Chronic back pain is a significant public health problem in people of all ages that has reached epidemic proportions. It has proven very difficult to treat. There is not much except for pain killers or rest or surgery that modern day medicine can offer.
Multiple reasons are attributed to the cause of chronic back pain the primary being a lack of awareness of the correct posture and proper alignment of the body. Today’s lifestyle is also a major contributor to this ailment. Lack of physical activity, obesity, poor sleep, bowel problems etc are all contributors to chronic back pain issues.
Back pain is one of the most commonly reported reasons for the use of complementary and alternative medicine, yoga is one of the mainstays for the treatment of chronic back pain. Chronic pain in the spine is a musculoskeletal disorder. Low back pain is common and extensive research points to yoga as an effective solution. A carefully adapted set of yoga poses can help reduce pain and improve functionality.
One of the primary causes of back pain is muscle tension. Many people are tight in places that affect the spine, such as the hips and shoulders. As you work through yoga poses, your muscles stretch and loosen up in areas where they were previously tense. These are muscles you hardly stretches, and yoga provides an atmosphere to do so. Yoga stretches may be enough for people whose back pain is directly related to stress or poor posture. Yoga enhances both the toning of muscles and releasing of muscle tension.
Many different methods of Yoga exist and each has its own technique for preventing and treating the disease. This Iyengar method is based upon the teachings of the Yoga master BKS Iyengar called Guruji by his disciples. His intense personal practice and more than 60 years of teaching yoga have produced significant innovations. Among the most noteworthy is an emphasis on standing poses to develop strength, stability, stamina, concentration and body alignment. Iyengar Yoga uses props to facilitate learning and to adjust poses for those who are inflexible.
Guruji personally started practising yoga in his young days to recover from ill health. Later when he started teaching yoga his fame grew because of his ability to help people suffering from incurable & chronic diseases. Iyengar yoga thus became renowned for its therapeutic application. There have been published reports in medical journals about the benefits of Iyengar yoga which is the result of well-planned research studies quantifying the influence of Iyengar yoga practice for various disorders.
Iyengar Yoga is known in the world over for its ability to cure chronic health problems. I have a number of students who come to my class with the shifted spine, scoliosis etc. They see the benefits of regular practice within a month itself. Just recently a student came to my class complaining of severe back pain. His spine had shifted. Within a week of practice, there was a considerable improvement.
Iyengar yoga puts the focus on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama). The development of strength, mobility and stability is gained through these asanas. Iyengar yoga is considered to be therapeutic. The Iyengar method uses supportive props and sequences of postures to address an individual’s medical issues.
Iyengar yoga is regarded as a safe method and a therapy that provides a wide range of benefits. Among the innumerable yoga asanas, there are some, which work especially on the spine. These asanas help in relaxing the tight muscles, reducing the tension and strengthening them. All postures must be performed in a very consciously aware manner that is appreciative of the intricacy of each movement.
The below-listed yoga postures have been identified as common specific asanas designated to reduce spinal pain (back and neck):
- Tadasana – Mountain pose and various arm/shoulder positions
- Ardha Uttanasana – Half forward bend to wall or ledge
- Chair Bharadvajasana – Seated chair twist
- Adho Mukho Virasana – Downward-facing hero pose
- Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward-facing dog pose
- Utthita Trikonasana – Extended triangle pose
- Virabhadasana II – Warrior pose II
- Utthita Parsvakonasana – Extended side angle pose
- Prasarita Padottanasana – Intense leg stretch
- Supta Padangustasana – Reclining big toe (and variations)
- Prone Savasana – Lying prone corpse pose (with weights)
- Supta Pavanamuktasana – Lying both knees to chest pose
- Supta Savasana – Lying supine corpse pose.
It is important to note that the postures as such are not the most important aspect of a good yoga program; more important is the way in which they are performed according to individualised modifications and using appropriate props. An experienced yoga teacher can instruct how beginners should perform this specialised yoga for safety and efficacy.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the practice of yoga can decrease pain and increase functional ability in patients with spinal pain.
Inputs by Jai Kumar Pillay, a senior Iyengar yoga therapy teacher in Mumbai with more than 20 years of experience. Having trained under BKS Iyengar himself, Jai Kumar specialises in therapy training for chronic ailments such as spine & knee problems.