Healing Chronic Back Pain
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The effect yoga has on our body, mind, and spirit are enough to get anyone on the mat. But now, two big studies are proving what many have believed and experienced for ages – that it drastically improves and alleviates chronic back pain.
According to one of the studies, three months of weekly yoga classes eased back pain significantly. Even a year later, the patients with chronic back pain who had participated in yoga classes reported less pain than those who hadn't taken the classes. The study, conducted in the UK, followed 313 adults with nonspecific chronic back pain — in other words, ongoing back pain with no known physical cause.
At the conclusion of the yoga study, patients who had taken yoga classes were able to do 30 percent more activities than those who didn’t. In addition, they reported more of a decrease in pain. Sixty percent of the yoga goers said they continued to practice on their own.
In the other study, the largest US study on yoga to date that followed 228 adults in six different cities, concluded that yoga improved back-related function. By 12 weeks symptoms were diminished and there was less use of pain medications as well.
It may be obvious to say that yoga is not just about asana or physical poses. But many argue that today it has become more of an exercise form in the western world. However, with the right guidance from a good yoga teacher softly bringing your awareness back to the breath and cues to find ease in each pose, it still draws you inward and tends to help anyone create more present moment awareness. This process of feeling into our body gets us more in tune with pain signals that are almost always a calling to look deeper than the physical and into the psychosomatics of the problem.
Once you start to listen to the sensations in your body, it allows for healing to take place. Just the simple act of listening and holding space for whatever needs to come up, can act as a catalyst for change and healing.
Here are some great ways to alleviate back pain, practice with attention, and heal with intention.
Conquer your fears (or at least look into them). Fear is one of the root causes of back pain (especially of the low back). Fear is associated with problems of the root chakra. Whether it is personal insecurities, fear of not making enough money or even fear of failure, it can all be creating back pain. Once you stare your fears in the face, you will realize that they are creations of the mind that can be overcome—by growing a “backbone”.
Process your emotions. Pain in the back usually represents repressed emotions from the past. Once you are able to acknowledge and process your emotions, the closer you are to healing. One of the best ways to move through tough emotions is by journaling. It helps to privately lay out things that are bothering you, by becoming more conscious of your thoughts and feelings. It’s a way to better understand and work through sadness, rage, guilt, fear, anger and any other emotions that are often hard to talk about with others.
Try these yoga asanas.
Cobra pose (Bhujangasana)
- Lie down on your abdomen and point your feet behind you.
- Place your hands on the ground under your shoulders.
- Engage your buttocks and keep your legs straight and pressed together.
- Lift your chest up off the ground by using the strength of your back.
- Gaze upward, lengthen your spine and keep your abdominals engaged.
Modified bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- Lying on your back, bend your knees, with feet flat on the floor hip-width apart and parallel.
- Keep arms to the side of your body with palms facing the floor for stability.
- Exhale and slowly lift your hips toward the ceiling, keeping the knees and thighs parallel.
- Lift the hips until the body is flat from chest to knees.
- Keep the neck soft by lifting the chin away from the body.
- Maintain the pose for one minute.
- Exhale and slowly roll the spine down starting from the neck and ending at the hips, one vertebra at a time.
- Repeat the pose once more.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Start on your hands and knees, with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders.
- Press back and raise your knees away from the floor and lift your tailbone up toward the ceiling.
- Gently push your heels toward the floor.
- Hold the position for 5 to 10 breaths, and repeat the pose about 5 times.
Cat & Cow Pose (Bitilasana & Marjaryasana)
- Start on an all-fours with hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
- Move into cat pose by slowly pressing your spine up and arching your back up to the sky. Draw your navel up toward your spine.
- Hold for a few seconds and then move to cow by slowly bowing your spine down, pressing your shoulder blades back and lifting your head. Moving back and forth slowly from cat to cow helps promote flexibility and mobility in the spine while relaxing the muscles and easing tension.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
Two-Knee Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
- Lying on your back, bend your knees into your chest and bring your arms out to your sides in a ‘T.’
- As you exhale, slowly lower your knees to ground on the right. Keep both shoulders pressing down firmly on the ground. If the left shoulder lifts, bring your knees back toward the center a bit.
- Keep your core engaged to protect the low back.
- Hold for 1-2 minutes each side
Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
- Lie on your belly with your arms along the sides of your torso, palms up, forehead resting on the floor.
- Firm your buttocks.
- Exhale and lift your head, upper torso, arms, and legs away from the floor. Resting on the center of your belly, reach strongly through your legs, heels and through the bases of the big toes.
- Raise your arms parallel to the floor and stretch back actively through your fingertips.
- Press your scapulas firmly into your back.
- Gaze slightly upward, being careful not to jut your chin forward and crunch the back of your neck. Keep the base of the skull lifted and the back of the neck long.
- Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release with an exhalation. Take a few breaths and repeat 1 to 2 more times if it feels right.