Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Yoga Exercises for Preventing Back Pain 

preventing back pain
By Faye Martins

The human back is a miraculous assembly of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves. Backs should be both incredibly strong and supremely flexible at the same time. The back supports the whole body from the neck, through the upper back into the lower and then to the bottom of the spine. We use it for every single movement we make. If your back is hurting nothing seems to go right. Your back is the entire support system for your body and keeping it strong and supple is important for your overall wellbeing.

“You’re only as young as your spine is flexible,” this quote was said repeatedly by Richard Hittleman in his 1970s PBS television series, “Yoga For Health.” He was one of the first people to bring the ancient science of yogic methodology into living rooms across the United States. Now, 50 years later, yoga has mushroomed into a movement of health and spirituality practiced by millions of people at all levels of adeptness. Yoga is one methodology that focuses attention on the back. There are many postures or asanas that strengthen it and keep it supple. Once you know the basic movements yoga is a gentle way to wake up in the morning, stretch after sitting or to wind down after a hectic day. 

The entire body benefits from these traditional yogic asanas. From the head to the feet, there is a beneficial posture. Yoga is inclusive, benefiting the whole body. But sometimes our backs need special attention. Here are some classic yogic exercises that can strengthen, stretch and tone your back to prevent pain and to ensure you can move and play at will.

Cat/Cow pose – This exercise is done on the hands and knees. The stretching and curving in this asana helps slowly and surely to work out the kinks in your back.

Downward Facing Dog – Getting into this triangular pose is a great stress reliever. Holding this position helps your back relax and let go of tightness. This inverted posture allows blood to flow into the head while at the same time it stretches the back muscles.

Cobra/Locust/Bow – These three complementary movements are centered on strengthening the back. You alternately tense and rest the muscles and ligaments that support the spine. This is an advanced posture so go easy and rest in between. The Cobra/Locust/Bow is yoga at its finest.

Head to Knee Forward Bend (Also known as alternate Leg Stretches) - This is a wonderful asana that may take you years to master, but every time you do it your back will benefit.

Spinal Twist – this was the exercise Richard Hittleman suggested most often to bolster the back. He unfailingly emphasized the importance of a supple spine.

There are many more yogic asanas that can help tone, strengthen and stretch out the important bones and muscles of our back. Attending a yoga class is a great way to learn this valuable tool to back health. Regular yoga classes can teach you the proper way to do the postures and connect you with other people who are interested in not only the physical but also the emotional and spiritual components of this five thousand year old practice. Once you learn the postures you can practice at home so that you are helping yourself stay young and fit every day.

Our modern lives are busy and filled with much sitting around and lots of stressors. Our bodies and especially our backs take that inactivity and stress and do their best to keep us going. The wise and ancient practice of yoga can help keep our backs limber and our spirit strong.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Conflicting Yoga Teacher Instructions - “But Another Instructor Told Me…”

valued guidance
By Kathryn Boland

Have you ever had an instructor give you guidance that conflicts with what another has told you? Have you ever had a student tell you that you’re doing that, or learned something in your continuing education that contradicts what you’ve previously learned? A strength of the yoga world is our multiple perspectives and styles of practice.

Less advantageous is the blatant misinformation that some teachers put forth, most often because they were not taught the facts. With no ill-will, they pass on non-truths to the next generation of practitioners. This diversity of thought and poor teacher training combines to have some teachers telling students one thing, and them hearing contradictory information from other teachers. How does one know which teacher’s guidance to follow? Aspects such as cultural respect for teachers, class dynamics, and unique medical conditions complicate the situation. 
This issue surfaced for me most recently with a teacher correcting my weight-bearing hand placement (used in Down Dog, but also in Tabletop, Plank, and numerous more advanced arm balances). I had adjusted to this placement after a workshop in which a teacher advised me to do so because of the anatomy of my shoulder girdle and arms. I trusted the in-depth conclusion, and subsequent change, that we then made.

I also trusted and valued the guidance of the latter teacher. And I didn’t want to offer an in-depth explanation in the midst of class, nor not do what she was asking without giving that explanation. I made the change, and it didn’t feel right for my body. For a second I thought “Well, I can just practice this way when I’m in her class….” But a wiser part of me asked “But what’s right for your practice?” I then switched back to the hand placement that she had corrected. I spoke with her on the matter after class, and her response was curiosity - a slightly scrunched face, raised eyebrows and a “Hmmm….”. She was learning something.
A second instance illustrates this type of situation. Several instructors would often give an instruction for a certain stance in the legs in Warrior I Pose. I also received this instruction personally, and rather assuredly, one class. Both these things together, I took this instruction mainly as a universal given (which, when thinking deeper along with my knowledge and experience as an instructor, only exist in a few select places).
Then another instructor, one class, told me that “you don’t need to do that…so don’t”. In a different class, another instructor told me that I can practice Standing Forward Fold with straight legs. Though I might a make certain argument against that point, I appreciated her attempt to explain why this was so for me - because my “low back is flat as [I] fold forward.” The prior instructor, with the instruction on Warrior I, did not offer any such explanation. I feel much more assured, as a practitioner, in going forward with the instruction with which I received some explanatory context.

I suspect that many students face similar dilemmas. I’ve heard differing views from separate instructors on more instances than these, and something tells me that I can’t be the only one. I also have vague recollections of fellow yogis saying things like “Well this teacher told me this, but then another told me that, so I’m confused….”. I myself have had more experienced instructors correct misconceptions with which I was teaching. I therefore likely confused some students - again, not out of ill-will, but because of lack of experience and understanding.

Yoga practice is so multifaceted, we can’t be faulted for not getting it all perfectly understood right out of 200-hour teacher training. It’s a lifelong journey of growth and discovery. But, to avoid confusing students further, we must be open to learning new facts and accepting that we could have been mistaken. We must be diligent about continuing education, studying under great teachers, and maintaining our own practices. We owe it to ourselves, and to our students who trust us with their minds, bodies, and spirits. Shanti, dear readers.

© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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