I hear that a lot. Back pain is a common complaint amongst my friends and clients. I've always considered myself lucky because I don't suffer with back issues. Or so I thought. I'd always blamed my inability to smoothly come into certain yoga poses on tight hips and tight hamstrings. It's funny how you can see structural issues in others but have difficulty noticing them in yourself. After years of denial, I had to admit it:
I have back stiffness. I'm still lucky. My back doesn't "go out" or cause me a great deal of pain. Still, it's tight and it's been limiting my mobility a bit and I didn't even realize it (my hips are actually very flexible -- they've been compensating for my tight back all these years). Lately, I've been focused on loosening it up. In addition to practicing my asanas dynamically to promote flexibility, I've found a few other resources to help those of us with less than perfect backs.
Scaravelli Yoga -- years ago I met a fellow yoga practitioner who waxed poetic about Scaravelli Yoga and how it helped her back pain. Since I'm forever interested in learning about new styles of yoga, I bought a DVD and tried it. It felt very different to me at the time, so I didn't practice with it all that much. Of course this was back when I was in denial about my back needing some extra TLC. Now I would recommend it to anyone who wants to maintain a flexible spine. Yogi Darlene Bink just came out with a fabulous 25-minute yoga download that I just love. It's the 6 movements of the spine with a Scaravelli Yoga twist (pardon the pun). This short practice -- Discover Your Wave -- is sure to make your back heave a big sigh of relief. You can preview the video and purchase it as a download or a physical DVD here.
Angela Farmer -- often when I mention Angela's name to someone who has had the joy of practicing with her the person's face lights up with glee. Yep, she's that good. I discovered Angela years ago, just after Scaravelli Yoga. The wave-like movements in Angela's practice remind me of Scaravelli Yoga, yet Angela's teaching is unlike anyone else I've had the pleasure of studying with. If you're looking for a wonderful yoga experience and something to increase your spine flexibility, I highly recommend Angela's DVDs.
Mudra -- yes, believe it or not, there is a back mudra. It is said that after 20 minutes of this position, the intervertebral disks are optimally nourished and metabolism operates efficiently. Not bad for an easy hand position, eh? Here's how you do back mudra: place the thumb, middle finger and little finger of the right hand together so the tips touch and the index finger and ring finger are relaxed and extended. Place the thumb joint of the left hand on the nail of the index finger. This mudra, which is primarily effective when someone with a weak back has engaged in an activity that has caused strain, can be done 4 times a day for 20 minutes.
Gentle asana -- of course resting in savasana with the knees propped (I enjoy placing eggs under each knee) can feel quite lovely too. Also try lying on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet resting against a wall. As you exhale in this position, press your feet into the wall to help your lumbar spine release towards the floor. On an inhale, release your foot pressure and allow the natural curve to return. One of my favorite poses to release and stretch my back is Chakravakasana.
With some gentleness and compassion coupled with diligence and daily practice, your back ouch can transform into back ahhhhhhh.