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|Chapter 1||Understanding Yoga||1|
|Chapter 2||Before You Begin||17|
|Chapter 3||Easy Yoga||35|
|Chapter 4||Yoga Fountain of Youth||57|
|Chapter 5||Yoga for a Youthful Back||87|
|Chapter 6||Yoga to Relieve Aches and Pains||117|
|Chapter 7||Yoga for Sex and Vitality||147|
Chapter 5: Yoga for a Youthful Back
If you've always thought a stiff or painful back was an inevitable consequence of aging, the Yoga Back Workout in this chapter will change your mind. Whether you're searching for a lasting fix for nagging back pain or want to prevent future backaches, this yoga routine is for you. By practicing these yoga postures, you can enjoy a healthy, pain-free back and stay youthful and active for a lifetime.
Practicing yoga has been shown to be one of the most effective and healthy ways to relieve back pain caused by weak or tight muscles, poor posture, overexertion, injury, a sedentary lifestyle, or tension. Many health professionals prescribe yoga to alleviate back troubles. With regular practice, yoga can help prevent future back problems by helping you build back strength, release tension, improve structural alignment, and increase the tone and flexibility of your abdominals, hamstrings, and hips.
From a yoga point of view, overall wellness and longevity begin with a healthy spine. Over the millennia, yoga has evolved to promote the health of the spine by increasing the resiliency and strength of the back. The spine is also thought to be where the kundalini energy (the psychospiritual energy force) resides. In addition to the kundalini, yoga masters believe, there are over seventy-two thousand subtle energy channels, or nadis, in the body through which life force (prana) flows and connects to the body's energy centers, or chakras, all of which originate in the spine. Certain esoteric yoga practices concentrate on purifying the energy channels and raising the kundalini of the spine so that prana can flow easily, bringing perfect health along with an awakening to a higher consciousness.
Advanced age, a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise, injuries, poor posture, or inadequate nutrition can lead to decreased blood circulation to and through the spine. This, in turn, causes the discs of the spine to shrink, while the spaces between the vertebrae shorten. Over time the spine gradually stiffens and compresses, and you lose inches from your height. Your back may then hunch over and pinch the spinal nerves, further limiting circulation. A hunched back may also create problems with your breathing by compromising your lung capacity and further reducing the circulation to and nourishment of every cell in your body. This dreadful chain of events, which sets up the possibility of even more ailments and complications, unfortunately is an all-too-common consequence of the toxic, sedentary lifestyle so prevalent in our society.
It's a sobering scenario, but not an inevitable one if you take proper preventive measures. Doing yoga makes it possible to keep your spine youthful, supple, and strong. Living proof of yoga's effectiveness are the many practitioners who appear years younger and far healthier than their chronological, but inactive, peers.
Research studies show that at least eight out of ten adults will suffer from back pain sometime in their lives. For many of them the pain is chronic. Back pain is cited as the second most common reason people seek out a doctor (it's second only to the common cold). If you're fortunate enough to have a healthy back, take steps now to keep it that way. If you neglect the health of your back or you're unknowingly abusing it, you may be inviting future back injury.
By understanding how the spine works, you can act to heal your back pain and prevent future injuries. Your body is held upright by your spine's complex network of bony vertebrae that are padded by cartilage discs and surrounded by muscles and ligaments. These cartilage discs allow for flexibility in spinal movements and function as shock absorbers as we walk, run, and jump.
Despite the spine's remarkable structure, it can be susceptible to problems. Back pain most often appears in the lower back or the sacroiliac (SI) joint -- where the sacrum and ilium meet in the pelvis. The SI joint is held together by strong yet pliable ligaments designed to maintain stability in the pelvis as we stand and walk. Lower-back pain is often the result of stress in the SI joint, caused by an accident, poor muscle tone, bad posture, or inappropriate, counterproductive movement patterns. All can strain the ligaments and alter stability in the lower back and pelvis, causing discomfort and painful flare-ups.
The best way to treat and prevent SI injury is to move the pelvis and spine together during yoga poses, such as Head-to-Knee pose. Backward-bending movements, as in Bridge Pose, will help strengthen and stabilize the SI joint and lower back.
Back pain may also be caused by damaged cartilage discs that have lost their shock-absorbing ability. An accident sustained in lifting a heavy weight improperly, or poor alignment and movement patterns, may cause the supporting spinal ligaments to weaken or tear. This causes the gel-like disc to bulge or herniate out, creating back pain. If the herniated disc presses on an adjacent spinal nerve, it can cause referred pain in the hip and leg.
Practicing gentle forward bends, such as the Seated Forward Bend in Chair and Modified Spread-Leg Forward Bend, trains you to bend forward properly without pain or strain to the cartilage discs and the SI joint. You'll no longer shy away from forward-bending movements, such as those made in shopping, stooping to pick up a child, or doing housework or gardening chores.
Scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, is another common cause of back pain. In scoliosis, the spine curves from side to side in an S shape, and this may result in one shoulder jutting higher than the other or a similar problem with the hip joints. Functional scoliosis can result from poor posture or unbalanced movement patterns. Structural scoliosis, which is more serious, can appear during adolescence. Its causes are not well understood.
Yoga poses strengthen the spinal muscles and promote spinal alignment and healthy posture and movement patterns. Gentle twists, such as Seated Twist, can improve spinal curvature, tone your spine, and relieve tension.
Tight hamstrings and abdominals -- often the result of poor posture -- are also culprits in creating back strain and pain. Hamstrings are the muscles in the back of your thighs, and chronically tight hamstrings can affect posture and compromise the health of your lower back. Tightness in the abdominal muscles occurs when there's an imbalance between abdominal and back muscles. This muscular imbalance can arise from the best intentions, such as a commitment to an abdominal strengthening routine of sit-ups and crunches. Combined with total neglect of the back muscles, this limited exercise routine can tighten the abdominals while the back muscles weaken and become overstretched.
Gentle hamstring stretches, such as Modified Reclining Big-Toe Pose, will lengthen the hamstrings without compromising your back. You can stretch and balance tight abdominals by doing Yoga Sit-Ups, Half Boat Pose, and Modified Revolved Abdomen Pose.
Poor postural habits that lead to tight or weak muscles can contribute to back pain. Good posture improves more than just aesthetics; it substantially reduces the risk of pain and injury, especially in your lower back. Yoga teaches beautiful posture and the basics of body alignment, with poses such as Cow's-Head Pose and Modified Locust Pose. Yoga poses and body-mind disciplines are powerful tools to improve posture and relieve and prevent back pain. These healing movement combinations can be found in Pelvic Tilt, One-Legged Wind-Relieving Pose, and Yoga Sit-Up.
Yoga poses performed correctly and with awareness, as in the Longevity Back Sequence, can treat and prevent many back problems. Adding self-massage techniques, such as do-in and acupressure, is an effective way to alleviate and prevent back pain. As discussed in Chapter 1, do-in and acupressure can help to relieve and prevent tension and tightness, promote flexibility in muscles, and increase blood circulation. The spinal cord contains multiple nerves that branch out to every part of the body, with important acupressure points located along the spine. Combining self-massage with yoga stretches enhances the healing benefits of the poses.
As discussed in Chapter 1, I've incorporated aspects of the body-mind disciplines Ideokinesis and Pilates into the following workout to enhance the benefits of yoga practice. These approaches restore strength and energy, integrate mind and body, and reeducate the body with respect to movement patterns to heal our bodies and allow us to carry out our activities more efficiently.
Improperly performed stretching, in doing yoga poses as well as in other activities, can also cause back pain and strain; it can aggravate scoliosis or even damage the SI joint or the spinal discs. For example, yoga poses that move the pelvis and sacrum in opposite directions, such as yoga twists, when done incorrectly can cause instability in the SI joint. Improperly performed yoga forward bends can also be especially risky for people with tight hamstrings or back problems. That is why the utmost attention should be paid to doing the poses correctly.
Keep in mind that, depending on the nature and severity of your back problem, yoga poses may not be helpful. If you have a history of lower-back pain, disc damage, or a recent lower-back injury, it may not be safe to do yoga. These poses should not be performed during the acute phase of any injury, including a back injury. Stop any exercise if your pain gets worse. Be sure to have a health care professional diagnose your back problem, and check with her or him before doing the following workout.
If your time is limited, the Yoga Back Workout can be practiced on its own. You will reap benefits even if you have only 15 minutes to do this yoga practice. For maximum longevity benefits, combine this workout with any of the Yoga Fountain of Youth Workouts in Chapter 4. For example, see the combination of the Maintenance Fountain of Youth Workout and the Yoga Back Workout that follows.
Be aware that it may take you more than 4 weeks to do this routine comfortably, depending on your physical condition. If you feel comfortable and confident doing the poses in Weeks 1 and 2, proceed to Weeks 3 and 4. Otherwise, stay with Weeks 1 and 2 until you feel strong enough to continue.
Weeks 1 and 2
Practice Schedule: Practice for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 days a week.
Yoga Back: For each workout, perform the seven poses of the Longevity Back Sequence, then choose at least one additional back pose.
Longevity Back Sequence: Do all seven poses.
Choose at Least One:
A combination of the Yoga Back Workout and the Maintenance Fountain of Youth Workout will help you to strengthen your back, prevent and relieve back problems, and build and maintain your cardiovacular fitness, strength, and flexibility.
Week 1 and Beyond
Workout Schedule: Practice Sun Salutation 5 days a week for 30 minutes, followed by two inversion poses, plus Modified Fish Pose (see page 168) and Cool Down. On practice days 1, 3, and 5, follow with Yoga Back Workout poses. Finish with Cool Down.
Warm Up: Perform Sun Salutation once slowly, holding each posture for 5 breaths.
Sun Salutation: Perform 6 repetitions of Sun Salutation, holding each posture for 1 to 3 breaths.
This simple, 10-minute routine can treat and prevent many back problems and keep your spine youthful, supple, and strong. The following seven yoga poses should be practiced one after the other.
What It Does: In Ideokinesis, the bent-knee Modified Relaxation Pose (Modified Savasana) is called the Constructive Rest position. In this position, gravity naturally releases your muscles, thereby allowing you the opportunity to do mental imagery work. The Pelvic Tilt press, hold, and release action massages tension and stress out of the lower back while bringing fresh, oxygenated blood into the muscles and tissues. It is essential to tighten the buttock muscles firmly to protect and stabilize your lower back and activate the abdominals. To relieve any discomfort in the neck and throat, place a folded blanket underneath your head.
How to Do It:
1. Lie on your back, bending your knees so that your feet are flat on the mat, hip-width apart. Rest your hands on your abdomen or place your arms out to the sides as in Supported Relaxation Pose (see page 31). Relax your shoulders and pull them down, away from your ears. Align your neck and head with your spine. Close your eyes.
2. Allow the weight of your bones to sink toward the floor. Mentally scan your entire body, especially your spine and your lower back, noting any muscular contractions. Now surrender your muscles to the pull of gravity, and sink further into the floor.
3. Inhale and allow your lower back to arch naturally. Exhale, tightening the buttock muscles, tilting the pelvis under, and pulling the abdomen in. Press the small of your back gently to the mat. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax all efforts. Move into the next pose.
What It Does: This pose relieves sciatica and lower-back pain, ache, or stiffness. It also stretches the lower-back muscles.
How to Do It:
1. From Constructive Rest position, bring your right knee in to your chest. Comfortably hug your right thigh to your chest. If your shoulders are tight, you can loop a strap or belt around the front of your right knee.
2. Slowly straighten your left leg with left foot flexed, making sure that your pelvis and right buttock remain on the floor and are aligned with your torso. If your pelvis comes off the floor or you feel pain, keep the left leg bent.
3. Release any muscular tension you may have on the front of the left hip socket, surrendering your muscles to the pull of gravity as you sink into the floor.
4. Inhale as you hug your right knee gently toward your body and contract the muscles of your left leg and flexed foot. As you grow stronger and more confident and pain-free, bring your nose forward to your right knee. Keep your shoulders down, away from your ears. Hold for 5 seconds. Exhale and release.
5. Smoothly breathe in and out. Repeat on the left side. Repeat on each side.
What It Does: It relieves sciatica and lower-back pain, ache, or stiffness, and it stretches the lower-back muscles.
How to Do It:
1. From Constructive Rest position, bring your knees in to your chest. Hold the back of your thighs and bring the thighs as close to your rib cage as possible.
2. Inhale. Exhale and slowly pull the thighs toward the chest, lifting your buttocks slightly off the floor.
3. Inhale and release your buttocks back down to the floor. Breathe and hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds.
What It Does: This pose is enhanced by the addition of Pilates abdominal strengthening principles. The Yoga Sit-Up utilizes the Pelvic Tilt while contracting the abdominals, thereby protecting and strengthening the lower back while fully engaging the abdominal muscles.
How to Do It:
1. From Constructive Rest position, place your hands behind the base of your head. Keep your elbows out to the sides.
2. Inhale, then exhale, tilting your pelvis under and pulling your abdomen in.
3. Inhale, then exhale, lifting your head and shoulders off the floor as far as comfortably possible while keeping your neck relaxed and your pelvis tilted under. Exhale and hold, deepening the contraction of the abdominals.
4. Inhale and return to the starting position.
5. Repeat up to 10 times.
What It Does: It increases the flexibility and strength of the hamstrings and legs, and it helps release tightness in the back.
How to Do It: 1. In Constructive Rest position, wrap a belt or strap around the ball of your right foot.
2. Inhale and straighten your right leg toward the ceiling. Exhale, tilting the pelvis under. If you're unable to fully straighten the right leg, keep it bent, so that your sit bones (the bones you can feel in your buttocks) drop toward the floor.
2. Inhale and bend the right leg. Exhale and straighten the right leg again, to the point where you are stretching comfortably but any further stretching would cause discomfort. Draw the right leg closer to your face, applying gentle leverage with the belt. Work up to holding for 2 or 3 breaths.
4. As you grow more flexible, keep your right leg straight and actively straighten your left leg, pressing the back of the leg into the floor. Actively push out through the heels of both feet. Return the right leg to the floor.
5. Repeat on the other side. Once you've established this basic pose, practice without the belt, placing both hands around your thigh, calf, or ankle.
What It Does: This posture flow stretches the lower back, lengthens and strengthens the spinal muscles, increases circulation to the spinal discs, and helps relieve back tension and pain. It stimulates spinal acupressure points along the lower back, called the Gates of Life, which regulate the central nervous system.
How to Do It:
1. Get down on all fours, with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Your back should be straight and your palms flat on the floor, your torso like a tabletop.
2. Inhaling, lift your head and drop your abdomen, arching your lower back.
3. In a flowing motion, return to table position as you exhale, then round your back like a cat. Pull your stomach up toward your spine while looking down at the floor. Hold. Release, relaxing spine and abdomen.
4. Establish a smooth flow of inhaling, lower back arched, and exhaling, back rounded. Repeat 10 times.
What It Does: Modified Child's Pose provides deep relaxation and stretching of the back muscles. It relieves back tension, pain, and fatigue. The addition of the self-massage technique do-in to this pose enhances the healing benefits to the back.
How to Do It:
1. Kneel in front of a bolster or folded blankets. Knees are wide apart, big toes are touching. Put the bolster between your thighs, drawn up to the groin. If sitting on your ankles is uncomfortable, place a pillow under your ankles and feet.
2. Inhale. Then exhale slowly and bend forward, lowering your torso to rest on the bolster. Relax your arms around the support. Turn your face to one side. Relax deeply. Breathe comfortably.
3. With lightly closed fists, gently tap your lower back and pelvis several times.
4. Now relax all efforts. Inhale healing breath into your back. As you exhale, relax your back, visualizing it elongating while releasing all tension and pain. Continue your visualization as you breathe comfortably.
5. Rest for as long as you wish. Return to kneeling slowly.
What It Does: It stretches the back and helps prevent lower-back strain. As you grow stronger and more flexible, practice Modified Spread-Leg Forward Bend.
How to Do It:
1. Sit straight on a chair with your legs together and feet flat on the floor.
2. Inhale. Exhale, rounding your shoulders and spine forward, one vertebra at a time. Lower your forehead to your knees, laying chest on thighs as your arms hang down by your legs. Feel your back and shoulder muscles stretch as you relax in the position for 3 breaths.
3. Place your hands on your knees and slowly roll up, one vertebra at a time, raising your head last. Repeat.
What It Does: It increases the flexibility and strength of the spine, hips, and legs and tones the abdomen and abdominal organs. As you grow more flexible, dispense with the belt and the blanket.
How to Do It:
1. Sit on the floor, with a folded blanket under your hips and your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right leg and rest the sole of your right foot on your left groin. Wrap a belt or strap around the ball of your left foot.
2. Inhale and lengthen your torso, pulling up from the waist, letting your sternum rise. Press your shoulder blades down.
3. Exhale and fold forward, leading with the sternum and rotating to the left in order to center your torso over your straight left leg. Allow your pelvis to rotate forward with the spine in a straight line. Don't curve the upper back as you reach forward. Performing these actions properly will help prevent SI joint injury. If you feel pain or discomfort in your back or leg, bend your left leg as much as necessary to alleviate it. Never force yourself.
4. Inhale and elongate the spine, lengthening your torso forward. Exhale and stretch to your edge, the point beyond which you would feel discomfort. Work up to holding for 2 or 3 breaths.
5. Inhale and come up slowly. Repeat on the other side.
What It Does: It exercises the external and internal oblique muscles and strengthens the abdominal wall. It also stretches the rotator muscles of the outer hips, and this enhances the proper functioning of the sacroiliac joint.
How to Do It:
1. Lie on your back, knees pulled in toward your chest. Keep your lower back in contact with the floor. Straighten your arms out to the sides in a T position at shoulder level, palms down.
2. Exhale. Keeping your knees together, slowly lower them to the right while keeping your shoulders in contact with the floor. Touch the floor with the outside of your right foot. Gaze toward your left hand.
3. Relax for 3 full breaths.
4. Inhale; then use your abdominal muscles and raise your knees back to starting
position. 5. Repeat on the left side.
6. Repeat for 2 more cycles.
What It Does: It tones and strengthens your abdominal muscles, bringing them into balance with your back muscles.
How to Do It:
1. Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. With your hands, hold the backs of your thighs, close to your knees.
2. Lean back, lifting your legs so your calves are parallel to the floor. Balance on your sit bones.
3. Inhale, then exhale. Now straighten your arms forward, parallel to the floor, palms facing each other. If this is too difficult, hold the backs of your thighs with your hands. Draw your navel back toward your spine. Work up to holding this pose for 30 seconds. Balance and breathe!
4. Exhale and bring your feet to the floor.
5. Repeat 3 times.
What It Does: This is a complementary pose to develop a perfect balance of abdominal and back strength and suppleness. It strengthens and stabilizes the sacroiliac joint and lower back.
How to Do It:
1. Lie on your back, arms along your sides, your palms down. Bend both knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
2. Tilt your pelvis, pressing the small of your back gently to the floor. Inhale. Now slowly exhale as you raise your hips, then your back, one vertebra at a time, to the middle of the shoulders (building a bridge). Stabilize by pressing down on your heels. Tighten your buttocks and tilt your pelvis under. Hold for 6 seconds.
3. Exhaling slowly, lower your spine to the floor, one vertebra at a time.
What It Does: It improves posture by developing flexibility in the chest, shoulders, upper back, hips, and legs. It helps to correct rounded shoulders.
How to Do It:
1. Begin seated, with legs extended in front of you. Cross your bent right knee over your left leg so that your right foot rests beside your left hip. Rocking back on your sit bones, bend your left leg so that your left foot rests beside your right hip. Now raise your right arm overhead and reach behind you as if to scratch your back. Reach your left arm behind your back, hand pointing up. Clasp your hands firmly between your shoulder blades. (If you can't clasp hands, hold one end of a towel or strap with your left hand and grab the other end with your right hand. Gradually work your hands closer together on the towel.)
2. Keep your head erect, feel the stretch, and hold the pose for 3 slow, deep breaths.
3. Unclasp your hands, straighten your legs, and repeat on the other side.
What It Does: It strengthens the back -- especially the erector spinae muscles -- and the leg hamstrings. It improves posture by reducing rounding of the upper back. Doing this pose will also help individuals suffering from scoliosis. You may want to practice this on a mat with a neatly folded blanket or some padding underneath your chest, abdomen, and hips.
How to Do It:
1. Lie face down on the mat with your arms stretched down along your sides, your palms turned up, and your forehead on the floor.
2. Inhale, raise your arms upward, and lift your chest, keeping your gaze toward the floor. Reach your hands toward your toes. To protect your lower back, pull your abdomen in and tuck your pelvis under; tighten your buttocks and keep both hips firmly on the mat. Hold for 3 seconds.
3. Exhale, lowering your chest and arms to the mat.
4. Repeat the entire exercise twice.
Modified Spread-Leg Forward Bend
(Modified Prasarita Pada Uttanasana)
What It Does: Performed with a block, this will help release and stretch tight hips; hamstrings, and abdominals as well as prevent lower-back strain. Use an appropriately sized block or similar prop that suits your flexibility needs or limitations. As you grow stronger and more flexible, replace the block with a book, until you can comfortably reach the floor with your hands.
How to Do It:
1. Place the block about 1 foot in front of you between your widespread legs (your feet should be 3 to 4 feet apart).
2. Inhale, then exhale, folding forward from the hips and placing your hands on the block. Pull your abdomen in.
3. Hang comfortably for 6 to 8 breaths.
4. Come to standing, pulling your abdominals in.
Copyright © 2003 by Elaine Gavalas