I’m not certain who first said this, but they really do have a point. Keeping the back healthy is so vital to our well being and enjoyment of life that we can’t afford to ignore any niggles or signs that something is wrong.
The spine is made up of 33 individual bones stacked up on top of each other rather like a tube of polo mints. In between these bones (vertebrae) are discs like mini rubber rings filled with fluid. Down the ‘hole’ in this structure runs our spinal cord which is like the body’s ethernet cable with telephone wires leaving this main cable at each intersection in the vertebrae. Whilst this is a very simplified ‘model’ of our spine, it gives us a few things to think about. 33 bones means 33 joints, which means 33 areas for problems to occur. The vast amount nerves running down the and through these joints means they can get easily caught up or trapped and stop working in many different ways. (And unlike your computer there is no such thing as simple as turning it off and on again!)
When the spine is in good alignment with all discs nice and plump and the nerves running freely, the body feels healthy, light and our reflexes (messages travelling through the nerves from all parts of our body) are fast. In short, we feel alive!
What keeps the spine stable, upright and with the right size of holes for the nerves to fit through is the ligaments and muscles of our back and core. What makes your back ache? Having uneven muscles which mean the vertebrae settle out of alignment. Another way to view your spine is like a tent pole – if the guy ropes (muscles) are not working to pull in the different directions then it will bend and break and fall over.
So to keep the spine in optimum condition the ancient yogis devised many practices to move the vertebrae through their comfortable range of movements – forward and back bending, side to side (lateral bending) and twisting. In our yoga and stretch and relax classes the focus is often on a specific theme (this term Big/Small and Feet) however, we always work through these 6 movements of the spine in a gentle and comfortable manner. This is what makes you feel more relaxed at the end of the class 🙂
If you want your back to get stronger, it’s fairly simple really, work a few postures every day. The benefits are too many to relate here, but back ache will be a thing of the past and your posture and breathing will improve enormously. In turn you will feel like eating less food (yes really) because you get more energy from the air that you breathe. Not only that, but also, as you strengthen the muscles they will become more balanced and strengthen your resistance to and recovery from injury. It’s a big win to keep your spine flexible.
In this year’s Stretch & Relax classes we’ll be taking a tour around the body seeing how each part feels for us on a personal level and also how improvements with one area can often alleviate issues in others… We will begin with our FEET which form the foundation o f our standing postures and which we rely on for our mobility and independence as we get older.
Feet are actually quite fascinating once you get over the look of them. They consist of lots of tiny bones, with lots of tiny joints in between. When the joints in the feet aren’t as flexible as they could be the result is that the feet can’t operate as the ‘suspension’ mechanism of the body – so even walking (let alone running and jumping) can become problematic to joints further up the body (knees, hips and spine) as the foot is not taking the impact of the weight of the body as it steps/plods around. We will use a variety of means – movement, massage with a small ball and massage with our hands to help to get our feet more flexible. And do you know… that because of all the nerve endings in the souls of the feet working with the feet can be extremely relaxing and calming. A traditional yogic remedy for insomnia is self foot massage. We’ll spend some time working on proper alignment of the feet as this can help prevent and heal foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, bunions, and shin splints not to mention a variety of mis-alignments further up the body. Keeping the feet flexible and relaxed also helps circulation of fluids to this area which over time helps to keep the skin on the feet healthy. Poor skin health is what leads to the build up of bacteria, smells, verrucas, athletes’ foot etc
So before we pack our tootsies into the boots for winter let’s give them some TLC and – who knows you may notice that the pain in your neck goes as well 🙂
Get yourself ready for the new term by having a go at these 3 standing stretches. They are great for waking up the spine and strengthening the core muscles. Do 5 repeats of each every day until the new classes begin and you’ll slip seamlessly into our work 🙂
As with all our practice – do not strain, if something doesn’t feel right for your body (my shoulder hurts or my knee doesn’t like that) then miss out that part and do the other exercises. Some work for you body is much better than none.
1 Tadasana with Breath
Remove your socks and shoes if possible. Allow the feet to spread out on the floor or your mat, positioning them directly under your hip joints. Bring awareness into the soles of the feet and feel your weight sinking down evenly through the whole surface of the sole. If you feel unbalanced, bring awareness to each side of your foot in turn – leaning forwards, backwards and side to side. Come to stillness – an evenness of weight now descending through the soles of your feet.
Next interlace the fingers in front of you and as you inhale take the arms over head and rise up onto the balls of your feet. As you exhale return the heals and arms down. Repeat 5 times. Pause.
2 Swaying Palm Tree
Now take the feet a little wider so that they are on the outsides of your hips. This time keeping the heals in touch with the floor, breath in and take the arms up the front, as you exhale take the arms over to the right side keep the hips still and let the movement come from the waist. Keep facing forward, do not strain. When you need to breathe in come upright to the centre and then exhale down to the left side. Feel as though you are light and loose, don’t push. Lift the hands up each time you breathe in to the centre. Repeat 5 times to each side. Pause. Smile.
3 Kati Chakrasana
This is a free moving twist for the upper body. Keep the feet in the wide stance and soften the knees, breathing in raise the arms sideways to shoulder height. As you breathe out twist around to the right allowing the arms to wrap around the back of the waist and the shoulder as in the picture. Swing around 5 – 10 times to each side, feeling the freedom of your spine. Come to stillness, move the feet back under the hips. Pause for a few breaths in Tadasana.
The work for this half term will focus on some standing postures – the Warriors. These are great for stretching and strengthening the legs whilst also developing the core and back muscles. We’ll continue to improve our breathing with the stepped breath – great for relaxation too.
In keeping with our theme of the heart we will work opening the heart space with the Bow pose (Dhanurasana). This is an excellent posture for improving the digestion and so we’ll also be thinking about food – our love of food. There will be some time spent considering our relationship with food, how we eat our food and we will start with the benefits of detoxifying and purifying our bodies – which one of the first steps on the path of yoga.
On Saturday 24th February I’ll be running a Workshop from 10 – 1 to help people look after their backs. The spine is one of the main focuses of yoga – it is said that you are as old as your spine is flexible…
With this in mind I’ll be concentrating on gentle exercises that students can learn at the workshop to do at home on a daily or as-and-when basic to ease low back pain, strengthen the back muscles and increase flexibility. Yoga is now proven to help people with back ache more than the traditional remedies (painkillers, hot/cold packs).
In a recent trail led by the University of York and funded by Arthritis Research UK of over 300 people, those offered a 12 week yoga course experienced a 30% greater improvement in back function than those offered GP care alone.
Back pain affects 80% of adults in their lifetime. It’s the top reason for a visit to the GP and costs the UK over £5 billion a year as 4.9 million working days each year are lost due to back pain.
Half of the test group were given the yoga option received a book and CD as well as 12 weekly yoga classes. The participants were encouraged to practice at home in between classes and continue regularly once the classes had finished. The other half were treated in the typical GP way with a combination of painkillers, manipulation, hot/cold packs and exercise.
If you, or someone you know, suffers with backache, why not come along and see if yoga can help you. The Workshop will be supported by handouts of a variety of exercises for students to work on at home. Please contact me to book your place.
I have been teaching Yoga since 1997 and qualified as a British Wheel of Yoga teacher in 2001. I have been lucky to study with a number of different teachers over the years and have had experience of a variety of Yoga Schools. My style of teaching is mainly influenced by the Viniyoga and Mantra Yoga traditions. I aim to deliver interesting and structured lessons that allow students to develop, grow and improve. Classes include: asanas (postures), pranayama (breath work), concentration, relaxation, and philosophy.
Did your know that your posture effects the alignment of the spine and this can have a knock-on effect on the nervous system?
As the nerves travel through the spine – down the central cavity and in between the vertebrae – it stands to reason that any misalignment due to injury or bad posture will have and effect on your body and mind.
When the body is in correct alignment there will be less tension and the nervous system will run smoothly, unimpeded as nature intended.
Below is a which indicates problems and their possible sources if nerves become pressured by the spine…
This is only meant to hi-light how important posture and alignment are in our lives – not for self diagnoses or to worry you.
Stretching out the spine in the 6 main directions, as we do in yoga, and awareness of good posture should enable all of us to move with grace and live without pain.
If you want to read more about what goes on inside you… try Spine Universe where you can watch their short video.
If you would like to work on your posture and gain a greater understanding of the spine and how to strengthen the muscles around it, why not come along to my workshop in Ryhall on Saturday 24th February? We will be looking at exercises to do just that – you can see more information here or contact me to see if there is a place.
In the Stretch and Relax classes we are having a go at the Shakti Bandha Asana (energy block postures). These are exercises that help to improve the flow of energy within the body. They are useful for breaking down neuro-muscular knots especially in the pelvic region where energy tends to stagnate. The postures are very helpful for people with reduced vitality and/or a stiff back. They are useful to develop pelvic and core strength for all levels of fitness. They also improve the condition of the lungs, heart and endocrine system. It is not necessary to ‘force’ these movements, they can be done very gently to good effect – even sitting on a chair. So what every your age or level of fitness you can give your energy a boost by getting rid of any blocks with this sequence.
Without a doubt the easiest part of keeping fit is the decision to do it. Beyond that some begin enthusiastically, some mean to but never get round to it and others find a friend to help motivate them.
Teamwork strengthens resolve and builds momentum by pooling struggles and raising spirits when it feels as if you’re not getting to where you want to be. There are plenty of life coaches and wellness experts to testify a simple fact: there’s no better route to well-being than friendship. That’s beside the practical benefits of lift sharing, reminding each other and having a good old laugh!
Be kind to yourself and your friend – well-ness is the most liberating gift you can give to yourself and your mate but it’s easy to be critical. In the first stages of unpicking the bad habits and knitting together the good, it’s likely that there will be a few wobbles. That’s the time when, as a friend, you can be vital in aiding them gently back to the path and support her towards their goals.
Stuck for something to give a friend this Christmas? Why not give the most wonderful thing you can – HEALTH – ask them to join you coming to your yoga class!