Pain is a red light from the body, an early warning signal to say “proceed with caution.” A lot of us read this as, stop, numb out, rest and quit. Resting won’t resolve the pain, it is one of the reasons that child’s pose is not in my teaching armoury.
To be free of pain, it is necessary to move to release the blockages and stuck muscles and to create the support that the hardened muscles are trying to create (which works in tandem with the body’s wisdom). Once we get these parts moving and spacious we can move energy through these places and flush out what is stagnant.
Forrest Yoga presents lots of strategies for working pain-free, it is one of the principles that drew me to the practice. I treat a lot of injured and chronically in pain people at the studio and the FY method is so adaptogenic and intelligent that people experience what living pain-free is like and have tools to continue on that path. In her book, Fierce Medicine, Ana Forrest gives her 6 steps to working pain-free:
-Identify the location of the pain,
-Breathe into that location deeply (Are you breathing now?),
-Create space in that place, decompress the area,
-Strengthen your core,
-Use your legs to support your back,
-Learn to live spaciously (even at work!).
For me, when my lower back is firing up and the sciatica is flaring, the following poses help tremendously.
Laying Down Spinal Twist
This pose begins the unwind of tension in the low back muscles and gives a gentle twist into the abdominals. During my flare ups, my guts usually go haywire too. This pose allows for working the breath into different parts of the side. From laying down, bring one knee into the chest, the left knee for example. Arms are out to the side like rugby goalposts, bent at the elbows. Exhale to carry the left knee over to the right across the body, stretching the left arm towards the back of the mat. Place the right hand on the low belly, then the low ribs, mid-ribs and upper ribs for 1-3 breaths each. Repeat on the other side.
Laying Down Spinal Twist Back Traction
Some days I need more than a passive twist. This one works best for me with both legs up. In the twist, press both hands on to the ASIS the highest boney prominence at the front of the hips. Push the pelvis away from you for about 8 breaths, using the exhale to pull the belly in completely.
Abs with a roll
When working on creating space in the low back, stretching is fine but the core needs to learn how to support the changing muscle environment. Core work will get you where you want to go, faster. If you don’t have a spare Yoga mat to roll up, grab a towel and get a firm roll for the inner thighs. Start with the head and shoulders on the ground, elbows up. Severely back tweaked people, put both feet on the wall, feet flat, legs bent and low back connected to the ground. Inhale to push the low back and top of the sacrum down. Hold the breath, curl the tailbone up, squeeze the roll. Exhale, curl head and shoulders up, belly pulls down. Repeat for 5-8 rounds. You can find a video for this through the media channel of this page.
Back Traction with Uddiyana
This move is like a flush for the low back while freeing up and stretching the stuck places in the abdominals and psoas. Bring the feet into baddhakonasana, soles of the feet together, knees wide. Brace the hands on the thighs close to the hips but not the groin. Inhale to lengthen the ribs away from the hips. Exhale forcefully through the mouth and hold the breath empty. While empty, lift the ribs away from the pelvis and stretch the diaphragm wide like in the photo above. Repeat 3-4 times.
Bridge with a roll
This pose teaches you how to use your legs. The feet, calves, thighs and buttocks learn to hold you up while the shoulders and neck relax. Place the roll to the inner thighs. Move the feet close to the pelvis so that you can almost touch the heels with the hands. Allow the arms to rest about 45 degrees away from the body. On exhale, press into active feet and tuck the tailbone towards the roll. Lift the pelvis towards the sky. Inhale to scoop the ribs away from the pelvis. Exhale to engage the muscles around your sit bones towards the roll. Back sensitive people, you can use your hands to physically press the pelvis away from the ribs. Stay for anything from 10-20 breaths. Let your legs cook.
Does as the pose suggests! Cross one foot over the other leg. Flex the foot so the sole points to the side of the room rather than the ceiling. Grasp the shinbone or the thigh and ease in towards you until you feel the first edge of resistance. Once you meet it, breathe deep into the hip to help ease the area. If you need more here, actively press the tailbone down into the mat while drawing the leg in. Spend at least 10 breaths here per side.
Stand with your feet about 3-4 feet apart against a wall. Feet are turned out roughly 45 degrees. Sink the hips down and keep the back against the wall. Brace the arms straight against the thighs as pictured and lift the ribs away from the hips. As in the previous back traction, exhale everything out and scoop the diaphragm up into uddiyana. During the time here, lift the ribs away from the pelvis while drawing in. Repeat 3-4 times.
These poses act as a foundation of things to do for your back. You can find out more and take a class with me in Dundee or do classes via the online portal Mat2Mat.
Some non-Yoga maintenance can be doing Castor Oil Packs, Bodywork and Epsom Salt Baths. Epsom salt baths are a weekly staple for me. When my muscles are sore or I am feeling locked up in my back I take a long bath with Epsom salts. I use about 2 cups of salts per bath, Now that is salty! Relax in the bath for about 20 minutes. This is great to do after a Yoga class or when you back just feels solid. You can get Epsom Salts and Castor Oil at Heart Space Whole Foods in the city centre.