How Yoga Can Improve Back Pain (And Your Mental Outlook Too)

When I signed up for a yoga class 6 weeks ago, I had a notion of becoming more mindful, more flexible, more…. LuLu Lemonish.

You know what I mean – that I’d look awesome and tightly contained in my expensive spandex, I’d have a cute messy bun, be long-limbed and tanned, and generally be at one with the universe.

Well, my friends, you’ll not be surprised to hear that my limbs are still the same length, my hair still a tad too frizzy, and that I still lose my keys because I try to do too many things at once.

But that’s ok, because I’ve fallen in love with yoga despite all that.  Let me tell you more about it.

My Last Yoga Experience

It had been a long time since I’d last tried yoga: before I’d had kids. The husband and I were both trying to get healthy and thought we’d give a class a try at our local YMCA.  We could do things together willy-nilly like that back then.

This was before I’d even heard the words ‘athletic apparel’ or ‘messy bun’.

The class we went to was slow going and was attended by a more, let’s say, ‘senior’ crowd.  We did fine until the last part of class, when, sitting in silence, one of our cohort suffered from some unexpected gas emissions.

Now my husband is not someone people would describe as ‘a giggler’, but when it comes to toilet humor, he’s like a 5 year old girl.  The giggly kind.

I can still remember the mental and abdominal strength it took me to hold it together, while I could see him shaking silently with laughter to the right of me, tears springing out of his eyes.  It was pure torture.

Apart from the laughs we had for days after, that class didn’t light any burning fires of yogic passion within me, and I left it by the wayside.

Vinyasa Yoga

The class I signed up for this time was called Hot Power Vinyasa. The name should have given me a clue that this wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but I like a challenge.  

More importantly, the class was scheduled for 9am, so it didn’t require getting up too early (I have enough of those already), and wouldn’t impede on my day too much either.  

I’m nothing if not practical.

But honestly, I had no idea what Vinayasa Yoga was, nor how ‘Hot’ or ‘Powerful’ I would need to be.

I’ve since learned this: Vinayasa Yoga is a style of yoga in which movement and breath are linked.  In more practical language that means, breathe in while doing X, breathe out while doing Y.

It sounds easy, but it’s harder than you might think.  Especially when the move you’re doing is challenging. And the room is 90 degrees.  And your LuLuLemon leggings waistband keeps flipping down because you’ve gained a few extra pounds.

Not only that, the class involves flowing from one movement to the next in a series of connected poses.  The practical reality of that is that you don’t really get to take a break, even though the movements themselves may be slow or small.

And finally, the room is heated up – so sweating is guaranteed.

So that’s heat, breath, movement. Plus balance, and mental focus.

And it feels amazing.  

I didn't take yoga seriously till I tried it in my forties. Now I have found it brings so many benefits - not just an amazing workout, but it has helped relieve my back pain too. Learn more about the many benefits yoga can bring you #yoga #backpain #GetUnBusy

Here’s what I’ve loved specifically:

Relief From Back Pain

I won’t bore you with too many details of my old-lady aches and pains, but I’ve suffered with an annoying ache behind my shoulder-blade for a couple of years.  I’ve been seeing a chiropractor who has helped relieve me of the associated shoulder pain, but we couldn’t seem to get rid of this irritating pain in my middle back.

Until Downward-Facing Dog.

Yoga Downward-Dog
Courtesy of PopSugar.com

I began to notice how great my back felt after this yoga class, and began doing a few gentle ‘Down Dogs’ at home as well.  I immediately felt relief in my middle back and behind my shoulder blades.

As Spine Health.com points out, yoga can be a great exercise to relieve back pain. Yoga will help build strength in the back, as well as alleviate tension and increase blood flow to muscle. The stretching involved in many yoga poses also provides relief in areas of tightness.

I explored a bit further and found proof of what I was experiencing: “Though the downward dog pose stretches the full spine, it is most effective for isolating the thoracic spine between the shoulder blades. The range of motion at the thoracic spine is not much, which is why being able to maintain the posture is important for relieving muscle tension, and dispersing stagnant energy in this thoracic spinal area.” (from Downward Facing Dog: Exploration, Anatomy, and Alignment).

When I find these things out, I feel like I’m the last one to the party (like 5,000 years late in this case).  Never mind – now I know.

A Challenging Workout

I love working out at my gym, and especially Indoor Cycling, which I also instruct.  I love the power and energy I feel from those hard workouts.

The last time I’d done yoga, it had felt unsatisfying, like I hadn’t really worked out (aside from the ab control from trying to contain my laughter.)  It felt like it wasn’t good use of my time. That might partly be due to a different kind of class being taught.

But I also think that now I’m a bit older (some might say middle-aged, but pffft), I have an appreciation for the challenge and effort that goes along with the slower, subtler and more precise moves of yoga.

You can’t just throw yourself into yoga poses using brute force.  It’s called ‘yoga practice’ for a reason as it takes just that – practice.  I’m excited to be learning more about this technique which has centuries of history behind it.  It has words and positions that are new to me.  It has poses that look completely out of reach to me right now.  I have headstand goals!

Connecting Body & Mind

During the yoga practice that I attend, I have noticed that there is always a theme to the class – love, hope, connectedness.  The instructor will begin with some thoughts on the theme and how it ties into the physical practice that we’re about to go through.  

When a pose is challenging, she might remind us about that theme, and help us draw strength from that to help us through.  It might be the idea of doing this for someone we love or something we want to achieve for ourselves.

We also spend time paying attention to our breath.  As I’ve learnt from my experimentation with meditation, paying attention to our breathing has a centering affect. It helps me to acknowledge and let go of all the busyness going on in my mind, and try to just BE for at least a moment.

I really don’t want to get too new-agey on you, as that’s not me.  That said, there is a form of spirituality that can be found in yoga that allows you to appreciate the big picture for a moment.  Be that the universe inside of you, or the universe around us – you are forced to take pause from all the everyday things that keep us distracted.

Whether you follow a specific religion or not, the themes of self and how we are connected to the world around us are universal.  Taking a little time to reflect on these can bring value to any one us, no matter what our personal beliefs are.

Peace and Positivity

Today in class my instructor said this: “Wherever the mind focuses, that’s where energy flows”.  The point being, if we look for negativity in people, or situations, or even ourselves, then we’ll tend to find it.  

Conversely, if we look for the positive and believe in our own capabilities, we are more likely to notice the positive around and realize favorable outcomes.

Yoga Pose

So I left that class with that thought in my mind.  I felt free of the physical tension that I started class with, and left with a positivity boost that I am carrying into my day today.  That’s a pretty good deal for the price of a workout.

Also – no-one farted today.   So that was nice.

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