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Angela Stevens

Help Yourself
to a Healthy Back

« ...continued from page 1

When considering back problems, we should look at the whole person. It is more widely accepted now that the mind can have a profound effect on the physical body, or vice versa. There is such a condition as "an emotional back". To say that some back problems can often be alleviated just by learning to breathe properly may seem odd to the average person, but it is so. If we are not breathing properly we are not using the diaphragm muscle adequately; this is one of the largest muscles in the body but the one that we perhaps neglect the most as we cannot feel it easily. If the diaphragm is rigid the lumbar arch is pulled up and the lumbar muscles tighten. Learn to breathe correctly and this area of the back responds. But don't take my word for it try it for yourself!

One thing I would stress is - don't be afraid to use your back. So often, when we have a problem we think we are protecting the problem area by tightening up around it. This is, of course, having the opposite effect; if you tighten up you are preventing blood from flowing into that area thereby hindering the healing process. With care, exercise your back wisely and learn to relax it, so allowing the blood flow into the area for the healing to take place. I know that if I had not exercised my back I would now be permanently locked and immobile.

When considering the support of the spine, it is important that a balance is kept between flexibility and strength. There is no virtue in being flexible if you are not also strong. Don't go in for harsh exercise; Yoga is as gentle or as strong as you want it to be; it stimulates the flow of synovial fluid in joints whereas some forms of exercise can be too harsh for the lower back and often result in joint fluids drying up.

We have the natural inward/outward curving S bends in the spine to help us cope with balance and poise. When the weight is thrown forward on to the feet lordosis, an exaggerated inward curve in the lumbar area, often results. If the weight is pushed back more into the heels, the pelvis is often pushed unnaturally back and the shoulders become rounded. If the weight is balanced between the feet and in the centre of the feet - under the ankles - then the S bends in the spine are correctly balanced resulting in correct posture. When this is achieved the body can feel almost weightless. Problems can occur if the S bends are lateral, as in my own case. In later life I had an operation on my left big toe joint and when I analysed why this should have happened only to my left foot, I realised that with a curve between the shoulder blades, I had been putting strain on the left hip, which in turn put more strain on to the right knee, which resulted in all the load in my body culminating in my left foot - the body once again compensating for its load.

If you are unable to attend a class and would like to practise at home on your own, I have a CD, which I have produced as a result of the years of back experience. One side is practised in an upright sitting position and includes the importance of good posture when considering health of the back generally, techniques of basic correct breathing, simple exercises for mobilising and strengthening mainly the upper part of the back, gentle movements for the spine, taking it carefully through its full range of movement in a very simple way. The second side is practised on the floor and emphasises more the lower part of the back, more for the strengthening of the back, more flexibility movements for the spine and joints, breathing and relaxation techniques. Remember that if you have lower back problems, you should not just deal with that localised part of the back. An osteopath will often treat the neck for lower back problems - the whole 'pole' of the spine should be taken into account; Yoga works similarly. The CD encourages you to work to your own ability, gradually increasing your ability to exercise. Also included in the package are accompanying notes, which outline the contents of the tape in more detail.
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