I’ve recently seen how lower back pain can take over someone’s life. For a close friend the pain is constant. She relies on pills, is afraid to exercise and can’t even play properly with her little girl – and it makes her feel exhausted and depressed.
She’s not alone. More than 80% of Irish people will have back pain at some point in their lives. There are many causes – injury, repetitive strain, poor posture, ageing or stress, to name a few – so please see your GP if it is affecting you badly. It is 100% real, you are not wasting their time and you do not have to live like this!
Eliminating triggers is your first step. Look at your lifestyle. What might be causing back strain? The best way to keep your back healthy is to keep it moving. Choose an activity you enjoy and do it regularly. Movement helps all those discs keep soft and squishy while muscles and fascia need a regular workout to stay healthy.
I am fortunate enough never to have suffered back pain, but I’ve taught many people who found yoga’s stretching and strengthening work so beneficial they ditched the painkillers after a few months. Lowering stress levels through breathing exercises and relaxation plays a huge part in the healing process, too.
So here’s a simple sequence to keep your back strong and supple. It can also help relieve back pain, so if you have your GP’s go ahead to exercise, give it a try. Stop at any time and gradually increase repetitions as you become stronger and more confident.
1. FULL CIRCLES: Start on all fours, wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Place a folded blanket under your knees if they feel sensitive.
Begin to move your body in circles, dropping hips towards heels, gliding the torso out to the side and then coming forwards, nose in front of hands. The circles can be as big or as small as you like, depending on your body. Keep your body soft, move slowly and mindfully and make sure you go in both directions.
2. CAT-COW: Begin to focus on your breath. Inhale. Exhale and press into the hands and shins, arching the back like an angry cat. Bring chin to chest, pull the navel in and activate the pelvic floor.
Inhale, release and dip the back, dropping your belly towards the ground and looking upwards. (Don’t do this part if your back’s sore or you’re pregnant; return to a neutral position instead). Repeat ten times, imagining the spine moving in a wave-like motion.
3. NOSE TO KNEE: Take a break, stretch your legs and give your wrists a shake-out if they need it. Come back onto all fours. Inhale. Exhale and bring the right knee in towards your nose. As you inhale, extend the leg straight out behind you at hip height. Move slowly with your breath and repeat ten times. Repeat with the left leg.
4. BALANCING TABLE: Extend your right leg behind you. Flex the foot to make your leg straight and strong, and keep the hips level. Pull the navel in towards the spine to engage core muscles and avoid dipping the lower back.
If this feels okay, raise the left arm to shoulder height. Reach forward as far as you can with your left hand while pushing back with your right foot. Keep thinking about your inhale and exhale.
Hold for several breaths and repeat on the other side.
5 CHILD’S POSE. Come back onto all fours. Widen the knees, bring the toes together and sink the hips back towards your heels. Bring the hands forward and the forehead towards the ground.
Rest your head on a cushion if you need more support. Stay here for as long as you like, softening and sinking into the pose.
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Published in the Irish Daily Mail, April 24, 2018