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Yoga for Back Pain

Andrea the Yogi

back pain is a pain

Many of us in the modern age suffer from some type of back pain. Never before in history have we had access to as much technology. This leads to desk jobs and poor posture. We spend a lot of time in a flexed posture looking at our phones or a computer. This leads to back and neck pain. 

Now we know why we have the pain, but what can we do about it? You might be asking yourself this question. Boy, do I have the answer for you. YOGA!

how to sit and how not to sit

That is right: Yoga. Many yoga poses emphasize trunk extension. Since trunk extension is the opposite of a poor flexed posture, yoga works wonderfully to decrease back and neck pain. To visualize poor flexed posture, imagine your trunk in a “c” shape, instead of a healthier “I” shape or extension.  

Let’s talk about some yoga poses that help promote trunk extension. In my post Good Morning Yoga”  we discussed the benefits of the cat/cow pose. To recap, cat/cow typically is done in tabletop pose and moves through trunk flexion and extension which promote spinal and hip strength, flexibility, and circulation. 

 Cobra pose

Sphinx and cobra poses are back extension poses. They are both done in a prone position, which is lying on your stomach. Using core strength with the assistance of both arms you lift your trunk off the floor leaving your hips and lower body connected to the ground. The sphinx pose is a general strength pose. Cobra is a more intense stretching pose with an increase in trunk extension (Lifting higher off the ground). I like to start out with a sphinx pose to warm up my back and then if you feel ready move to the cobra pose. 

Many yoga poses emphasize good posture with good trunk extension. Just to name a few: mount pose, warrior I, II, and tree pose are good trunk extension poses. Experiment with different poses to find what works best for you! Yoga is a journey, not a destination!  

Sanskrit Basics and Why it is Important

By Andrea the Yogi

image os Sanskrit

Picture this: you are at a yoga class, the teacher says some crazy words you’ve never heard, and magically everyone knows what to do! What was that? How did everyone know what to do?? Those “crazy words” were Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an ancient language that was used in India, and it is the parent language of the Indian languages.

Now we know what Sanskrit is, but why is it important? In short, using Sanskrit in our yoga practice is tradition. Oral traditions once passed down yoga; therefore, being able to correctly pronounce Sanskrit is essential for any serious student or teacher.

Some examples of important Sanskrit words we all should know:

  • Asana – Asana means pose. Since we do poses in yoga, we use asana as a suffix. A yoga pose is called something-asana
  • Namaste – Namaste is our greeting. Many yoga teachers end a class by saying “namaste” to say, “Thanks for coming; hope to see you soon.” While that is not a direct translation, it is the yogi’s way of saying hello and goodbye
  • Garuda – This means eagle. Using the suffix asana, we get Garudasana which translates to eagle pose. Many of the poses in yoga are named after animals, while others are body parts or a combination.

For a more in-depth look at Sanskrit, check out the book “The Language of Yoga” by Nicolai Backman. I especially love this book because it comes with 2 CDs so you can listen to the correct pronunciations. Go on and master the language!

Good Morning Yoga

Andrea the Yogi

sun salutation

Whether your morning starts at 5 am or 1 pm, we all have to wake up sometime. Many people, yogi or not, love working out in the morning. A morning workout has many benefits that include de-stressing, energizing for the day, and improved metabolism, strength, and flexibility.  Over the years of my yoga practice, I’ve found some yoga poses that I especially love to practice in the morning. 

Cat/Cow pose is one of my all-time favorites. There are numerous benefits to cat/cow which include increased flexibility and circulation of the hips and spine, and reduced back pain and stress. Cow/cat pose is typically done in the tabletop pose but can be modified to be done in almost any position. If you are not feeling an early morning tabletop pose, you can do cat/cow while seated or even lying down! 

Once you are a little warmed up, adding a couple of sun salutations to your morning workout is a great way to get the juices flowing! The benefits of sun salutations include a boost in energy, increased strength, flexibility, unwinding tension, and grounding of the mind. 

There are many other yoga poses that are great for a morning workout. I find the best ones are the ones your body tells you you need. Sometimes your body may end up surprising you when you really listen to yourself. 

Taking a Day Off

by Andrea the Yogi

let us relax

Exercise of any type has many benefits, but taking a day off to rest is equally as important. We have learned through scientific research the many benefits of a rest day helping our bodies recover. Our muscles actually get stronger when we rest. Our muscles are actually injured or damaged during a workout. When we rest, our bodies are given time to repair damages, and our muscles get stronger. It’s wild to think about the fact that we get stronger when resting. Our bodies do some amazing things.

We need to rest on our rest days for the reason described above. This means not doing our yoga practice. Yes, yoga can be slow and relaxing, but it is still a form of exercise. We are still asking our bodies to move and stretch. Yoga can be added to our workout as a cool down but never replace a rest day with it.

If we do not take a rest day, our bodies do not have time to repair physical damage. Instead, we can become mentally exhausted, leading to poor mental health. Continually skipping rest days can lead to severe injuries. Take a break, take a rest; you deserve it.

Yoga After a Knee Replacement

By Andrea the Yogi

“I’ve had a knee replacement, so my yoga days are over.”  WRONG!! “But I will never be able to kneel on my new knee again!” Also WRONG! Once getting cleared by your surgeon, yoga will do wonders for your knee replacement recovery. 

be active at any age

After your knee replacement, no one expects to gain full range of motion. Normally post-surgery we work towards 120 degrees of knee flexion (bend). This is hard work, but with determination it is possible. 

If your goal is to be able to kneel, we can work up to that! When I first started my yoga journey I attended class with a wonderful lady who had a knee replacement. She worked her way up to kneeling through yoga. It takes work but you too can do it! 

Once you are able to bend your knee at least 90 degrees you can begin your journey to kneeling (your doctor and therapist will tell you when you are ready.) The first step is working on building your tolerance to kneeling. This can be done by kneeling on a padded surface. There are many types of foam kneeling pads, and you can find one at your local craft store. In the beginning, we want a thicker pad to give more cushion. As you get more comfortable kneeling on thick foam, you can slowly decrease the thickness of the foam until you are able to kneel on just your yoga mat! While kneeling on your foam, experiment with different amounts of weight on your new knee. Eventually, you will be able to have your weight evenly on both knees. Just remember to take breaks. Your other joints are working hard, so give them a rest. 

If kneeling is not your goal or just doing it is uncomfortable, have no fear. Yoga is still for you. Any yoga pose can be modified! Just ask your yoga instructor for tips and modifications!

bend those knees

For the at-home practitioner, some simple kneeling modifications can include decreasing the weight on your knee or decreasing the bend of your knee. Modify kneeling poses like tabletop (Bharmanasana) by straightening your knee so your leg is in more of a push-up position. Take more pressure off your new knee by shifting your weight to your upper appendages: Forward to your arms, or to your nonsurgical side. Just remember to give those other joints rest. You may find you are gradually able to increase the bend in your knee! 

Most importantly, listen to your body. It will tell you what you can tolerate. Whether your goal is kneeling or being more healthy, yoga is for everyone!