Beat back pain

A gentle yoga practice may be an effective form of helping back pain, says Cheryl MacDonald

The back is a well-designed body part that is made up of bones, muscles, nerves and soft body tissues. It is a vital part of our anatomy because the bones of the back act as a supporting frame for the back and the whole body. The back muscles work with the abdominal muscles to keep the body upright and mobile.

Due to the stresses of everyday life, many individuals tend to overwork or overuse their back muscles, which then leads to back pain. This condition may hamper performance and affect our everyday life.

Common symptoms of back pain may include spasms, stiffness, pain, numbness and sometimes pain in the leg area. This can depend on the cause of pain and its severity. Back pain is one of the most frequent health complaints that are received by doctors in the UK.

However, individuals experiencing back pain should not despair because of the availability of many methods and medications that may give back pain relief. One of the most popular alternative back pain treatments is yoga.

An effective treatment for pain

Not long ago, the primary treatment for chronic back pain was sufficient rest and the use of painkillers. Today, doctors are encouraging their patients to manage pain and illness by engaging in activities like yoga. Many medical researchers suggest that yoga is one of the most effective treatments for body pain in general.

Yoga works by building strength, improving flexibility and reducing joint and muscle pain.

However, not all forms of yoga can be used for back pain relief. When the back is injured or hurting, slow-paced and gentle stretches and poses should be practised, as opposed to vigorous or dynamic forms. Some yoga poses and stretches may aggravate back pain and lead to serious injuries.

A type of yoga called Viniyoga has been adapted from yoga and places emphasis on precise deep breathing and slow stretches. Another type of yoga called Iyengar yoga focuses on accurate bodily alignment. Students of this practice use different props like straps, blocks and blankets. This type of yoga works best with individuals who have little mobility and need some support.

Care and precaution

Individuals who want to engage in physical activities like yoga should consult doctors and other health professionals before taking up yoga classes. Certain injuries to the wrist, back and ankles may prevent some people from practising yoga postures and positions.

Furthermore, yoga should always be practised with care and precaution. Some people have reported injuries that were acquired by executing yoga postures without focus, or by attempting difficult positions without working on them gradually or by not having proper supervision. Oftentimes, beginners complain of muscle soreness and fatigue after engaging in yoga. These effects may disappear with continuous practice. Yoga is a great way to strengthen the body and improve overall health.

Whether your back pain is acute or chronic, talk to your doctor before you start any new exercise routine. Then approach this sequence as a form of self-care. Go easy, soothing your nerves, mind, and body. Use deep, fluid breaths to move from pose to pose. Here are some postures to try at home.

Half Knees-to-Chest Pose
(Ardha Apanasana)

Lie comfortably on your back. On the exhale, draw your right knee toward your chest and hold your right shin with both hands. In this and the following poses, do not press your lower back to the floor; instead, maintain a natural lumbar curve.

Slowly inhale to release the right leg back to the floor, then exhale to draw in the left knee; inhale to release. Repeat, alternating right and left, four more times.

Thread the Needle Pose
(Sucirandhrasana)

Bring both knees in toward your chest, then place your right ankle on your left thigh, just above the knee. Hold your left thigh. If you want to increase the stretch, bring your left thigh forward and press your right knee away from your torso.

Be mindful of the natural curve in your lower back and keep your shoulders relaxed. Exhale to release, then switch sides. After finishing on the left, roll to one side and use your hands to come to a seated position.

Cat Curls
(Marjaryasana and Bitilasana)

Come onto your hands and knees with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. Inhale to gently drop your lower belly and lift your sitting bones and sternum, or chest, then exhale to round your back and gaze toward your navel.

The aim is to gently stretch and increase circulation to the back muscles. Perform five slow rounds.

Downward-Facing Dog Pose
(Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back. If you feel any tightness along the backs of your legs, keep your knees bent.

Try to make your spine as long as possible by pressing into the pads of the palms, reaching through your arms, and lengthening the sides of your body. Keep your ears in line with your upper arms and gaze at your upper thighs.

Cheryl MacDonald is a yoga elder and the founder of Yoga Bellies. To find out more, visit www.yogabellies.co.uk

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