Heigh Ho! Heigh Ho! It’s off to Yoga I go!

Heigh Ho! Heigh Ho! It’s off to Yoga I go!

Can we be as harmonic as those seven fictional characters on their way to mine their day away when we have a back ache? Can we obtain relief or do we have to endure a day of aches and pains while on the clock?

An article I recently viewed on the ArgusLeader.com website, indicates that back pain is the second leading reason people miss work. Truck drivers repeatedly have to deal with back pain from the continuous vibration of the spine while behind the wheel. Heavy lifting of patients and children puts nurses and parents at considerable risk. Statistics obtained from OccupationalHazards.com reveal that in the U.S., nursing ranks as one of the top 10 occupations for work-related musculoskeletal disorders. And, an estimated 12 to 18 percent of nurses wind up leaving their profession due to chronic back pain.

Now it’s understood that the career we choose can have an adverse effect on our physical health. You can sit behind a desk all day long in air-conditioning, you can drive a tractor-trailer down Route 66 daily, or work in the hospital emergency room. Simultaneously, you are putting severe strain on your neck and back. Can we take the time to heal ourselves before our issues escalate? Can we do something to alleviate the pain if it is already present? Is there anything we can do?

What is Yoga? It’s a system of exercises practiced for thousands of years as used to promote control of the body and mind.

Why Yoga? Because it can help. It has consistently been used to cure and prevent back pain by enhancing strength and flexibility. As many practitioners can attest, Yoga can offer effective healing that's relatively free of side effects. The slow movements and gentle pressures reach deep into troubled joints. Additionally, the easy stretches in conjunction with deep breathing exercises relieve the tension that binds up muscles and tightens joints. Yoga is exercise and relaxation rolled up into one.

Who is a candidate? Each year, millions of Americans suffer from debilitating back pain. Both acute and long-term stress can lead to muscle tension and exacerbate back problems. Despite Western medicine's phenomenal advances and powerful technology, two of the most commonly prescribed solutions—painkillers and surgery—do little to address the underlying causes of pain and can potentially cause side effects. In truth, a one-size-fits-all solution is impossible given that the causes and manifestations of pain—arthritis, strained ligaments, scoliosis, and herniated disks, to name a few—vary widely.

How does Yoga assist pain management? Yoga helps reduce pain by helping the brain regulate the secretion of natural painkillers into the body. Breathing exercises commonly used in Yoga can also help reduce pain. Muscles tend to relax when you exhale, because of this lengthening your time of exhalation can help produce relaxation and reduce tension. Maintaining a certain awareness of ones own breathing helps to achieve calmer, slower respiration and assist in relaxation and pain management.

What do I do to get started? First, rule out potential serious causes of the back pain. See your primary care physician and speak to her/him of your concerns. He will know how to proceed from there to investigate the cause of your back pain. Then, also inquire as to whether or not it is safe for you to practice Yoga as part of your recovery program.

Treat the injury with extra care. When you are in a lot of pain, usually the tissues are inflamed, it’s critical that you proceed at a slow pace. If you work in an aggressive fashion in order to improve your strength or flexibility too early on, it can cause you even more pain.

Looking for an experienced teacher with substantial training and experience should be your next course of action. A Yoga therapist will assist you by creating a program that is specific to your needs and limitations, especially those pertaining to your injury and medical condition. They will observe your form and practice, and track how you respond to the exercises. He or she will gauge which elements are likely to be helpful and determine whether modifications are necessary.

Studies have shown that strict bed rest can cause you more harm than good. Go ahead and try breathing exercises and practice a gentle asana as soon as you experience pain.

Stomach crunches are often prescribed by doctors in order to prevent recurring episodes of back pain. Looking at this from a yogic perspective this is imprecise. By doing to many crunches or ab exercises you can increase the tightness in the hip flexors, and potentially making the back problems worst. With Yoga, the approach is to examine which muscles need to be strengthened and which ones need to be stretched, and finally designing a program that would work on those specific needs.

Do avoid poses that worsen or aggravate your problem. If you have a lumbar disk problem, be careful with forward bends, especially those that include some form of a twist. Also, during transitions take care, attention tends to wander. Sudden changes of position should be avoided and stepping rather than jumping should be the standard.

Lastly, make certain to consult your physician before proceeding with any exercise program, including Yoga. Also, if Yoga is approved for you be sure to receive proper training from a qualified Yoga instructor.