I’m expected to answer this in the affirmative seeing as I teach yoga. But I really have to be honest here. As a qualified and experienced yoga instructor I’ve been passionate about yoga for decades and it is, quite honestly, my obsession. But is it good for my back?
You see most yoga exercises are based on the idea that the spine is meant to flex. And it’s true that a healthy spine should be able to flow with ease through a full range of motion without catching. However, your spine is not meant to be overly flexible. Those amazing positions yoga practitioners and dancers push their bodies into are often inviting tissue inflammation, disc compression and injury. And let’s face it, even though the teacher says “listen to your body”, we are all by nature more than a bit competitive. We think that by going further, pushing harder, reaching higher we’ll get there! But often all we get is a soft tissue injury.
So what’s the answer? And I have to say I learned this the hard way after years of pain with a lower back injury. I was devastated when I eventually had to give up most of my yoga practise because I finally had to admit that it just made it worse. My practice was reduced to a couple of exercises that worked to ease the nagging nerve pain in my lower back. I learned so much about how back pain narrows your life down to a few safe activities, saps your energy, how it can delete your confidence and just how scary that is.
If we hang onto this attitude of achievement we run into problems, we sacrifice the body for the pose. When you do your practise, even in a class situation, be mindful of your lumbar curve, and if you are experiencing twinges definitely avoid flexing your spine. That is, bending forward and bowing your back. When you bend forward learn to hinge from the hip joint keeping your lumbar curve. It’s in that striving to reach our toes that we too easily exacerbate back problems. Forget your toes! Stay with your spine and what it needs. Take it easy, don’t aggressively push your body into positions, and above all remember yoga is not a competition.
Most of has have dysfunctional patterns of movement and poor postural habits. Our body signature. And we inevitably bring these same habits into our exercise routine.
In fact the majority of people who exercise to get fit experience injury and suffer inflammation and often chronic pain. What’s missing is our understanding of what systems in our body create stability and support for all of the body’s systems so that we can avoid theses injuries. The old mantra of no pain no gain is generally understood these days to be outdated. I see so many clients weekly with sports injuries who have chronic inflammation, postural issues, and injuries caused by poor movement habits. We often suffer in silence. After all isn’t exercise meant to be good for you? Maybe if I just get that difficult exercise exactly right all will be well. Or maybe I shouldn’t be so lazy….maybe I should do more!
Because our postural habits over a lifetime of misuse create many areas of tightness through the Myofascial System I have found integrating an understanding of the Myofascia and it’s role in supporting our structure to to be highly effective in both preventing and treating chronic pain.
Myofascia is the dense, tough tissue which surrounds and covers all of your muscles and bones. This outer fascial covering is very strong and very flexible. It actually has a tensile strength of over 2000 pounds. At the microscopic level myofascia resembles a spider web or fairy floss. It is very flexible when healthy and is often called the Myofascial Web which runs from the top of your head to the bottom of your toes. It is continuous, has no beginning or end and can be found almost everywhere in your body. It is like a continuous weave of material and, like a pulled thread, damage to one area of Myofascia can effect other quite distant areas in your body.
In it’s healthy state your fascia is relaxed and soft and has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. When you experience physical trauma or inflammation your fascia loses its pliability. It can become tight, restricted and a source of tension throughout the rest of the body. Healthy Myofascia helps to maintain good posture, range of motion and flexibility. It also gives your body strength and helps you deal with stress and injuries.
We know our alignment and posture contribute to overall health and our ability to avoid injury. Good posture will place a lot less strain on your spine when you engage in sports and daily activities like lifting little ones, carrying shopping, driving your car! On the other hand poor posture decreases your joint flexibility and causes discomfort when you move. Your poor postural habits are most likely a big contributor to your back pain and can lead to increased risk of injury. And your Myofascial fitness is the key to supporting your whole structure, all your body’s systems and keeping your body hydrated and pain free. I’ll be talking more about how you can effectively release these restrictions and change unconscious movement habits next time.
Lai Morris is a Yoga Instructor & Bodyworker who is on a mission to empower back pain sufferers to re-educate their body to be balanced and pain free. She is equally passionate about promoting health and wellbeing through Myofascial Therapies. She is an experienced therapist and works with small groups and individuals educating people on how to change their movement patterns and improve their Myofascial fitness.