Click here to read what you can do to make sure YOU don't get hurt in a yoga class.
If you're a woman and you practice yoga, you won't want to miss my latest blog post on HauberMethod.com. In it, I expand upon the important recent New York Times piece by William J. Broad, whose articles critiquing yoga's safety have been controversial and, in my opinion, much needed.
Click here to read what you can do to make sure YOU don't get hurt in a yoga class.
In my latest post on HauberMethod.com, my web site devoted to back-pain relief, I explain the relationship between tight hamstrings (which most of us have) and back pain (which most of us also have!).
In the free videos on that site, I demonstrate and explain in detail a vast number of great hamstring stretches and lower-back strengtheners. But in this particular blog post, I link to one of my favorite YouTube videos of all time: My favorite hamstring stretch for back-pain relief!
Check out my post, Tight Hamstrings and Back Pain, to get the goods.
Forward folding, in yoga class or out, puts the body in a position known as spinal flexion.
Why is it that most yoga teachers believe that spinal flexion helps alleviate back pain? Let's explore.
Flexion of the spine occurs when your rib cage rounds closer to your pelvis or thighs. In most yoga classes, flexion is achieved by performing common Forward Folds, such as Balasana (child's pose), Uttanasana (standing forward fold), and Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold).
However, there is no anatomical support for yoga teachers' choice to put students with low back pain immediately into a forward-folding position. Flexion does not alleviate dysfunction in most cases of low back pain. (Notable exceptions are the rare conditions spondylolisthesis and sponylolysis, affectionately known as "Spondy," in which vertebrae have fractured and slipped forward, as opposed to the much more common discs that protrude backward.)
A quick anatomy lesson: The spine and pelvis are meant to float slightly above the heads of the femur with the help of beautifully constructed soft tissue (tendons, ligaments, muscles, fascia, etc, etc.) that is designed to be flexible enough so that our legs are free to move us forward (think "walking"). But when we sit all day and have not ever used our deep abdominal support system effectively, our bodies simply collapse into our hip joints, which become tight and inflexible. Our lower back falls into flexion, losing its natural, anterior curve. The muscles of our hips (hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors) get shortened and tight, while the muscles of our back get stretched and weak.
A tight hip complex, and a low back that lacks stability, are directly implicated in most cases of back pain. Therefore, what the vast majority of low back-pain sufferers need is NOT, as you will frequently hear in yoga class, "space in the low back." There's too much space in the low back already; what the back is crying out for is strength--and space in the hips.
So why would most yoga teachers instruct back-pain students to do forward folds immediately at the beginning of class--and sometimes throughout class--without doing some serious back-strengtheners and hip-stretches first?
One reason: Lack of extensive training in, or experience with, functional anatomy. They've heard that space in the low back is good, so that's what they teach.
If you have back pain, please be careful with your yoga class selections. And watch my videos for the most effective ways to practice yoga without back pain.
You won't find crunches in most yoga classes (thankfully). But oftentimes yoga teachers will throw in something called "boat pose" (Navasana) to directly target the abdominal muscles.
I understand the desire to target the abs; everyone wants a nice set of abs and a strong core! But the problem with boat pose is this: It can be done incorrectly far too easily, and it can really hurt your back when it's done without proper form.
This very brief demo was shot last spring in Italy during one of my lovely yoga retreats. My guests wanted to know how to do boat pose without hurting their backs, and this little demo ensued.
When I say "When I look pudgy, that's a problem," I am directly referring to the fact that one should not slouch and flex the back so that one's belly becomes "pudgy" in the pose. The spine must be retained in neutral (see this page for complete instructions on how to do that) so that the deep core can engage, the hip flexors do not carry the whole burden of your body weight, and the tail bone is not pressed into the floor.
All in all, be very careful before you choose to engage in boat pose. If you typically have back pain, I do not recommed trying the pose until you've practiced deep core stabilizers like those I teach in the Hauber Method™ series for a few weeks, first.
If you're curious about joining my next yoga retreat, click here. I'd love to practice with you there!
Dandasana, or seated staff pose, is probably your least-favorite yoga pose if you have back pain, because your hamstrings (the backs of your legs) are likely really tight.
In this short video, recorded at one of my live workshops in Chicago, I demonstrate how to do the pose in such a way that you can protect your back from pain and get your hamstrings to stretch at the same time.
Warning: This is a very difficult pose if you do not already have awareness and strength in your deep core. For specific instructions on how to access and strengthen your deep core, see www.HauberMethod.com.
As many of you know, I began my career as a personal trainer who specialized in functional movement. I have chosen to maintain only one of the three major fitness certifications (ACSM, NASM, and ACE) that I earned early in my career, mainly because of its excellent educational resources for both professionals and their clients.
That organization is ACE, the American Council on Exercise. And today I was pleased to see in my Inbox the latest edition of ACE Certified News. In it are articles pertinent to fitness professionals of every ilk, and one of them stood out because of its relevance to my upcoming workshop in Chicago, Moving from Pain to Joy.
The premise of the ACE article, by Dr. Nicholas A. Nubile, is that stress--that ubiquitous, ethereal entity from which we all suffer--has a large part to play in people's experience of back pain. That fact is not new (I've directed you to masters in the "emotional pain" field since I started my first blog at SaraHauber.com). But what I like about the article is that 1) it's appearing in a fitness publication, and 2) it's so relevant to what I am teaching in my workshops. My understanding of emotions' role in back pain runs quite deep--I've experienced it personally and with my clients. And that understanding is what inspired me to create Moving from Pain to Joy in the first place.
The Hauber Method™ will teach you to do everything possible to get your core strong, your spine aligned, and your posture corrected so that you can prevent structural causes of pain. However, you must deal with your emotions (including stress) to completely eliminate chronic or recurring pain. The "bodymind" portion of The Hauber Method series is forthcoming, and my workshop on Saturday is just a tiny taste of my mind-body integration techniques.
This ACE article is also a great introduction. I encourage you to read it by clicking here. Then, if you can make it to Chicago on Saturday, June 23, come to Namaskar Yoga in Lakeview. Trust me when I say, your body AND your mind will thank you!
This piece by Elizabeth Landau on CNN.com is a beautiful account of how mindfulness can change the shape of both physical and emotional pain.
Back pain is the type of pain that I see and work with most frequently. When a person is experiencing pain--or is accustomed to feeling pain--the mind runs amok with negative thinking. Whether it be anxiety, depression, blame, shame, or the anger that Monty Reed (in Landau's piece) describes, those negative emotions actually cause pain to increase or intensify. Judging yourself for having a particular feeling or emotion, or believing you are victimized and disempowered, can cause anyone's back to hurt!
I know--from years of teaching mind-body integration, empowerment, and back-care--that one reason my work is so successful for back-pain clients is that I help these clients become mindful and to see themselves not as victims, but as I see them: fully functioning, healthy, whole people who have a choice to judge themselves and their situations harshly or to simply notice each moment as it is. That self-acceptance, that mindful awareness of their "whole, healthy" state, and that empowered feeling of "Oh, I have a choice in what I feel, notice, and believe about myself" go a long way toward reducing and eliminating bodily pain (and emotional pain, by the way). The fact that I also teach the most effective, fastest-acting core-strength exercises is just icing on the cake!
Believe what you will about effective treatments or therapies for physical and emotional pain. But I know in my heart of hearts that the way I teach (my perspective) is just as important as what I teach (my back-care methods). That's one big reason why I gravitated so naturally toward teaching Yoga. To me, Yoga IS mindfulness and empowerment. Each asana and each breath presents an opportunity to be conscious of and curious about each emotional and physical sensation we have. An asana/pranayama practice is just one 60-minute string of individual moments of "being in the present, watching what comes up without judgment." When you take my classes, you'll experience it for yourself. And it just might make your pain go away.