We all know the word invincible. Super heroes, first responders, and people like Bonnie Acker are invincible. I used to be one of those amazing invincible beings until just the other day when I discovered the word vincible (it is a real word, look it up!) in Camel pose. A posture formerly known as Ustrasana (I will no longer dignify such a pose with anything as beautiful as a Sanskrit name), Camel is the pose that broke the yogi’s back.
Granted, I was daydreaming in class. Patañjali’s succinct definition of yoga, as spelled out in his second yoga sutra, eludes me sometimes. Yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. The other day, my mind was fluctuating like a candle in the wind. Camel is a pose that demands intense concentration on core engagement. I was thinking about my dinner engagement. Coming out of the pose I held a wee bit too long, I became suddenly reacquainted after about 8 years with an old teacher: low back pain. I compressed the vertebrae in my low back and probably even tweaked a nerve on the left side. Ouch.
The thing that makes Camel and other back bends wonderful is the heart opening they encourage – this comes from lifting the chest; lengthening the thoracic spine. (The heart does not reside in the low back.) Though the damage done is not uncommon in back bends, even to yogis who are paying more attention that I was, it is not by any means irreversible. Yoga to the rescue!
Here is what needs to happen first: be gentle with yourself! The first order of business may just be rest. Then work on opening up the neural channel and decompress the compression! This can be done in Balasana, Child’s Pose (or even with a simple side stretch – standing or seated). If your pinch is on the left side of your low back (mine is), stretch more on that side by walking your hands over and reaching to the right. Practice Trikonasana, Triangle Pose, to the right side, take your left hand forward instead of skyward, making an even deeper stretch on the left side. Try Janu Sirsasana, Head-to-Knee Forward Bend, bending the left leg in and reaching the left arm toward the right foot.
Gentle twists are also called for. Twist away from the pain. Let your body be your guide. I know it’s a terrible yoga teacher cliché, but “Listen to your body!” If you want to heal, you really have to listen. Soft-tissue damage like this can take 6-12 weeks to fully heal. In this time you must stop thinking of yourself as some kind of amazing yogic asana goddess and instead think of yourself as one big, attentive ear. Become a stethoscope. Close your eyes and feel what’s happening in your body as you take good care and heal.
The next thing you need to do is work on developing more core strength. Plank is great for this. Calling it by its formal Sanskrit name might make it a more enjoyable posture to hold: Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana. Try it with one leg lifted. Keep your spine neutral. Breathe.
As you work on strength, also think about loosening up your hip flexors. Start with something simple like lying on your belly, with pelvis neutral and abs engaged, slowly bend one knee at a time (the dog loves it when I do this exercise). Once you are out of acute pain, work on Virasana (Hero Pose), Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge), and Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon).
For the first few days or weeks of your recovery, you might practice postures asymmetrically. That is to say, favor your weak side for a little while. But don’t let your strong side get too far ahead! Eventually you’ll want to get back to symmetry.
Be patient! Anyone who knows me will find this last bit of advice incredibly amusing.

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