Yoga for Back Pain: How to De-Stress Your Back and Neck
Most of us spend most of our days hunched over a keyboard. When we leave work, we hunch over a steering wheel. They we get home and hunch over a cutting board. You get the idea. We spend a whole lot of our lives bending forward, often to the detriment of our neck and shoulders.
Yoga has many antidotes for this, of course. Twisting, side bending and back bending all help to loosen up our beleaguered upper bodies. I often recommend to my students who suffer from neck and shoulder stiffness that they set a timer so that they can get up from their desks every 20 minutes or so and stretch a little in the opposite direction. This practice can work wonders—if you remember to do it.
It’s also very helpful to set aside time in your asana practice to give your neck, chest and shoulders a little TLC. I especially enjoy neck, chest and shoulder expanders that allow me to rest a while. Even though this might seem like a misunderstanding of the adjective I’m about to use, I find Restorative Yoga practice to be powerful.
How Restorative Yoga Can Help
It is powerful because when you allow your body to be supported, you can soften into the opening your props are creating. When you allow yourself to relax into a pose, rather than pushing into it, your nervous system can begin to move into its rest-and-digest side. When your nervous system relaxes, it allows soft tissue to … well … soften.
A good Sukasana Pillow—designed to be an easily portable meditation cushion—provides simple setup and an effective lumbar extension for a relaxing chest-expanding pose. The pillow is lightweight and compact, so you can take it to work with you. It’s a great way to spend a coffee break.
How to Take a Back Bend Break
Sit on a nonskid Yoga Mat. Place a Sukasana Pillow behind you a few inches from your buttocks. Recline to your elbows and adjust the Sukasana Pillow so that it’s under your lumbar. Lie back on the pillow. You may need to adjust the pillow up or down your back. When you feel comfortable, settle in and stay at least five minutes.
If you don’t feel comfortable, it may be that your spine is either on the shorter side, or that it may not be as mobile as some. If this is the case, the bend that the Sukasana Pillow makes in your spine may be too much. You can substitute a rolled up yoga blanket, adjusting the size of the roll to fit your back by rolling it up entirely for a thicker roll, or unrolling it to the size that feels best.
If your Sukasana cushion feels a bit too thick for your spine, but you’d like to use it anyway, the easiest way to modify is to fold a yoga blanket to about three to four inches thick and place it under your pelvis before lying on the Sukasana Pillow.
You could also try reducing the thickness by removing some of the filling. Many Sukasana Pillows are filled with organic buckwheat hulls. You can pour some of the hulls out into a container and refill the cushion after you’ve used it for your backbend. Pouring the filling into a pitcher will make it easy to refill the cushion when you’re finished.
Another insightful YogaUOnline article on Yoga for Back Pain.
Charlotte Bell began practicing yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. She was certified by B.K.S. Iyengar in 1989 following a trip to Pune. In 1986, she began practicing Insight Meditation with her mentors Pujari and Abhilasha Keays. Her asana classes blend mindfulness with physical movement. Charlotte writes a column for Catalyst Magazine, and is the author of two books: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. She also edits Hugger Mugger Yoga Products¹ blog and is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, she plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and the folk sextet Red Rock Rondo whose 2010 PBS music special won two Emmys.