In this week's edition of "Om on the Go", I would like to introduce some yoga moves that can help alleviate back pain. Did you know that most people will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives? For many of us, the pain is so severe that it interferes with our day-to-day activities. There are many causes for back pain but some of the most popular reasons involve a sedentary lifestyle (days spent sitting at our office desks) compounded by stress…sound familiar?
It just so happens that I am one of the millions of people who suffer from back pain. Four years ago, I was admitted into the hospital with a herniated disk and severe muscle spasms. Yoga played a huge role in my recovery and continues to be a key ingredient in keeping my back healthy.
Whether you suffer from back pain or not, here are some moves we can all sprinkle into our daily routine to help keep our backs healthy and strong.
As you inhale, arch your back and open your chest. Gaze upwards but be careful not to overarch your neck. This is the "cow" portion of the pose. This movement should incorporate your entire spine. Try and think about using each vertebra to create the arch. Your lumbar (low back) and cervical (neck) spines are more flexible and therefore easier to arch so make sure you're also arching your thoracic (upper back) spine.
As you exhale, round your spine, drop your head and tuck your chin. This is your "cat". Same thing here, move that entire spinal column!
SPOT CHECK: Think of your spine as waves in an ocean. Allow the entire spine to move between "cat" and "cow" as you inhale and exhale; synchronizing your movement with your breath is key.
Opposite Arm & Leg lifts
Stay on your hands and knees like you were in "cat/cow". Make sure your shoulders are over your wrists and your hips are over your knees. As you inhale lift your right arm up to shoulder-height, as if you're going to shake someone's hand; at the same time lift your left leg up. You want to create a straight line between your arm, your spine and your leg. As you exhale lower your arm and leg and switch sides.
SPOT CHECK: Make sure your lower back doesn't sink down toward the floor in this pose. Engage your abs and use your back muscles to keep your spine in a long, even line.
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Lie on your stomach with your hands along the sides of your body, palms facing the floor. As you inhale, lift your chest and your legs up off the floor. You can begin by leaving your palms on the floor and as you get stronger try lifting your hands a few inches off the floor. Keep your big toes turned toward one another and tops of your feet are facing the floor. This pose strengthens the muscles throughout your back which in turn protects the discs of your spine.
SPOT CHECK: Make sure you're not just lifting your head and cranking your neck back. Really think about lifting from your chest. Try and relax those gluts (i.e. butt muscles) and focus on using the muscles in your back to create the lift.
Roll over onto your back and bend your knees with your ankles under your knees, hip-distance apart. As you inhale, peal your hips, then your lower back and then your upper back off the mat. Try and keep a little pocket of space under chin, enough space for an orange to fit there (because we typically hold oranges under our chin J ). Take a breath here then slowly lower down, first upper spine, then low back, then your hips. Repeat a couple of times.
SPOT CHECK: This is another one of those moves where the upper spine can get lost in the crowd. It's much easier to arch your lower back but make sure you're finding some arch in your upper back. This will help you open up your chest.
Windshield Wiper Knees
There's no real official name for this one but after you finish your bridge pose, channel your inner child and allow your legs to shift from side-to-side like windshield wipers. (you can hum, "The Wheels on the Bus" if you feel inspired!)
After a few rounds of moving your knees like windshield wipers, allow them to settle over to the right side of your body. Extend your arms out to a "T" and turn your head to the left. Take a few breaths here then switch your legs to your left side and turn your head to the right.
When you're finished twisting you can remain lying down on your back with your legs extended or you can sit up in a comfortable cross-legged position. Slowly inhale for four counts then exhale for four counts. Continue to inhale and exhale for as long as you like.
Most back injuries are related to stress; taking the time to breath and slow down can do great things for our ability to manage and reduce stress.