figure that 8 months would have been plenty of time for it to heal. I’m not in that bad of shape, I walk 2 or 3 miles a day”.
Devi Yoga Answer
The causes of chronic back pain can be so varied – it is difficult to give a solution over the internet. Besides misalignment or damage to the discs and nerves in your spine, chronic pain can be caused by anything from kidney infection to a weak abdomen and core to tight hip flexors to hormonal imbalance and energy imbalance.
You may benefit from a visit to a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine – acupuncture is often used for chronic muscle and joint pain, and moving blocked or stagnant energy.
If your doctor has recommended more exercise as a place to start, he/she may believe that your pain could be caused by the overworking of the back due to weakness in the core and abdomen. This is very common, even in people who would not consider themselves sedentary. When the muscles in your back are overworked and tight, the circulation to the area becomes poor, we find a build up of lactic acid, and the constant stress on the spine begins to take its toll.
As far as yoga is concerned, move slowly and gently through your practice if you feel that your body is ok with it. If you see a doctor of TCM or a massage therapist for further opinions on your condition, ask them if practicing yoga is a good idea for you at this time. To simply relieve the pain of a flare up, place a pillow between your stomach and legs in Child’s pose and rest, slowly ragdoll up and down from forward bend to standing, and ask a loved one you give you a massage to improve circulation. You can also try sleeping with a large pillow under your knees or between your knees if you sleep on your side. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
A standing Half-Moon posture with the lower arm dropped into the hip for support may help you build strength in the core and allow the lower back and abdominal muscles to work together, and Cat/Cow will also strengthen the abdomen while helping to stretch tension from the back.
If you spend a lot of time sitting during the day (ie: office job, long commute), and if you feel the majority of your pain when lying in bed or on a flat surface, you may wish to try stretching the iliopsoas (hip flexors) with a gentle low lunge, just watch that you don’t compress into the lower back in this position. If you have high pillows or a block, lean forward slightly with your hands on the block or pillow, and sink the hips down gently in low lunge to help lengthen the hip flexors.
Simple twists can help build strength in what is called ‘transverse abdominus’, which is actually what most people call the ‘core’. Work carefully with twists and avoid pulling yourself around with the arms to twist further back – use your abdominal strength to engage the core, and sit up tall to create space in the lumbar spine.
Again – all of this information is only useful if you feel good and if your heathcare providers have ok’d your choice to practice yoga at this time.