By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle
Low back pain is one of the most common medical problems in our society, affecting 80 percent of the population at one point or another. Lower back pain is the second most common reason for visits to a doctor’s office, a common reason for missed work, and the single leading cause of disability. The good news is that studies are supporting that yoga can be effective for management of lower back pain.
The spine is a complicated structure of bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles and, for that reason, there are many different causes and sources of low back pain. It is therefore difficult to present a “top 5 to-do” list of exercises or poses that will fit all. What we do know, however, is that posture correction and interruption are important for all. And maintaining the flexibility of not only the spine but the arms and legs prevents undue stress on the low back.
With instruction from a certified yoga instructor, a yoga practice that includes breathing exercises, gentle stretching, and strengthening can move you toward a healthier body and healthy spine. But the simple practice of Tadasana (mountain pose) throughout the day is something quite useful for all.
- Begin standing with your feet hips width apart, toes facing forward.
- Notice your feet on the ground, spread your toes, lift your arch, and balance your weight on all four corners of your feet
- Draw energy up through your feet, into your legs, and notice your knees. Stand with your knees straight but not locked. Soften the muscles to unlock the knees while keeping the knee joints straight and stacked.
- Next, bring your attention to your low back. Draw your belly up and in toward your spine, and imagine that you are making your spine longer. Be sure you didn’t lock your knees in the meantime.
- Maintain the stability of your lower spine, and lift up through your chest and open your shoulders without loading or collapsing backward in the low back.
- Tuck your chin to lengthen the back of your neck, aligning your head on top of your beautifully balanced spine.
- Relax your arms at your sides, palms facing forward.
Breathe deeply in and out as you attempt to hold the pose for 20-30 seconds. Repeat several times per day, particularly if you have a sedentary job. Posture interruption/changing positions is extremely important for sedentary workers. If you want to challenge yourself and it is pain free, you can stretch the arms up overhead as you maintain the posture, inhaling as you reach up and exhaling as your release the hands to your side.
Photo “The Key Muscles of Yoga” by Ray Long, MD
Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”
Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.