Yoga For Back Pain - Strike A Pose For A Healthier Back
Yoga can increase your flexibility, help you to stay active and keep your back strong and healthy. Who knew that being a poser could be so good for people with back pain?
Yoga can be one of the best activities to help you fight back against chronic back pain.
As it can make your body feel so much more flexible and relaxed.
So would you consider giving it a try for yourself?
Do I sense some reluctance?
Now I know what you may be thinking at the mention of taking up yoga.
"Yoga? Isn’t that just for hippies, vegans and women in lycra?"
"If any of my mates found out I was doing yoga I’d never live it down"
"And anyway, don’t you need superhuman flexibility to be able to do it?"
"I can’t even touch my toes! I’d look ridiculous at a yoga class"
"It’d be embarrassing"
"I’d feel too self-conscious"
"Everyone would laugh at me when I couldn’t do it as well as them"
And so on.
But these thoughts are way off the mark.
And they can stop you from giving yoga a try.
Which is a real shame.
Because yoga can improve your health, happiness and activity levels.
As well as reducing your pain levels.
So surely it's worth getting over our hang ups and giving it a go right?
What Is Yoga?
Yoga originated in India and is a form of exercise that has been used for managing persistent pain for over 4000 years.
And it's far more than just stretching.
In fact it's a physical, mental and spiritual practice which aims to harmonise and develop your mind, body and spirit to maximise your health.
A complete health workover!
This is acheived through combining physical postures, breathing techniques and mindful meditation.
Now yoga has been through a few changes since being introduced to the western world.
It was first seen in the 1960s when it was taken on by the hippie generation as a form of spiritual enlightenment.
However by the 1980s it became more popular as a form of exercise.
And because of this the postures and movements were adapted to suit western exercise routines and the spiritual angle was cast to one side.
But the problem with viewing yoga solely as exercise is you lose many of it's great benefits.
Fortunately yoga in the present day has brought back the spiritual and meditative side of it alongside the physical postures.
Which is great news.
As only through combining the body, mind and spirit during yoga practice can you reap the full benefits of what yoga has to offer.
Now don’t worry this doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be a tree or engage in any deep soul-searching.
It just means that by getting your body and mind in sync you become more aware and confident within yourself when it comes to dealing with your pain.
So yoga can be great for people with back pain both physically and mentally.
However despite the potential benefits of yoga there is still a reluctance by men to try it.
Especially among those in blue collar professions.
Why Are Men So Sceptical About Yoga?
When you look at most yoga classes more often than not the women will outnumber the men.
Sometimes massively so.
Which is quite ironic when you consider that yoga was developed in India as an exercise for men!
But since its rise in popularity in the western world yoga has been thought of as more of a feminine exercise.
And this has put some men off from giving it a go.
Now I have experience of this personally.
I got into yoga in my early twenties when I could still play football.
And I thought it was fantastic.
As not only did it keep my body flexible and supple, it really cleared my mind and helped me to focus on my game.
In short it made me feel great.
So did I recommend it to my team-mates?
Not a chance!
In fact I kept it as a guilty secret.
As I was expecting a barrage of mickey-taking if they ever found out.
Pretty ridiculous, eh?
I was embarrassed to be seen doing something that I was enjoying and was feeling the benefit from.
Now I’m a bit older and a lot less sensitive I have no qualms about recommending yoga to everyone.
Unfortunately the same stigma that I felt in the football dressing room is still there in factories, building sites and many male-dominated environments today.
And on top of this stigma there is also a perception that yoga doesn’t fit in with sports that society says men ‘should’ be doing.
- It's not macho like football, rugby, boxing or lifting weights at the gym.
- And it's not competitive.
- So it's not 'real' exercise.
- As you can't build big muscles from it and it doesn't leave you out of breath.
- And if you can't get a proper workout then isn't it just a waste of time?
And these perceptions can be hard to overcome when trying to convince some men to try yoga.
But only one of those statements is true.
Because yoga is great for muscle-strengthening as certain poses require you to hold your full body weight for an extended period of time.
And some styles of yoga resemble an aerobic workout as you move through a flow of postures.
Also I defy anyone to take a hot Bikram yoga class and not work up a sweat!
So the only perception above that is true is that yoga is not competitive.
But is that such a bad thing?
Because while us men have a primal urge to compete life is full of competition already.
So your yoga practice can actually provide a pleasant diversion from the constant competition that surrounds you.
So don't get caught up in stigmas and misconceptions when it comes to yoga.
Overcoming The Male Stigma Towards Yoga
I love that video.
As I think it perfectly highlights all the issues I've just talked about regarding the male stigma towards yoga.
And it's great to hear how those guys overcame that and went on to really enjoy yoga and feel the health benefits for themselves.
Thankfully these stories are now becoming more common.
As yoga as an activity for men is becoming more socially accepted.
A few things have helped this process.
For instance professional sports clubs are starting to incorporate yoga into their player’s routines.
As it increases their muscle strength and flexibility as well as lowering the risk of picking up an injury.
And a great example for the virtues of yoga is Ryan Giggs.
As he went from a player that regularly suffered from problems with his hamstrings in his 20s to one that played on for Manchester United until past his 40th birthday.
Endorsements such as this will encourage more men to try yoga.
However while this stigma can (and has) been challenged it can be tough to overturn completely.
One example of this is the story of a long-time construction worker turned yoga teacher in San Francisco called Allan Nett.
Now as I'm sure you are aware construction workers suffer from a lot of back, shoulder, knee and muscle pain because of the physical demands their work places on them.
And as a worker himself Allan had felt the benefits that yoga had for him in limiting these problems.
So he came up with a tailored program to help his fellow construction workers achieve the same benefits.
And to try and help the workers get past the 'yoga stigma' he changed a couple of things.
Firstly he changed the names of the yoga poses from their traditional Indian names and re-named them after the names of construction tools such as the plumb-bob and the bevel-square.
By doing this he was aiming to make yoga seem more familiar and accessible to the men on site.
And he also adapted the yoga poses so the workers could do them in their boots and overalls rather than having to change into their gym clothes.
Pretty cool idea right?
But did it work?
Because despite his attempts to remove the ‘yoga stigma’ the male workers were still reluctant to give it a try.
Now maybe some of them fancied it but the peer pressure of the majority who didn't was a deciding factor.
And not many wanted to raise their head above the parapet.
So I guess the moral of the story is that if you want to try yoga but feel a bit uneasy about doing so then you may need to work through this stigma by yourself.
And how can I convince you to do that?
Well let’s start by looking at the health benefits that regular yoga practice can bring you.
10 Awesome Health Benefits Of Yoga
So what do you stand to gain by getting into yoga?
By holding yoga poses your body is supporting various degrees of your own body weight.
And this strengthens the muscles across your whole body including your core, abdominal and back muscles.
Stretching out your muscles causes them to lengthen.
And this will give you an increased range of motion in your joints meaning you will be able to move better.
Handy at home, work and play!
Also increased flexibility in your hamstrings reduces the load and strain on your lower back.
Reduced muscle tension
Stretching out your muscles will also increase the blood flow to them.
And this means they will receive more oxygen and nutrients and be able to handle more of a workload without becoming strained.
Tight muscles cause your body to hunch up into bad positions which can make you even more tense.
But by releasing and lengthening these muscles through yoga stretches your body can settle into a more healthy and comfortable posture.
And this also helps with your spinal alignment.
Both of which eases strain and tension in your body.
Boosted immune system
Yoga stretches massage your internal organs which helps to keep them healthy and functioning well.
And this makes them better able to ward off diseases and illnesses.
Greater awareness of your body
By working through movements in different areas of your body you'll get to know where your body is feeling tense and uncomfortable.
And you'll discover what you need to do to help these areas to relax.
This knowledge will help you to deal with any pain that you experience through the day.
Unlike other forms of exercise that leave you tired and aching after a workout, yoga will leave you feeling energised and refreshed instead.
Yoga will also leave you feeling more relaxed within yourself.
Which gives you a happy and content feeling.
Calming your mind
By coordinating the stretching with controlled breathing yoga helps to slow down your heart rate and relax your body and mind.
And the meditation part of yoga adds to this effect.
Leaving you feeling blissfully relaxed and content at the end of your yoga session.
In fact sometimes this effect can be so strong that people are warned to take extra care when driving home afterwards!
A great night's sleep
As yoga helps to relax your body and mind it often leads to a very deep and refreshing sleep.
In fact some of my best ever sleeps have come after an evening yoga class!
So as you can see yoga is great for your overall health.
What Makes Yoga So Good For People With Back Pain?
Many scientific studies have been carried out on the effects yoga has on people with chronic lower back pain.
And the results have been mainly positive.
Which are all great things that will help you to manage your chronic pain in a positive and healthy way.
So why does yoga bring us these benefits?
Holding the yoga postures strengthens the muscles across your whole body including your core muscles, abs and back muscles which help to support your spine.
And stretching out your muscles causes them to lengthen.
Which increases your flexibility, improves your posture and gives you an increased range of motion.
In particular lengthening your hips and hamstrings is great for your keeping your back healthy as it will reduce the load on your lower back.
Stretching out your muscles will also lower muscle tension by increasing the blood flow to them.
Which means they will receive more oxygen and nutrients which allows them to repair and heal.
And yoga will also improve your mood leaving you feeling happier, healthier and more energised.
Which gives you the positive outlook you need to be able to handle and manage your chronic pain better throughout the day.
And finally by calming your mind you are helping your body to relax and release any tension it is holding.
This can even ward off serious mental disorders too.
As studies have shown that yoga makes people with chronic pain less prone to depression.
Which is great news as depression and anxiety are common problems for people with chronic pain.
So as you can see yoga is a great activity for managing your chronic lower back pain and improving your quality of life.
Which on top of the general benefits of yoga are all great reasons to give it a try.
Which Is The Best Type Of Yoga For Your Back Pain?
Hopefully you can now see the benefits of yoga and may be leaning towards giving it go.
However before you begin you need to be aware that there are a few different types of yoga and each one caters to slightly different needs.
So read through this list of the most popular forms of yoga to see which one suits you the best:
This is probably the most common type of yoga.
And it's a good choice for beginners as it has a gentle, slow and relaxed style.
The emphasis of Hatha yoga is to combine controlled breathing with gentle body movements and postures.
These postures are held for longer in this form of yoga than most with the aim is to bring peace and relaxation to the mind and the body.
Also known as 'hot yoga', Bikram yoga classes will help you work up a sweat.
As classes take place in a studio set to a temperature of 105 degrees fahrenheit!
They also last for 90 minutes and involve 26 postures and two breathing techniques.
So you'll get a great workout with this one.
The idea behind this is that the sweat you produce from the heat will flush out toxins from your body.
Plus it will help your muscles to relax more which enables you to stretch further into the postures.
This type of yoga involves more of a flow of movement rather than holding postures.
In this way it can be more akin to an aerobic workout.
But it still carries many of the same benefits of regular yoga.
However because of the intensity of this form of yoga it may not be suitable for everyone with back pain.
And it's probably not one to try if you are a complete beginner.
This form of yoga involves holding the postures for the longest period of time.
The idea is that the longer you hold and relax into the posture the more deeper into them you can go.
Which can help you to stretch out your muscles to the maximum.
Apparatus such as blocks, belts and chairs are also used to help people to go deeper.
However personally I found that holding the yoga postures for longer actually increased my pain.
So be careful with this one.
However as you can see there is no one-size fits all when it comes to yoga.
It's all about finding the one that suits you the best.
How to Get Started With Yoga
So once you have decided which type of yoga you'd like to try where do you go from there?
There are a couple of options open to you.
Firstly you could find a local yoga class and sign up for a few sessions.
Or you could search online for yoga videos that allow you to practice yoga at home.
Finding A Yoga Class
Luckily yoga classes are everywhere nowadays so you shouldn't have any trouble finding a class.
Just doing a quick google search for yoga in your local area should give you a plenty of options.
These will range from private yoga classes to group classes in gyms and dedicated yoga studios.
The problem is that taking yoga classes regularly can be pretty expensive.
However there are ways to find cheaper options.
For example most local gyms will include yoga classes as part of their membership.
Which can be a cost-effective way to get started if you are already a gym member.
Also you can find free or donation based yoga classes at community centres or online on sites like MeetUp.
Finally some yoga teachers run small private group classes out of their own homes.
And this can be a cheaper option and good if you can find one with a good teacher.
However you may need to try a few before you find one that suits you as the teaching quality will vary.
Practicing Yoga at Home
Yoga classes are not going to be for everyone.
So if going to a yoga class doesn't really appeal to you don't despair.
As there are plenty of online resources that allow you to practice yoga in the comfort of your own home.
One of the best places to find these is on YouTube.
And a channel I really like is Yoga with Adriene.
This channel has tons of easy to follow yoga videos to suit every mood and purpose.
And the one below is specifically for people with back pain.
Another decent option is to download the Down Dog Yoga app to your phone.
This app is great as it generates a new yoga session for you every time you open it.
So you'll never do the same sequence twice.
And even better it's free!
So as you can see there's no excuse for not giving yoga a try even if you don't fancy the idea of taking a class.
And practicing yoga at home can come in handy when you can't make it to a class.
However don't write off going to an actual yoga class too quickly.
As not only will you get invaluable expert instruction from a qualified teacher, classes can be fun and social too.
I found this to be the case myself.
The photo above is from a class I went to in London that was run by a great guy called Richard Brook.
This class had a great social atmosphere and was somewhere I looked forward to going to each week.
Which made it really easy to stick to my yoga practice.
So have a search in your local area and see if any yoga places are offering creative and fun sounding classes nearby.
After all if it's fun it's more likely you'll keep it up.
Important: Things To Consider Before You Begin
I hope that I've inspired you to try yoga.
However before you decide to go ahead it's important to get a few things in order.
Make sure yoga is safe for you to do
I've tried to give you the information here on what yoga can do for you and why you should give it a go.
However I'm not a doctor or physical therapist.
So always consult with your physician before beginning any new activities to make sure they are safe for you to do.
Don't get competitive
It may go against all of our macho instincts but you need to remember at all times that yoga isn't meant to be a competitive exercise.
So relax into the poses and only go as far as your body allows you to.
Wherever you get to is completely fine.
And it doesn't matter if the person next to you is able to manipulate their bodies much better than you can.
So don't try and match them by pushing yourself further than your body is comfortable going.
As this will only lead to you pulling and straining muscles and injuring yourself.
Find a good teacher
Not all yoga teachers are the same and you may have to try a few different classes before you find one that you like.
So how can you tell if you've got a duff yoga teacher?
The bad ones will try and push you further than you are comfortable with and won't help you to perform the postures correctly.
So keep searching until you find a class with a teacher that puts the health and well-being of their class at the top of their priorities.
Tell the teacher about your back problems
This is really important.
As by telling your teacher that you have back issues they will then be able to give you postures that will help and not aggravate your problem.
And a good teacher will warn you beforehand if a posture carries a risk of hurting your back and will give you an alternative exercise to do instead.
So this is a good way to stay safe and minimise the risk of any injuries.
However, having said all that don't be afraid!
Because as long as you address these issues you will be reaping the benefits of yoga for years to come.
As we all know living with chronic pain is tough.
However sometimes it can help if you try new things to combat it.
And yoga is one of those activities that can really help.
As it improves your flexibility, mobility and lowers your pain levels.
It will also help you mentally and emotionally by relaxing your mind, reducing stress, making you less prone to depression and improving your mood.
And these physical, mental and emotional benefits all combine to make it easier to manage your chronic pain.
However despite these benefits there is still a stigma amongst men makes them reluctant to give yoga a try.
But I hope that I've managed to show you why it's worth getting over this stigma.
So what are you waiting for?
Join a yoga class and feel the benefits today!