Here we take the journey into relieving lower back pain, remember that a journey is an ongoing path, not a quick fix, it's an exploration into the known and the unknown.
Our spine and hips allow freedom of movement for the whole body, the pelvis in particular bears the body weight, mobility of the legs, strength through the core and flexibility through the spine. I have often given the visualisation of the pelvis as a plant pot, the stem of the plant is the spine, as we allow the 'pot' to roll around the spine can follow, if the plant pot it still the stem can settle in rigidity. Another nice visualisation (I love this one) is water within a bucket, notice the movement of the water as you move the bucket, this is a lovely representation of the bodies movement and mobility. Do you feel as though your body has fluidity or do you feel it is in need of a good oil?!
When I mention working with the lower back do you have a little hesitation? It's very normal for us ALL to feel lower back pain at some point in our lives and yet again yoga can really help ease tension, discomfort and even pain. Lower back pain is actually the reason I started practicing yoga!
To help release tension within the lower back we need to consider the natural range of movement the spine has and also acknowledge if some of these have been hindered due to habitual patterns. The body adapts to our daily motions and even emotional tension.
If we take a look at the lower back and the centre of the body we need to have a balance of strength and flexibility in ALL areas. If one is off balance something else will be compromised, it's important we connect to our core strength rather than relying on the arms to pick something up. If the core is weak the lower back will suffer (and your internal organs). If the hamstrings, hips and lower back muscles are tight this will create rigidity within the alignment of the pelvis (that fluidity I mentioned above). Increasing range of movement & flexibility in the hips increases the range of movement for the lower back, it releases tension within the muscles that surround and support the pelvis which are directly linked to the movements of the spine.
Relieving lower back pain consists of strengthening the trunk (core) of the body and exploring flexibility, when we think of the core we very often think of the front of the body...a six pack to be precise. Just an important reminder, having a six pack does not represent STRENGTH, they may just show up due to low body fat!! Here's a little guidance of the muscles that can help improve those aches and pains... you didn't just think it was your lower back did you?!
Erector spinae. The erector spinae is a back muscle that extends your trunk. It helps you stand up straight after bending over.
Rectus abdominis. When you bend forward, you use an abdominal muscle called the rectus abdominis. These are the well known 'six pack' muscles. They can look great but are not the be all and end all...these are superficial muscles (a layer closer to the surface).. its whats inside that counts... see below.
Transverse abdominis. The transverse abdominis are deep muscles which wrap around the front and side of your trunk, these stabilize your pelvis the thoracic spine and support the lower back and internal organs. These are the ones we want to relearn how to use as very often the superficial muscles can do all the work and the muscles underneath get forgotten about, this doesn't just go for the core it is common for the upper back muscles too!
Obliques. Your internal oblique and external oblique let you rotate, side bend and bend your trunk. They also relay information to the Quadratus lumborum which also helps to stabilise the spine and pelvis.
The psoas muscles are the only muscles that connect your spine to your legs! Incredible! They attach from the thoracic vertebrae to the lumbar spine and then move through to the front of the pelvis and attach to the femors. They do so much work for our day to day movement, from walking, to sitting and getting up, bending over, getting up stairs, hugging the knees to chest. Not only are they important to the structure of the body they have a huge connection to the breath. When we are stressed our breath becomes shallow or even held, this has a direct impact on the psoas, with prolonged periods of stress, your psoas is constantly contracted.. imagine how that will affect your lower back. (I feel another blog coming on!).
Having tight/weak butt muscles can wreak havoc on lower back discomfort, having strong glutes aids in every movement for the lower body, think of the trunk of a tree, strong roots, a strong internal core... you get the picture. The glutes provide support for the pelvis, your posture, movements for the legs and are related to all of the muscles above, if you have weak or even inactive buttock muscles the lower back has no support, tight butt muscles can inhibit movement and trigger other areas to become tight = pain.
Now you have a little more understanding of the different muscles that could hinder your lower back it really isn't as simple as what we thought it might be. So next time your practicing Yoga really start to take note of where feels tight, where feels strong and where feels weak.. it really will open up a whole new world of how you can heal yourself!
Let's get the body moving and enjoy the postures that will either strengthen or stretch all of the muscles listed above, all in all if you practice them all you will help to relieve lower back pain. Trust the process, find your pace and enjoy the journey.
Core engagement - Finding your strength
How do we build a connection to our core? When we exercise or do ANY movement within our day our core muscles are automatically activated, it is over time and with our habitual patterns that things can go a little astray. We have all heard the saying 'use it or lose it' and the same can go for our muscle strength, or flexibility and range of movement. Our natural breathing process is linked to our core engagement and somewhere along the way with our daily stress levels being through the roof we have all forgot how to breathe, and when the breath is compromised everything else follows.
The core we 'visually' notice is composed of the Rectus Abdominis and external obliques, but deeper are the muscles we may have lost touch with and these are the ones that need to wake up to support the spine, after all... they are much close to it! The Transversus Abdominis also known as TVA is a band or corset like muscle deeper to the centre of the body. This is the GAME CHANGER!! This is the area we want to target within our Yoga or Pilates practices, or any exercise for that matter, we don't want to rely on the outer layer (six pack muscles) to do the work, we have to think about supporting the body from the centre and by centre I mean internally.
Find a comfortable position, you can do this anywhere, standing