This might not be shocking news but yoga has been shown in multiple studies to be highly effective in combating back pain. As yoga has been more accepted by the public, I have seen and had to undo some people doing yoga the wrong way. That being said, yoga can be harmful if you abuse the principles and make up your own rules.
The common reasons for getting injured from doing yoga are not warming up properly or not allowing your mind be in tune with the yoga flow (sequence of movement). The mind and body are connected and if you join a class or decide to replicate a yoga video, a common scenario is to do these yoga poses with your mind on something else.
Now that we got the basic DON’T out of the way, I will go over specific yoga poses that are effective based on biomechanical principle and movement science. If you have back pain, read the precursor article titled “How to Get More Out of Your Yoga Stretches When You Have Back Pain” which provides a hip warm-up that will allow you to get the most out of this article. The walking cycle is simplified into two parts: stance and swing phase.
When your feet hit the ground, a specific sequence of muscles needs to fire in order to support and propel you forward. Due to the modern shoe wear and “convenience era” aka sitting society, we have a higher tendency to overuse our Quadratus Lumborum, Hip Flexors and Quadriceps muscles. Trigger points will develop in these groups and can provide insights if you have silent tension from improper walking patterns. Use the Part one of this article where I teach you how to assess if you have trigger points to your Quadratus Lumborun and Hip Flexors muscle. The commonly neglected group of muscles are your Gluteus, Calves and the arch of your feet. This will be a priority to wake up or dial up so it will support your legs more.
The other part of the walking cycle is the swing phase. This is a spring reflex action based on the force developed from the stance phase. The Abdominals provide a support board to for your Hip Flexors to effortlessly promote your legs to spring forward like a sling shot. This is a masterpiece when you look at it. Unfortunately, many people leak energy during this process and the stress goes to your knees or back. For some, it shoots straight to your neck and skull and be a silent reason for chronic neck pain or a headache.
If my explanation peaks your interest and you need someone to analyze if your walking pattern is causing your back pain or vice versa, click on the blue button below for a 1-on-1 chat with a spine and sports medicine expert.
A good analogy that I use to help people understand the feeling of walking well is paddle boarding or skateboarding. The pushing motion of the skateboarding or the reach-and-drag the paddle to propel your body forward requires good support from your trunk and legs. The swing phase, picking up your paddle, should feel easier if you are balanced on the board. Speed and power depend on the stance phase and how connected your body is communicating with each other.
If you have back pain, the first step is to release the Quadratus Lumborum. Perform this move after your hip release sequence from Part 1 article titled “How to Get More Out of Your Yoga Stretches When You Have Back Pain”
- Belly Down Twist
Pre-test: Lay on your stomach. Bend both knees and swing your ankles side to side like a pendulum. If this hurts than the Belly Down Twist needs to be performed with caution. Hold this BDT for 15 seconds at a time and gradually build up if the pre-test brings on back pain.
Move: Lay on bolster with arms to your sides like the picture. Bolster is positioned all the way to the hip crease. Take a deep breath towards your lower belly. Feet position should feel comfortable and progress to a split leg position. Switch and repeat. If the BDT pre-test doesn’t hurt, stay for 2-3 minutes.
Follow-up Move: Lay on your back with your arms to the side. Relax chin down. Feet relaxed and even. Lay for 1 minutes and allow your body to unwind with more breathing sequence.
2. Tadasana, Mountain Pose (modification)
Magic happens when we train ourselves in standing. This is an upright version to get to the Quadratus Lumborum. Stand on something 3 inches high with one leg. Other leg is on the ground. Grab your elbows above your head. Think like you are elongating your neck and head into your forearms and Breath DEEPLY down towards your belly and flank.
Virabhadrasana II, Warrior Pose II ….to help with stance phase
Take a big long stride step. Feet are pointing 90 degrees of each other. Relax chest and tall neck. Slowly accept weight on the front leg. I intentionally did not say LEAN forward as that will bring on the bad habit of Quadriceps and back tension. Imagine you are a tree and you need to be tall, but not military chest out tall. Your legs are roots and the water is very deep in the ground. You don’t want to spread the roots wide but migrate deeper in the earth. This should engage your back parts of your front legs. Breath DEEPLY down towards your groin and flank. Hold 30 seconds.
Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana …to help with swing phase
Stand tall and grab your big toe. You can use the wall for balance but transition away if you can. Both legs should be mildly bent. Cramping is very common here and means you need for warm-up sequence and decompression flow sequence for the hip and spine.
You should notice that this will improve your walking and maybe allow you to walk faster. Studies show the faster you can walk the healthier you are aging. If you are consistent with this on a daily basis, changes should happen within 2 weeks. If not, you may need specific hands on care to enhance your yoga practice. Walking requires an awareness to do it the right way. Pain can distract your mind. You can overpower it with mind power but sometimes that can lead to more frustration. Click on the blue button for an expert that has helped many people walk better and feel better. Getting better should be fun.
Dr Danh Ngo
Spine and Sports Medicine Specialist