Stretching can feel great when your back muscles are tight. But deep forward bends are not the way to tackle chronic back pain. In fact, it can make things worse.
An increasing number of yoga teachers are recommending long, deep forward bends for lower back pain. Ask most new-ish yoga teachers how to help a sore lower back and they’re likely to pick a forward bend to 'release' the back. That’s a problem. Especially if there are bulging intervertebral discs involved. Worse still is the emphasis placed on holding the forward bend and the lack of focus on moving safely out of it. Injuries are much more likely to occur during the transition into and, especially after a deep forward bend, out of a position, rather than while holding the posture itself.
So how can yoga help somebody with lower back pain and bulging discs? There are two key steps:
If you start pushing into chronically tight muscles (and anybody who spends a lot of time at a desk, in their car or sitting on the couch qualifies), it’s easy to over stretch and get injured. The opposite of tension isn’t stretching. It’s RELAXATION. Start by relaxing the lower back, letting go of long-held tension, before doing any strengthening or stretching work. How do you relax a tight lower back without pushing into a stretch? With a passive release. Try lying on the floor with your feet and lower legs up on a chair. Stay there and breathe in a relaxed way for about 5 minutes. You’ll be glad you did.
Many of us spend several hours each day in a forward bending position – sitting in a car, at a desk, watching TV, eating meals etc. This can make back muscles tight and weak. Once you’ve relaxed the lower back, try some gentle postures that strengthen the deep muscles of the back. Variations on Salabhasana (Locust Pose), practiced dynamically with the breath, would fit the bill. Alternatively, a gentle dynamic Dwi Pada Pitham (Bridge Pose) can build lower back strength.
Therapeutic yoga isn’t simply modifying poses to make them easier for people with injuries or illness. It certainly isn’t about guessing what poses might help people who are in pain. Yoga Therapy is a highly skilled discipline that combines a deep understanding of yoga with training in anatomy, physiology, internal medicine and mental health. When in doubt, don’t guess (or ask Guru Google). Find (or become) a qualified Yoga Therapist.
Download your free prospectus for the 150hr Foundations of Yoga Therapy training in Sydney, starting Feb 2017.
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.