In today’s modern world, where many of us spend eight hours a day glued to a desk, back conditions are on the rise.
In 2013, musculoskeletal problems, predominantly issues with back and neck pain, were responsible for 31 million sick days in the UK, that’s more working days lost than any other cause! That’s a staggering statistic and a clear sign that our posture is taking a pummeling.
The Benefits Of Yoga For Back Pain
It’s no breaking news story that many of us suffer from back pain. Even those of us that exercise regularly and take good care of our bodies can suffer from aches and pains, especially in the lower back area. But for those that lead a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, work a desk job or drive for a living, making a conscious effort to do more to protect yourself from back pain is vital.
Exercise in general, on a regular basis, will help to keep your back healthy and pain free, but yoga carries some specific benefits for relieving and preventing back pain. Here are five ways that yoga can improve your back condition:
1. Release Muscle Tension
Many studies have been conducted on the various physiological benefits of yoga but one thing that is consistently reported is that regular yoga practice can improve back-related function, reduce the symptoms of pain and even decrease medication usage for those that need it. Yoga focuses on stretching, strengthening and relieving tension in muscles by maintaining poses for a specific length of time; it is for this reason that yoga is so effective for back pain.
Scientifically, our muscles are built in such a way that prevents excessive stretching. So when we engage in a yoga pose initially, our muscles send a message to the central nervous system telling them to contract in order to prevent damage. However, holding the pose for longer than six seconds allows the tendons to adjust to the stretch, triggering another signal that sends a message telling the muscle to relax.
2. Develop Functional Strength
Yoga helps to increase the strength of specific muscles simply by requiring you to hold positions for a certain length of time. While it is not supposed to be painful (if it is you should seek advice from your instructor/doctor), holding various yoga poses does require concentration and each new position should activate and help to strengthen different muscle groups.
The very nature of yoga means that many of the poses and stretches that you perform will target your back muscles and begin to slowly strengthen them as you progress.
3. Improve Your Posture
Maintaining good posture is something that sounds easy but in reality many of us fail to do. Whether you spend the best part of your day sat at a desk or on your feet, having the correct posture is vital for a healthy back and spine. Failure to pay enough attention to your posture will result in back pain, and over time could lead to more serious issues.
Practicing yoga can help you improve your posture, as well as your overall body alignment and balance. Each yoga pose is designed with a specific purpose in mind, practicing those that focus on aligning your head, shoulders, and pelvis will help you to connect with your posture and maintain a healthy spine.
4. Give Your Spine the Attention it Deserves
Your spine is a complex network of interlinking moving parts and if you don’t take proper care of it you’ll soon know about it! In order to keep your spine healthy you need to make sure that you keep it moving — after all that’s what it was built for. Those of us that don’t move often enough risk losing strength and flexibility in our spines.
Yoga is an ideal way to show your spine some TLC. Regular practice will garner improvements in muscle tension, posture, body strength and balance. A properly aligned and relaxed body will help to maintain the natural curvature of your spine, which in turn will help to relieve, reduce and prevent further back pain.
5. Increase Body Awareness
Yoga helps us to connect with our bodies, both physically and mentally. Having an awareness of what your body is capable of will help you to avoid unnecessary pain and injury.
The calming and routine nature of yoga means that you will get to know and understand what your limitations are. You’ll also be able to begin to identify areas that need more work and adjust your movements to help, rather than hinder, your progress.
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That’s the theory but how about some easy postures to try at home? Read on for 5 great moves to improve back condition. Why not build up one a day for the next 5 days and see how your spine moves more easily?
It’s always a good idea to consult your GP or other medical professional before starting any new form of exercise, especially if you suffer from severe back or musculoskeletal pain or are already undergoing treatment.
1. Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose is an active stretch that gently elongates the back. This is a great pose to start off with for anyone new to yoga that struggles with lower back pain. It is a very gentle, restful pose that will actively stretch the muscles of your lower back.
2. Cat Pose
Cat Pose targets the middle to upper back and shoulders and helps to stretch and loosen the muscles in these areas and mobilise the spine. Ideally used in conjunction with Cow Pose in a fluid sequence for ultimate back stretching!
3. Cow Pose
Cow Pose is best used in fluid sequence with Cat Pose to help mobilise the spine and back muscles.
4. Bharadvaja’s Twist
Bharadvaja’s Twist is a deep and complete stretch of the body along the backbone, trunk, shoulders and hips. It is especially good for those with lower back pain and sciatica. This is a highly adaptable pose with many modifications to either make the stretch easier (for those with very stiff spines or limited range of motion), or to deepen the stretch for those that want to really challenge themselves.
5. Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog is a total body pose that targets your back extensors for a deep tissue stretch. This pose requires some strength and stability so I would not recommended it for anyone with chronic back issues without first seeking advice from your doctor.
For people that have suffered with back pain consistently,there is often no one solution to the problem and it may take a combination of exercise and other interventions to manage your pain effectively. However, yoga has often been proven to be a safe and effective way to alleviate back pain and prevent ongoing and future problems.
>>Enjoy a Back & Shoulders class with Movement for Modern Life>>
This post was written by Jayne Nicholls, founder and director of Group X Training, creator of ‘Freestyle Fitness Yoga’, writer and pioneer. Jayne has spent a lifetime moving to music and has been in the industry for 25 years, initially in fitness before moving into yoga 16 years ago. She has worked as a fitness presenter, has a permanent column in Fitpro magazine and writes for several other publications. As Director of Group X Training, Jayne now helps others “be the best that they can be” by providing the very best training and industry standard qualifications in Yoga & Fitness. If you would like to take your yoga practice a step further and see how you could make your passion your profession, why not consider training to become a fully qualified yoga instructor?