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Do you have low back pain that slows you down, but you don’t want to let stop you?

I certainly do.  I am a naturally flexible person who also has both herniated and flattened discs in my low back.  I also just happen to be a yoga teacher, yoga practitioner, horseback rider and a basic movement enthusiast.  And I’ve been on this planet for more than 50 years.  All of these things can add up to irritating and painful low back tweaks during my beloved time on my mat.  What to do, what to do?  Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Get checked out by a licensed healthcare provider. Make sure it is safe for you to practice yoga.
  • Figure out what yoga poses result in little twinges. Is it back bending? Forward bending? Twisting? What directions of movement are bothering you? Listen to your body and adapt.  You don’t need to skip the movements, just back off a little, don’t go so deep.  Driving your body too far, doing a beautiful backbend and then limping out of class is not a “win” for anybody.
  • Remember that many times low back pain is caused by too much mobility and not enough stability.What does this mean?  It means you need to create  Add core strengthening to your exercise regimen in general AND make sure you use your muscles to support your bones as you move on your mat.  Usually, for low back pain this means engaging your core.  Not just hugging your navel to your spine but creating a protective “tube” around your whole midsection.  Imagine you were wrapping bubble wrap tightly around your whole midsection.  Cinching in from all sides.  My teacher, Jill Miller, calls this “Tubelar Core.”  Make sure you involve the muscles at the sides of your waist, your low back, everything.  (For you anatomy geeks I mean:  Not just rectus abdominus but also transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae and more!)
  • Specifically, if backbends bother you, make sure you use your core AND your buttock and leg muscles as you lift up. Think about stretching your thighs/pelvis, tailbone to the foot of your mat and your ribs to the top of your mat. Don’t lift as high as you might “normally” or wish you could, BUT DO engage your muscles no matter how high your lift.
  • When you come out of a backbend let your spine come back to its natural curves before your twist or flex it. This means a) pause on your back with your knees bent and feet on floor for 3-5 slow breathes b) add traction by pushing your hands on your thigh bones towards the foot of your mat c) separate your feet as wide as your mat and let your knees drop together or d) my favorite, roll over and take down dog for a few breathes.  THEN consider child’s pose or twisting.

Overall, get smart about your own anatomy.  Take control and educate yourself about your body and how it works even if it doesn’t work quite the way you want it to.  Stay tuned for my next blog on more specific tips to care for your back during yoga practice. Come to one of my classes or workshops, I always share information about how to modify a practice!