Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mind yer back! - your Back, the Elements and Yoga

Back pain...what is it all about? Lately there has been a spate of back injuries among various friends and students much of it related to their posture in general but specifically their posture when sitting working on a lap-top computer or other desk-bound device so I thought I'd write about it. In very broad terms the origin of the physical problem of backs comes from not sitting on the floor like our evolutionary ancestors and the subsequent weakening of lower back  and core muscles and the gradual shortening of these muscles, the related fascia, a shortened psoas muscle and tight hamstrings. I should know after years of sitting at a desk, on chairs, and couches (although I don't watch TV anymore so my couch time is way down!) etc it wasn't until I had yoga'ed my way through my 40's that I am finally able to touch my toes (without bending my knees) in both seated and standing forward bends! Now I'm glad I can because my only lower back complaint is after lying in bed working on my lap-top for too I am now, also not good.

thoracolumbar fascia - paschimottanasana
Engaging the TLC with the abdominal core and connecting this to lumbar pelvic rhythm with the tensor fascia lata.
The lower back is at the level of the second chakra in the sacral spine (water element) and the root chakra at the coccyx (earth). Earth and Water are inseparable. Earth contains water as it holds all bodies of water, but earth would be without purpose without the nutritive and purposeful flow of water within it...and water forms the earth. When we stand on one foot in any balance pose we see the relationship within us; you can't be stable if you are rigid, you have to flex and flow in order to find balance. So we might be grounded to the earth in a balance pose but we won't achieve it and be truly stable if we don't allow fluidity to come into the moment. Stability with fluidity...nature and the body reflecting the wisdom.

What about lifestyle and the lower back...whats involved there? The fact that we sit around on chairs and couches (a lot?) is not such a good thing... our 'girth' also plays a role. Sitting around on chairs and couches suggests we may not be getting enough exercise which is often combined with eating and possibly drinking a bit too much (?)...its a bit of a cascade effect... Consider this: a great way to address lower back issues is through yogic forward bends which stretches out the fascia and muscles of the lower back and hamstrings nicely....and they activate the meridian related guessed it...the bladder, a water element organ helping to balance the energetics talked about above in the subtle body. Relating this to lifestyle then... even if you had nice long back muscles and a stretchy can you bend forward if you have that extra cargo around your middle or if your liver is suffering from the abuse of the night right? lifestyle right? Just saying that you can go a long way to solving lower back problems not only by doing yoga asanas but adjusting your diet and lifestyle...thats real yoga.

I had lower back pain once...well an ache and stiffness so that if I lay in bed longer than 7hrs I would start to hurt. An osteopath was poking around in my viscera one day (the way they do) and we both felt a rubber bandy release in my middle back...he proceeded to do a couple of spinal adjustments and well...I haven't had lower back pain since. His assessment was that I had a twisted urethra (that cord connecting kidneys to bladder) and the pressure coming from my liver and stomach (when it was full) stressed the muscles around the kidney which pulled on my lower back muscles. He bet that if I could I would probably realise that the lower back stiffness was more prevalent during the party seasons (hmmm) when I consumed more food and drank more well, more drink. That was 7 yrs ago and I am lighter by 8kgs, have a much better nearly veg diet, barely drink booze and well...I do yoga and I have no lower back complaints.

Looking through the psycho/emotional/spiritual lens we see that the qualities of Earth energy are around the strength and stability, the grounding effect of gravity and the importance of a secure foundation, a feeling of belonging. Earth also sets the example of unconditional giving as mother earth gives and gives to us without judgment. Water energy is contemplative, reflective and adaptable taking on all shapes. It moves without effort and always arrives at a place of stillness. Water is a nice metaphor for realising the potential inherent in our lives and its issues; with patience we nurture them towards a calm resolution, growing our self-knowledge in the process. Balancing these elements through yoga practice, can help bring a sense of peace and calm to our lives and with that perhaps ease the strain in the lower back. This can be achieved through meditative practices and breathing and these when used in conjunction with asana practice will go a long way to helping your back.

Click if you want to know more about sitting...and if you want the details of managing your back through yoga asana this is great too. Backs are pretty specific though, spending time with a yoga therapist (hey, I'm a Yoga Therapist!) to understand the holistic dimensions of minding your back can be very valuable...we have 10 fingers and toes...two of most other things...but we only have ONE back! Take care of it! 

As I write we have just passed full moon in March which has a big effect on the tides, water content of plants and on us emotionally, psychologically and physically... ask yourself...'how does my back feel'? Its a great time to do some balancing water energy yoga! I can be reached at elementalyoga.daniel(at)yahoo(dot)com or if you're in Kathmandu 9803063459. If you want to go further in your practice and understanding of the elements and your yoga, together with Pranamaya studios we are holding an Elemental Energy retreat 24 - 26 March at Neydo Gompa...

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