Published on January 10th, 2018 | by Catherine Tingey0
Yoga Therapy for Low Back Pain
Yoga Therapy for Low Back Pain
Since its inception, I’ve wanted this website to be a hub for diverse and insightful perspectives.
I am therefore SUPER excited that renowned yoga therapist, Olga Kabel is in the house, and is the genius behind today’s guest post. If you’re a yoga teacher, you’ve probably come across Olga’s highly informative website (that’s how we first met), where she discusses a myriad of topics of interest to yoga teachers, shares videos, as well as her sequence building software tool — Sequence Wiz — and yes, there is a mobile app. Olga is an informational powerhouse – so much so that her website is a point of discussion amongst myself and colleagues – so I highly recommend a visit over there.
I asked Olga to be the first guest contributor on a topic that I see often in my practice – treating low back pain with Yoga.
Take it away, Olga Kabel!
By Olga Kabel, RYT, C-IAYT
Whenever I hear somebody complain about lower back pain, I often think “A little bit of Cobra would go a long way and probably help a lot”.
Cobra is a yoga pose that is very useful for increasing circulation to the lower back and for strengthening the back musculature. Does it help everybody every time? Of course not, there are many kinds of lower back pain that show up for different reasons. But the so-called “garden variety” back pain that is due to weakened or chronically contracted back muscles usually responds beautifully to Cobra.
Very often the tension we experience in the lower back shows up because of the way we use our bodies in our daily lives: sitting a lot, driving long distances, lifting heavy things, or doing a lot of asymmetrical movements. The body is usually fine with those in small doses, but if you do those for many hours every day, the body begins to rebel. So the first step would be to identify the movement patterns that get us into trouble and either eliminate them altogether, or modify them to minimize the risk. For example, if you sit a lot at your desk during the day, it helps to alternate sitting with standing, in addition to taking short walking breaks.
The second step would be to release tension in chronically contracted back muscles and strengthen them to be stronger and more resilient. Here is where the Cobra pose comes in handy, since it specifically targets the lower back. As with everything else in yoga, how you do things matters as much as what you do. That is particularly true for Cobra. The key to doing Cobra properly is distributing the curve evenly throughout the spine. When some parts of the back are tight, we might have the tendency to bend more in other areas, creating “pivot points”. This is something that we need to avoid.
Compare two images below – which one do you think is a better option?
Clearly option two is preferable. Even though the range of motion is smaller here, but the curve is much more even, which strengthens the muscles all along the back. So to do Cobra effectively, on the inhale lengthen the spine and lift the upper body up, moving the chest away from the navel and pulling the elbows back. Do not push down with your hands. On the exhale move the upper body down. Repeat 4-6 times and then stay in Cobra pose for 2-3 breaths working on keeping the spine long and the curve even.
Even though Cobra pose can be very effective for dealing with lower back tension, it is not advisable to jump into it right away. You need to warm up your body first and get it ready for this kind of work. This is why Cobra works best when combined with two other yoga poses, which are collectively known as the “magic three”.
THE MAGIC THREE
The “magic three” yoga poses are not complicated or fancy, but they are very versatile and utilitarian. They complement each other and can be very helpful for dealing with the lower back tension. If the lower back pain is intense, you might have to keep the range of motion small to begin with, and then gradually increase it over time.
Here is a video of a simple yoga practice with the “magic three” that shows you how to do them. It is best to start slowly, paying attention to all the small details, particularly the progressive abdominal contraction on exhalation. If you do not feel comfortable on your knees, you can try the same practice in a chair.
And, of course, if the pain is intense or you are new to yoga, it is best to seek help from a qualified professional, like a physical therapist or a yoga therapist. You do not have to live with your lower back pain; often even the most gentle movement done mindfully brings great relief.
Educated as a school teacher, Olga Kabel has been teaching yoga for over 15 years. She completed multiple Yoga Teacher Training Programs but discovered the strongest connection to the Krishnamacharya/ T.K.V. Desikachar lineage. She had studied with Gary Kraftsow and American Viniyoga Institute (2004-2006) and received her Viniyoga Teacher diploma in July 2006 becoming an AVI-certified Yoga Therapist in April 2011. Olga is a founder and managing director of Sequence Wiz – a web-based yoga sequence builder that assists yoga teachers and yoga therapists in creating and organizing yoga practices. It also features simple, informational articles on how to sequence yoga practices for maximum effectiveness. Olga strongly believes in the healing power of this ancient discipline on every level: physical, psychological, and spiritual. She strives to make yoga practices accessible to students of any age, physical ability and medical history specializing in helping her students relieve muscle aches and pains, manage stress and anxiety, and develop mental focus.
YouTube: Yoga with Olga