The practice of Yoga has been around for thousands of years, in fact dating all the way back to the first millennium BCE. But its introduction to and popularity in the United States is a much more recent phenomenon, gaining a mainstream foothold as an exercise option in the 1980s. Enter any gym or local strip mall today, and you’ll see a yoga studio or yoga class promoting stress relief and fitness. Less often discussed however, is the concept that yoga is a great workout for people suffering from chronic back pain. Not only is it almost zero-impact, but the poses and stretches performed in yoga can be very therapeutic. Yes, you read that right. Yoga may have a healing effect on pre-existing back pain in some people and there’s plenty of research to show its benefits in preventing spine pain and injuries from occurring altogether. If you’re a yoga rookie and intimidated by the practice, here are some great beginner moves to get you started.
Cat and Cow Poses
To get into the cat pose, position yourself on your hands and knees. Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle. Your hands should be flat on the floor with your arms straight, directly in line with your shoulders. With your back flat, you’re now in what’s called a “tabletop” position, as your back should be imitating that of a flat tabletop.
Now, take a deep breath in, and – as you slowly exhale – pull your abdominal muscles up into your spine and let it round up toward the ceiling. At this point, you should look like one of those classic Halloween cat cartoons. Let your head drop toward the floor as you do this, but make sure that you’re not forcing your chin into your chest. Your head and neck should feel relaxed.
As you inhale, return to the tabletop position. Now, exhale and arch your back, lifting your head and chest. Now you’re in the cow pose. When you inhale again, return to that neutral tabletop position. Repeat this between 10 and 20 times each day for relaxation and to help give your spine a great stretch.
Child Pose to Upward-Facing Dog to Downward-Facing Dog
This combination is a favorite amongst yogis and back pain sufferers, alike. Start out by kneeling on the floor with your feet together. Sit back, onto your heels. Your knees should be about hip-width apart. As you exhale, lie forward, letting your head rest on the floor. If your head does not touch the floor, that’s fine. Just let your head hang, feeling your neck muscles relax. Stretch your arms out above your head on the floor.
Inhale in the child’s pose, then exhale as you move to upward-facing dog. To get to this amazing back stretching pose, you’ll keep your arms stretched out straight in front of you, palms down on the floor. Then you’ll push your bottom off of your heels and move into a prone position with your chest between your hands. As you get there, push down on the floor, raising your chest and straightening your arms. The arched position you’re in now is upward-facing dog. Inhale again, and as you exhale, you’re going to move to downward facing dog.
Lower your chest down to the ground again. Lift yourself onto your hands and your toes. Now, push your bottom into the air and push your weight back. You want your heels to be on the ground or as close to on the ground as possible, and you want your body to look like a triangle, with your posterior as the apex.
Repeat this 5-20 times each day, along with the cat and cow combination, and you just might notice some positive changes in your spine, your posture, and your overall well-being.
Namaste my friends.