Monday, February 04, 2008

Low Back Troubles

If you Google the phrase "yoga injury" like I just did, you'll find the search engine comes up with over 500,000 hits in less than a second.

This seems to me to be a media trend these days: write as much as you can about how you can get hurt doing yoga. I believe there's a solution to this. But I'll get to that later in this Daily Yoga Tip.

I want to zero in on a very particular type of pain--low back pain. If you ignore this pain, it can lead to injury.

A room full of us got together on Saturday morning to do 108 sun salutations as a fund-raiser for the Show Me Yoga Education Foundation. Afterwards, one student asked my why his low back hurt.

The simple answer is back bending.

Somewhere right in the middle of every surya namaskar is a back bend. Depending on your practice preference, you might be doing upward facing dog pose, cobra pose, or a variation I call baby cobra (or sometimes no-arms cobra).

Our spines are pretty amazing. They come built with four normal, natural curves that you can see when you look at someone from the side.

Every other curve goes in the opposite direction. I'm told this makes the spine more springy and therefore able to handle great forces.

The curve in your torso (thoracic curve) is concave on the front. Likewise, the curve at the tail end of your spine (sacral curve) is concave on the front. Your neck curve (cervical curve) and low back curve (lumbar curve) are both concave on the back.

Most important to this discussion is the amount of bony structure around each segment of the spine. The thoracic spine is surrounded by the rib cage. The sacral spine is completely surrounded by the bones of the pelvis.

But your neck, the cervical spine, well its surrounded by nothing. And the lumbar spine is surrounded only by soft tissue and organs--no bony structures.

So when you bend backwards, these two parts of the spine typically end up with a greater curve than the thoracic and sacral segments of the spine.

Without a little conscious attention and effort on your part, back bends will make the vertebrae, particularly the back part of the vertebrae, in these two parts of the spine compress together. And that hurts.

Low back pain and neck pain are two big complaints I hear from students doing back bends.

What is there to be done about my student's low back pain?

1) Progress steadily. Don't start with 108 back bends. Make progress over time by starting with and practicing less challenging back bends. After you've accomplished some degree of body control in the tips I'm about to give you, move forward and practice those same actions in more difficult poses.

2) It's counterintuitive, but you need to get better at tucking your tail bone under when you do back bends. (You don't need to pinch your buttocks together to do it.) This tucking action will create space between the lumbar vertebrae and pain will disappear. You'll also avoid injuries like the ones I referred to at the beginning of this Daily Yoga Tip.

3) Develop stronger abdominal muscles and better abdominal control. One way to do this is to practice back bending poses, tuck your tailbone, and progress steadily from easier to more difficult poses. (I'll write a later Daily Yoga Tip about other things you can do to strengthen the abs.)

Bending backward is such a gift. It can be your pathway to a young and healthy spine. Some people say: "You're only as young as your spine is flexible." With these actions, you can develop better back bending ability and avoid pain in the low back.

Don't just read about it. Get up. Experience it. Experience yoga!

Kevin Perry

p.s., The Sanskrit Word of the Day from my previous Daily Yoga Tip was surya. Surya means sun as in surya namaskar, the sun salutation.

p.p.s., Today's Sanskrit Word of the Day is setu. I'll tell you what it means next time.

p.p.p.s., Please join us for the next Experience Sanskrit workshop in Saint Charles, Missouri. Thanks to our hosts at Jane's House of Wellbeing, we'll be offering the Experience Sanskrit workshop again on Saturday, March 15 at 12:00 noon. Register here. Visit to lean more about the Experience Sanskrit workshop, the fun and unforgettable way to learn the Sanskrit names of yoga poses.

p.p.p.p.s., How can you avoid injuries in yoga? I mentioned above that I think there's a way. First find a teacher who will work with you interactively and teach you progressively over time. And then practice with dedication, without interruption, for a long time.

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved, Mo Yoga LLC.
Kevin Perry
Mo Yoga LLC
1305 Elmerine Ave
Jefferson City, MO 65101

(573) 680-6737


Blogger KrishaLiva said...

Studies have shown that yoga is the number one most effective exercise for back pain relief. I've also tried it.
Krisha | orthopedic emr

2:51 AM  
Blogger Ashley Gomez said...

In this picture, the woman depicted is sinking into her updog, and holds a lot of external rotation in her shoulders making her lower back vulnerable. The student you speak of from this post would benefit from muscular action cues to engage the lower belly, protecting the lower lumbar spine. Additionally to use a safer positioning of the shoulder blades. We can benefit from updog more if we rather than lead with our heart, focus on the muscular action in our core and the tops of our feet.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Hristodoulou said...

Yoga can lessen pain and its ramifications – like too many sick days taken from work, lost wages, and a poor quality of life. It can help with painful conditions that prevent participation in joyful activities with family and friends.
Mind Body Healthy

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Markus said...

Leute die Schmerzen haben werden alles ausprobieren, egal ob medizinisch begründet oder nicht. Joga kann aber niemals schaden also ich wundere mich nicht darüber, daß es so viele Suchergebnise gibt

6:37 PM  

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