Filed under: Stretching
If your lower back hurts now and then, or if you struggle with ongoing pain in this area, consider yoga to help relieve the physical and mental discomfort. Lower-back pain is common, but the good news is that the pain usually goes away pretty quickly without specific treatment for most people. For others, though, lower-back pain is chronic. Practicing yoga and yoga stretches can be a great short-term way to reduce the length, intensity, and frequency of lower-back pain. For some people, yoga can even reduce this pain in the long term. And what we know so far suggests there aren’t likely to be serious negative effects of using yoga for lower-back pain.
Yoga typically includes three parts. First, breathing retraining to help calm and focus your body and mind. Second, yoga can increase your flexibility, coordination, and strength. Lastly, meditation exercises can help you develop greater self-awareness, lower your stress levels, and improve your mood.
Yoga isn’t a replacement for seeing your doctor or talking to a healthcare provider about your pain. If you have a medical condition, consult your healthcare provider before you start doing yoga. Also, everyone’s body is different, but yoga can be modified based on your body structure and how your body is feeling. There is no such thing as “perfect form.” The best practice is what you commit to doing in that moment.
Wondering how to get started? HPRC’s Mindful Stretching Exercises Using Yoga Poses will walk you through some basic yoga stretches.
Individuals who practice Bikram (hot) yoga find themselves in a 104°F room for up to 90 minutes, performing various poses and breathing exercises. This intense form of yoga claims to improve flexibility, mental focus, strength, and overall fitness. Researchers have found that Bikram yogis exhibit lower stress levels, improved endurance, muscle strength, and balance after as few as 20 yoga sessions in 8 weeks. Some older adults who participated in Bikram yoga even experienced a decrease in body-fat and improved overall glucose tolerance.
Despite these potential benefits, there are also risks with doing yoga in such an extreme environment. During a Bikram yoga session, people’s core temperature and heart rate can reach dangerous levels associated with heat illness. To reduce the risks, experts suggest sessions of 60 minutes or less, slightly lower room temperatures, and frequent water breaks. Instructors should remind their students to stay hydrated and replenish the water that they’re losing through sweat. If your instructor discourages water breaks, you should find a new instructor.
If you’re new to yoga, we recommend starting off with more traditional styles of yoga that do not involve high temperatures. Traditional styles and gentle yoga (including stretching with yoga) are also beneficial and safer for adults who may be less heat tolerant and/or are beginners.
Many people find Bikram yoga to be challenging and enjoyable, but it’s important to be smart about this kind of workout.
Mindfulness isn’t something you have to do sitting still. You can apply mindfulness to activities such as stretching. A great way to do this is by using yoga poses. When stretching in a mindful way, you bring your attention to your breath as you stretch your muscles.
Mindful stretching can help you in a number of ways:
- To focus your attention before or after a workout
- To focus on and relax knotted areas within your muscles
- To provide closure to something you’re working on (such as the transition from work to weekend)
- As a routine before you go to bed to prime your body for sleep
In mindful stretching, the focus is not on doing repetitions or certain times, but rather going with what your body needs in the moment. To learn how, see HPRC’s “Mindful Stretching Exercises Using Yoga Poses” for a step-by-step guide with pictures.
HPRC continues it series on keeping the happy in holidays, as last week we focused on practicing acceptance. This week, a simple tip: If you’re feeling pulled in a hundred different directions or have been too busy to simply sit and relax, find five minutes to stretch—both your body and your mind. In addition to being an important component of fitness, stretching can also help quiet your mind from the stress of the holidays. Try this basic stretching routine from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). While you’re at it, practice some of the other skills described in this series to foster happiness: examining your thoughts and practicing gratitude, acceptance, and optimism. Your body and mind will thank you.
HPRC’s website has more ideas on mind-body skills you can try this holiday season and New Year.
Increasing your flexibility with a regular stretching routine can help improve your performance by allowing your joints to move with greater range of motion (ROM) with each step, swing, or turn. Stretching also is a great way to increase the blood flow to your muscles, so it can be helpful prior to PT or sporting events. You can start increasing your flexibility with simple stretching and foam rolling exercises; check out our Performance Strategies for tips on how to begin.