If you’ve never experienced low back pain, consider yourself lucky. (And then, knock on wood.)
You see, around 75% of the adult population HAS – and I’m not talking about those who practice yoga. It’s a “thing” and not a yoga “thing.”
It comes up in yoga a lot, though. Mostly around backbends though honestly, the way we forward bend can often be more to blame. But lets just stick with backbends for now. Because that’s usually where we get scared our body either completely seizes up or totally collapses.
Luckily, there doesn’t have to be an either/or. We have lots of gray to research and learn. But before we get started, lets get something clear: We are NOT going all the way. Now that THAT silly business is out of the way…
All the postures ask that we create what I like to think of as a taut body – rather than a tight one. Meaning, “tight from being pulled or stretched: not loose or slack.” Kind of like the way a bicycle chain works, right? If one of the chains comes off, it effects the WHOLE chain not just the part that has given way.
I think of our body as just a bunch of bicycle chains that all need to be kept on track and taut. Basically, I like to think of the legs as one set, the torso up through the head as another and the shoulders down through the arms as two more, respectively. And in each one, there is a typical weak link: for the legs, it’s the knees; for the torso, it’s the low back; and for the arms, it’s the shoulders. Unfortunately in backbends, it’s often around the low back that we will experience the pain perhaps because of it’s location in the middle of the body or maybe because it is already so vulnerable based on design.
Either way, it’s so important that the other two links get neither off track or slack, thereby allowing both parts to collapse in the middle. Here’s how:
1. The knees: The knees are the most likely to go slack. Yes, they bend. And yes, they WILL bend. But you don’t bend them. Let me say this another way – they WILL bend but not because YOU bent them. They are constantly trying NOT to bend. The resistance of the front legs pushing back as the back legs push forward sends the energy UP the legs – and UP the body.
2. The shoulders: The shoulders are the most likely to go off track. It’s not an uncommon trait for us to have strong shoulders and tight shoulders. Especially, in Ashtanga. So those of you new to this game, the way to remedy this is a daily yoga practice. Dropping yourself back onto misaligned shoulders, no matter how strong, is poisonous.
Take a look at the photo below. In order to get David out of his low back, and knowing we were NOT going all the way – David was able to maintain his shoulders into the back by bending the arms behind him. And just to make sure they stayed taut and put to good use at the same time …
3. The low back: David placed his thumbs right below the spot that goes crunch on the sacrum and drew his coccyx down and slightly forward (and energetically, up). This gave his low back space but also initiated the alignment that will give aid to the elusive mula bandha – the ultimate low back protector.
Imagine for a second that all these chains are now working – what gives it life is the breath. The breath not only moves along these chains but connects them. It’s drawn up all the way up and sent back down like it too is being pulled or stretched, not loose or slack and in fact, at some point, it feels like there are no separate chains at all – just one incredibly powerful one that pulls everything, from all sides away and towards the center. Whoa.
Ok, maybe put that idea aside for another day. In the meantime, lets get all those other chains working and give the low back (NOT) a break.