Gardening, yard work, biking, running, and even walking are activities we are eager to jump right into each spring. But the bright sun and long days often trick us into doing our preferred activity for much too long! We often don’t realize how much we have overdone it until the next day, when wow, the back ache, the pain! But thanks to your yoga practice, you will be back at it in no time. You just have to slow down, and use yoga to heal.
Yoga, in general, keeps you flexible and strong all year. When you increase your activity, especially adding prolonged forward bending positions (yard work, gardening and biking come to mind), it is important to take the time to undo the damage and give your back the attention it deserves.
Whatever your preferred style of yoga, changing it up a bit for healing is important when we think about the back. Many styles of yoga use forward bending to lengthen the hamstrings, a valid muscle to stretch in most instances, but if your back is sore or twinging because you spent too long in a forward bend, adding it to your yoga practice many not be the best choice. Instead, consider the poses that place you in the opposite position and allow the low back muscles to shorten and rest. Once the soreness and the twinges have passed, then strengthening can be added.
Here is a short sequence to consider for those days when you wonder if you may have overdone it:
Cat/Cow. The emphasis will be on staying in a pain-free range and slowing it down. Allow your body to relax and flow through this for 2-3 minutes.
Pointer Dog, or Alternate Arm/Leg Lifting pose. Again, this is to be done slowly, adding the arms first, then the legs, then do them together. Hold each position for 3-5 breaths rather than rushing through the sequence. Remember, getting into the pose is just as important as the full expression, so don’t rush. No pain should be felt, if there is any discomfort, try coming out of the pose just a little and find the pain-free position.
Down Dog, only if this is already part of your practice and you feel you can get into great alignment. Hold for 10 breaths, pedal the legs and stretch the hamstrings while keeping the back in alignment and enjoy the inverted position. Having the hands and feet in contact with the ground makes this a closed chain stretch as opposed to an open chain stretch, as is often the case with standing forward fold. The heels will probably not contact the mat, and that is fine, keep engaging the quads and breathing.
Squat down into sitting and roll onto your back for Setu Bandha, bridge pose. Place a block between the thighs and check your feet to see if they are parallel and lined up under the knees. Gently lift the hips, staying in a pain-free range of motion. You will need to tighten the gluts to do this. If your back is quite painful, this may be a small lift. Remember to breathe and focus on what you can do, not what you want to do or what you usually do. Repeat 4 bridge poses holding for 2 breaths.
Roll over to your tummy and stretch your arms overhead. Alternately lift your opposite arm and leg, while breathing and alternating side to side with the breath. The height of the leg lift is not important; in fact, smaller lifts will probably engage your glut more and help pump blood into the tissues that need it most. Less is more! Repeat 8 reps on each side, alternating.
By now your back should be relaxed and you should be able to come up onto hands and knees again. This time, roll the hips wide to one side and do 5-6 hip circles in each direction. Return to standing by moving into downward facing dog and slowly pedaling your legs forward until you find yourself in standing forward fold, with your knees bent!
From the forward fold, bend the knees and place the hands on your thighs as you slowly return to standing. Take 3 sun breaths and get ready to take on the day.
Therapeutic Yoga: Backs, meets on Thursdays at 12:15pm. Discover more poses for back stability and strength to help keep you engaged in your summer activity of choice.
~ Andrea Trombley

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