During this hectic time of year your yoga practice is especially helpful in reducing anxiety, but if you cannot fit in a full yoga class, practicing on your own is second best. Restorative poses like forward bends top the list to release stress and refresh the mind and body, but it is important that they are done correctly.
The following principles are categorized by body part and action to help you practice safe and effective restorative forward bending yoga poses.
Imagine your pelvis as a bowl of water and your spine as the stream of water that spills from the bowl. By placing both hands on your hips and tipping your hips forward first as if to pour the water onto your feet, you set the forward bend up from your hips rather than from your lower back. This prevents the action of lumbar lordosis (rounding out) from your lumbar spine, which can stress the discs of the lower back.
If your hamstrings are tight, simply bend your knees. This will allow your pelvis to tip forward with ease without rounding your lower back. Also, you can bend your knees if you feel tension behind them and if you feel a tugging sensation on your sitting bones. It is best to feel the stretch in the belly of the muscle, rather than at the attachment points (sit bones and backs of knees). This helps to protect your tendons and ligaments from excess strain.
From the day after Thanksgiving up until the very last minute on Christmas Eve day, we find ourselves frantically racing around in our cars and walking for miles in the shopping mall. This tight schedule of spending, wrapping, stacking, and mailing off gifts in a busy post office where the line doesn’t seem to move at all can wreak havoc on our lower back, legs and feet if we are not careful. The following yoga poses will offer a reprieve from the stress our bodies endure while we are trying so hurriedly to be prepared for the big day.
Standing Forward Bend
It doesn’t matter if you are in your work clothes or donning your favorite shopping sweater; practice forward bending every chance you can get. Standing for hours while perusing the isles of robes, slippers and neck ties can tire out the muscles of your low back in a heartbeat. Take the stress off of it by doing a simple forward bend with both knees slightly bent and your feet hip width apart. When you are ready to come out of the pose, roll up slowly vertebra by vertebra and then roll your shoulders back and down upon standing.
Researchers at Seattle Washington’s Group Health Research Institute lead a study funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The results, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine are creating quite a buzz.
This study was conducted to determine whether yoga is a more effective method of relieving low back pain versus conventional stretching or the use of a self-care book for primary care patients with chronic low back pain.
Of the 228 adults that participated in this study, all had a type of low back pain that was not a result of a spinal disc problem or any other specific cause. In twelve weekly classes, 91 patients practiced stretching and 92 practiced yoga. The other 45 patients used the self-care book.
A back related functional status questionnaire and test of pain level was conducted before, during and after the study. The testing concluded that the outcomes in the yoga group were superior to those in the self-care group, however yoga was not superior to the conventional stretching method group in related back function and low back pain.
Back exercises are often over-looked due to the popularity of abdominal exercises. Below is a list of back exercises that can be performed at home or anywhere that you feel inclined to exercise. The exercises mainly target the lower back, but also help improve core stability, balance, and coordination.
Core stability is defined as the ability of the muscles of the trunk to stabilize the spine during movement. Dozens of muscles help stabilize the core and most are isolated in the exercises below. Balance is defined as the state of equilibrium and the following exercises help improve the strength and endurance levels of your muscles that help make balance possible. Coordination is defined as the skillful and effective interaction of movements. In order to maximize coordination, you must challenge the body by performing coordination based exercises and movements that allow the body to work and move more efficiently. Each exercise below targets a slightly different part of the back and helps improve coordination.
The following 600 second body blast workout was designed to target the entire body while increasing the heart rate at a rapid pace. This is a short, but perfect little workout for the holidays due to the lack of time, unpredictable weather, and the versatility to be performed at home- and to get a jump start on that New Years resolution!
600 Second Body Blast Workout (each exercise appears below for easy instruction)
Jumping squat thrusts (90 seconds): This exercise increases your heart rate while challenging your upper and lower body. Try to perform this movement for 90 seconds straight.
Bicycle crunches (90 seconds): This exercise targets your entire core region while helping improve your stamina and endurance. The hip flexors are also isolated. Try to perform this movement for 90 seconds without stopping.