It would be remiss to constantly sing the healing praises of yoga without being real enough to address the fact that as much power as it has to heal, it has the power to hurt as well. Of course, let’s be clear, this is dependent on the driver of the yoga vehicle, not the yoga itself. Negligent drivers cause collisions, not negligent cars. You follow?
I confess I’ve been a negligent yogi at times throughout the years resulting in my injury, and I think most of us with a history of practice can say the same if we’re being quite honest. How does that happen? Well, most of my spiritual teachers would likely pin it on that big, little three-letter-word, E-G-O. And, you know, for myself, I think that’s exactly right. I get caught up in my desire for achievement, often disguised by my ego mind as “deepening my practice”, and I lose my awareness of my boundaries, I go too far, and I hurt myself.
I can say that I’ve gotten much better about keeping my awareness strong in regards to how deep I should go in my asana practice, largely due to being clear about my intention, but I admit there was one particular injury that was the catalyst for this personal growth. The mud that nurtured my lotus.
Handstands, y’all. Handstands! So fun. But too fun. Too much fun when you do them without properly warming up and you have little core strength to protect your spine from injury. And then your roommate comes home and says, ooh, looks fun, I’ll play too! So you keep flailing your body upside down because it’s fun and the ego mind is all like, yeah, look at you getting “better” at this! Finally, after an hour of this you decide to tap out because you start to hear your body say, um, ow? And the next day you realize, oh no, I totally overdid it. And then the next few wintry months you get to sit with the residual pain and reflect on having awareness and intention in your practice! That’s the very concise backstory of how I injured myself with handstands and ego.
I hope you see how it wasn’t the practice itself, but the practitioner that was posing the danger. And where was the trigger for that negligent practicing? In the mind.
“Calming the mind is yoga. Not just standing on the head.”
Oh, Swami Satchidananda, how right you are. Indeed, this is as much, no, I daresay more important than the asana practice of yoga. Without our minds in a state of calm and peace, we risk injury to ourselves and to others through our thoughts and actions that inform our decisions and behaviors.
If you find yourself in a space of pain or recovery, I encourage you to have patience with yourself and with your ego mind. It is often the voice that drowns out the intuitive intelligence of our body that knows to inform us of our limits, of how much is enough for today. The ego mind so often tricks us into believing all the “shoulds” of our lives and practice. Create space to be the witness of your thoughts, to hear the voice of your intuition, and to practice patience for these innate abilities to strengthen with time and practice.
Be kind to yourself in your healing and also in your strengthening. And make sure your head is right before you try standing on it.
TRAINING TYPE: FLOW SEQUENCE
PLANNED TIME:20 MINUTES
Safe Yoga Poses For Spine Conditions
Due to the extensive number of poses that fold the spine, practicing yoga with a disc problem can prove more challenging than with other conditions and it’s extremely important to be aware of what helps and what hurts disc pain. The beauty of a yoga practice is its ability to adapt to and support the needs of any practitioner. In this video, we’ll take a look at six essential poses that are safe for practicing with disc problems. These postures will strengthen the hamstrings and back muscles to support a healthy spine, relieving existing pain and preventing future injury.
Yoga For Disc Problem Infographic
Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose - Supta Padangusthasana
For the first pose you will need a strap, so be sure to have one nearby.
From a seated position with the knees and heels bent to one side of the body, stretch the opposite arm out on the mat for support as you slowly recline down to the mat. Roll onto your back with legs extended out in front of the body.
Bend the right knee and lift the foot so the shin is parallel to the floor. Hook your strap around the foot holding one side of the strap in each hand. Make sure the left foot is flexed and the left leg is actively engaged. Press the right heel away from the body, extending the leg as much as possible without reaching a point of discomfort. Pull the strap closer to the chest to support this stretch in the back of the leg, bringing the foot closer to the sky. Make sure the lower back remains flat against the floor. Breathe deeply into the hamstring, groin, and the lower back. Hold for five breaths. Gently lower the right leg with support from the strap. Repeat on the left side.
Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend - Upavishta Konasana
Our next posture will be a supported wide-leg forward fold. Folds can be very irritating for herniated or slipped discs, so we want to shorten the fold by bringing the floor closer to the torso. To do this you can use a bolster, blocks or folded blankets.
From sitting, open the legs as wide as possible with the toes and knee caps pointing to the sky. Place the bolster, blocks or blankets in front of the body between the legs so you’ll be able to rest the weight of the torso on them.
Reach the arms above the head on an inhale. As you exhale, reach the finger tips forward, extending and hinging from the hips. Be very careful not to collapse the upper back or round the lower back. Reach forward with the fingertips until the the spine begins to want to round. When this happens, bring the hands to the ground to support the torso as you lower it down to the prop. Allow the body to rest here, rotating the tops of the thighs outward from the hip joints, anchoring through the sit bones. Breathe here for five breaths. Come out of the posture using the hands to support the movement.
Crocodile Pose - Makarasana
Crocodile pose is an extremely simple, yet extremely restorative pose that relaxes the entire body and calms the mind. It is one of the best postures for opening the diaphragm and supporting deep quality breathing, which of course helps to expand and relax tension throughout the body. This posture is one of the best for assisting with pain in the spine.
To do the posture, lie down on the belly with the legs fully extended and opened as wide as or a little wider than the hips. Bring the hands together under the face and rest the forehead on the backs of the hands. By elevating the head the chest is able to lift enough to expand the diaphragm. Feel the weight of the pelvis anchoring to the floor and releasing tension in the lower back. Maintain this posture for five to ten minutes, breathing deeply and concentrating the breath on any areas of pain. Allow each inhale to create space and each exhale to find ease.
Baby Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana
Cobra is another great posture for safely strengthening the spine without causing more injury or pain to discs. To practice cobra lie facedown on the mat and bring the hands just beneath the shoulders. Press into the tops of the feet and anchor through the pelvis. Inhale and press into the palms, pushing away from the mat, lifting the gaze. The elbows draw towards each other behind the body and we find a small back bend in the upper back. With control, lower the body down and rest one cheek to the mat. Relax the body and breathe. Repeat the posture three to five times focusing on drawing strength from the support of the arms, shoulders and chest.
Bridge Pose with Block - Setu Bandhasana
Supported bridge pose is another fantastic posture for strengthening the hips and muscles that support the spine. For this posture you’ll need one block.
Lying on your back with knees bent, place the block on its middle setting under the tailbone. Bring the heels close to the buttocks with the feet as wide as the hips. Press into the feet and palms engaging the muscles in the legs and the back. Breathe into the chest and upper back, hips and lower back. Hold the posture two to three minutes. Adjust the block as needed.
Supported Corpse Pose - Shavasana
For a supported corpse pose, place a bolster or folded blankets beneath the knees. This releases tension from the lower back and allows the lower back to rest comfortably against the floor. Practice this daily with concentrated breathing on any areas of pain or tension
Camel Pose - Ustrasana
Featured Video: Yoga For Disc Problem
Yoga for Herniated Disc Sciatica
If you are dealing with a herniated disc and sciatica, you’re certainly not alone. According to University of Michigan Health, sciatica is the most common symptom of a herniated disc in the low back.
When practicing yoga with a herniated disc and sciatica, it’s extremely important to be mindful of the shape of your body throughout your practice. While it may seem like an obvious solution to stretch the spine as much as possible to relieve pain, this should absolutely be avoided. Postures that bend the spine and create flexion add more stress on the disc and result in more aggravation or injury. Avoid poses that require you to round your back or bend the torso beyond ninety degrees to the legs.
A safe place to put your focus is on lengthening and strengthening the backs of the legs. Weak hamstrings are often the culprit of lower back pain and injury, but luckily, even with a herniated disc or sciatica, you’re in good shape to practice leg strengthening postures.
Try connecting with your Warrior I pose to build strength in the legs and stretch the hamstrings. Find your own space of ease and stamina in this pose; play around with the position of your arms, bringing them overhead, to the waist or behind the back. Remember to keep the spine tall by lifting through the chest and sinking the tailbone down.
Yoga for Herniated Disc in Neck
Mayo Clinic has determined that neck pain is among the top five leading causes of disability in the world. An injury to the neck like a slipped or herniated disc can certainly pose debilitating pain or range of motion, potentially resulting in lifestyle accommodations. When treating this condition it’s important to always be aware of what’s going on in the body and honor the range of motion available to you in any particular moment, even in the absence of pain.
Remember to listen for the voice of your intuition beyond the shouts of the ego that tend to push you towards achievement. Remember that “Calming the mind is yoga. Not just standing on the head.”
A perfect posture for relieving the neck and calming the mind is Makarasana, Crocodile Pose. While it may look as though not much is happening in this posture, the truth is this restorative pose offers a lot of benefits. With forehead resting on the backs of the hands, Crocodile gently stretches the neck and top of the spine. The chest opens and lifts so that the diaphragm is able to completely expand. Staying in this posture for a few minutes while breathing deeply will circulate oxygen throughout the entire body, calm the mind and massage the organs of the lower torso.Try connecting with your Warrior I pose to build strength in the legs and stretch the hamstrings. Find your own space of ease and stamina in this pose; play around with the position of your arms, bringing them overhead, to the waist or behind the back. Remember to keep the spine tall by lifting through the chest and sinking the tailbone down.
Yoga for Thoracic Herniated Disc
For a pose that is toning for the entire body and safe to practice with a herniated disc, connect to your inner goddess with Utkatakonasana, Goddess Pose. The sanskrit name translates to powerful angle pose, and it is the essence of our inner power that we connect with this posture. As simple as it may look, spend a few moments in this power stance and you will feel the challenge it offers, strengthening the tops of the legs and arms and shoulders. Sinking into the pose will deepen the stretch in the groins, opening the hips. Alternatively lifting one heel at a time will add even more heat to the muscle burning in the legs.
For an easy, can-do, full body workout, spend a few minutes in goddess pose everyday. It stretches, strengthens and tones the arms, shoulders and legs, safely offering the spine the support it needs without threatening any injury.
If you are continuing to practice yoga with disc pain, proceed with awareness and caution, listening to the body. Since many problems associated with herniated or slipped discs are often related to tightness in the hamstrings, focus on stretching and strengthening the backs of the legs through supported postures, without needing to fold the spine. Postures like Crocodile, Cobra and Supported Bridge are ideal for increasing muscle strength throughout the torso, while protecting the spine. Always use the breath to connect to the body, to expand space in the muscles, and to find ease and relaxation in the postures.
Hillary is a natural-born wanderer and wonderer. A digital nomad and pilgrim of the heart, she often feels herself a poster child of the Spiritual Millennial. As a writer, health coach and yoga instructor Read More..