The Healthy Back
How often do you pay attention to your body mechanics?
Most of us are not performing daily activities conscious of how each movement affects the long term health of our spine. Many times we pull, lift and reach for things without being present to our posture, alignment and overall body mechanics. We also have jobs and commutes that require us to spend more hours sitting in front of a computer and sitting in our car. Reduced activity in combination with regular life stressors, such as work, finances and caring for a family create additional tension in the body. This chronic tension in the muscles, tendons and ligaments means less flexibility. When the body lacks flexibility and mobility it is prone to injury and disease.
Facts on the back:
- About 80% of adults are estimated to experience a back injury in their lifetime, with roughly 10% suffering a re-injury.
- Back injuries are the most common reason for non-attendance in the general work force, after the common cold.
- Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability world-wide.
Having good flexibility in your hips and hamstrings is one of the most important aspects of optimum back health. Although, when we talk about healthy habits it usually is focusing on nutrition and cardio vascular exercise. When was the last time anyone asked you, “How flexible are you these days?”
Your hip flexors and hamstrings support your lower back, affecting posture and are necessary for the mobility and stability of your lower body. When we neglect to take the time to stretch these muscles they become tight and lack healthy circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the body which nourishes the muscles and tendons. This chronic lack of flexibility and circulation can lead to injury, and as we age, will speed up degeneration of the joints and vertebrae in the lower lumbar spine. Making sure we have flexibility in the hip flexors and hamstrings will help us avoid injuries of the lumbar vertebrae (i.e. herniated disc), nerve damage & radiculopathy (i.e. sciatica), sprains (overstretching or tearing ligaments) & strains (tears in the tendon or muscle). When there is flexibility in the lower body this allows for better posture and in turn positively affects the health of our cervical (neck) and thoracic (upper back) spine.
How do I increase my flexibility for a healthy back?
It is actually very simple, stretch regularly.
Most of us are not used to stretching on a regular basis as part of a wellness routine. Many more of us who do take time to stretch before or after a workout only give it a good 5-10 minutes. That may help to warm up or cool down the muscles, but that is not enough to really allow them to release and lengthen. This is where yoga comes in as a great therapy for maintaining a healthy back and healthy body through stretching, breath and relaxation. Gentle, deep stretch yoga classes can also be used to heal acute and chronic issues relating to the back.
Shaun Jenkins is the owner of The House of Yogi in Point Loma. I was interested in Shaun’s yoga studio because beyond offering regular Vinyasa flow classes there was an “All Levels” Happy Back Yoga class offered. I was further intrigued when I clicked on the description for the class and I saw a row of people hanging from a strap attached to a yoga wall, relaxing in downward dog. Now that is my way of doing downward dog, fully supported. I was excited when I had the opportunity to talk to Shaun in more detail and experience a Happy Back Yoga class. The House of Yogi opened in Point Loma two years ago and Shaun has been studying and practicing yoga for about 10 years. He was initially drawn to yoga as a way to help him calm his mind during long runs as he was training for a triathlon. As he continued with his yoga practice along with his study of the human body he saw the myriad of benefits within the science and anatomy of what yoga provided for the body.
The Happy Back Yoga class was then developed. A two part class, starting with mat yoga poses for releasing hip flexors and hamstrings, then the yoga wall for decompressing tension along the spine. In each yoga pose on the mat you are supported with a strap or block to allow the rest of your body to completely let go and gently release each muscle group with each breath. The second part of the class is done using supportive straps attached to the yoga wall. The purpose of the straps is to allow you to completely let go and allow your body to hang inverted, while being fully supported by the yoga wall. The weight of your head and upper body provide traction and allow your spine to decompress and the muscles to lengthen. For those of us who are intimidated by headstands and other advanced yoga poses, this class truly is for anyone. And be patient, it takes time to increase your flexibility, but if you keep a regular routine you will notice the changes and feel the benefits, even after the first class. You can also set up a private session with a yoga instructor if you prefer one-on-one training.
Shaun and his team of yoga teachers at The House of Yogi are committed to helping you maintain optimum health and attain quick recovery from injury. The teachers are present and attentive to the students, making sure you are in proper alignment with each pose and reminding you to relax, let go and breathe.
The Optimum Healthy Back Routine
1. Stretch regularly, Try a Healthy Back class at the House of Yogi
3954 West Point Loma Blvd, Suite B
San Diego, 92110
2. Routine Acupuncture Appointments
Acupuncture will help with circulation, reducing tension and inflammation in the muscles and can treat issues of sciatica, piriformis syndrome, low back pain and in many cases help you to avoid more invasive therapies or surgery.
Scheduling monthly or bi-monthly acupuncture treatments
will help you maintain a healthy spine and avoid injury and degeneration.
Nicole Stone, L.Ac.