This year you’re going to manage your back and joint pain in a proactive manner!
Yoga has outlasted Jazzercise, Bowflex, and Tae Bo because it’s actually that good. When B.K.S. Iyengar brought yoga to the States with his book Light on Yoga, his message was clear: yoga was for everyone. That includes people with joint pain, back problems, insomnia, respiratory problems, and more. In fact, here are a few very basic yoga poses you can take into the new year and beyond:
Tadasana (or Mountain Pose)
Image Credit: Amanda Rose Wellness
This pose is so straight forward and common you wouldn’t even know you were doing yoga.
Mountain Pose, or Tadasana (ta-da-sah-nah) in sanskrit, is the starting position of all standing yoga poses. A good pose to start your morning, stand with bare feet together. A wall makes an excellent prop, as it will help align the rest of the pose more easily. If a wall is in use, make certain the heels are backed against the wall.
Stretch the arms along the sides of the body, fingers pointed to the floor. Stretch the neck upward, like a string is attached to the top of the head and it’s lifting you up. Using this visual helps keep the neck muscles soft and unengaged.
Keep your head erect and look straight forward, face relaxed. An easy way to tell if the face is relaxed is to scrunch it up tightly and then let it go. Distribute the weight evenly over the feet, turn in the front of the thighs, pull in the lower abdomen and lift the chest. Again, imagine a string is attached to the heart and it’s pulling upwards.
Once Mountain Pose is attained, breath evenly and with awareness. This is a great time to feel the chest expand and even pop some of those vertebrae in the back on a deep inhale. Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to a full minute.
The benefits will be obvious: this pose, when given strict attention, helps correct incorrect posture, strengthens the knee joints, reduces sciatic pain, and overall helps lift and tone the pelvis and abdomen.
To get even more out of the pose, on an inhale, you may stretch the arms upwards with fingers pointing towards the sky, palms facing forward. This is Tadasana Urdhva Hastasana (Mountain Pose with Arms Stretched Up).
Another alteration is Tadasana Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana (Mountain Pose with Fingers Interlocked). From Tadasana, bring the hands together in front of the chest and interlock the fingers, then lift the arms towards the sky, palms facing the sky.
That one was easy and most likely something you’ve already been doing. Let’s do something a little more yogic.
Adhomukha Svanasana (or Downward Facing Dog)
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This pose rocks. It is such a basic pose, but the benefits are outstanding: it’s a beautiful back stretch, excellent post run stretch, and relieves stiffness all over. As mentioned, it’s a basic pose, but even advanced yogis continue to work and refine Adhomukha Svanasana (ah-doh-moo-kuh ss-va-nah-sah-nah) because it is a pose that can always get better. Let’s break it down.
For the beginner, it’s good to start on hands and knees on a yoga mat or harder floor–something that will allow your hands and bare feet to stick to it. Beginning from a table pose with knees directly under the hips and hands directly under the shoulders (it’s OK to look to make certain your stance isn’t too wide, which is very common the first several months of practicing, so best to prevent that), curl the toes under so they have a grip on the floor. Walk the hands out about 4 inches, spread the fingers wide, and on an exhale, push up.
Once in the pose, the hands will be pressed firmly into the floor and most likely you will be up on toes and buttocks up in the air. Begin to stretch out the calves by pressing one heel towards the floor, then the other. Be particularly gentle if this is the first stretch of the day, and a little more ambitious if this is the last stretch after a workout or run. The goal is to loosen up the hamstrings and warm them up. This can take a bit of “pedaling,” as it’s called. Once loosened, focus on pushing both heels towards the floor. The natural response will be to lift up on the toes, but then if we just did what felt natural, that wouldn’t be a very good stretch, would it? Remember to breathe.
This might be enough for some beginners. If so, skip to the last step. Ultimately, the pose always has the next work-to. With the weight distributed evenly in the hands and the heels pushing towards the ground, the next thing could be to push the chest towards the thighs. This helps loosen the back even more and straightens out the spine. While pushing the chest towards the thighs, this will help move the ears back behind the elbows, which this move also helps straighten and elongate the spine. Also, this will cause the rear to lift, which again will help elongate the spine. Remember to breathe. Once the pose is set, you will resemble a dog in a stretch.
Aim to mimic a dog in a stretch. This is an excellent way to remember good posture. For instance, remember to not keep your feet too close together or too far apart; a dog does not have its feet directly together for the stretch, but rather the feet are about hips width apart. This is good for us humans as well. There’s also a beautiful slope to the back which stretches it out. We want that too. The only difference I’ve noticed is while dogs tend to keep their heads up while in this stretch, humans want to keep their heads down with ears behind the elbows. If this is a bit difficult, a yoga block or other support for the head to rest on is a wonderful prop to help prevent headaches.
To come out of the pose, simply come back to the knees and bring the hands back under the shoulders, and sit up. And breathe.
Uttansana (or, Intense Forward Stretch)
Image Credit: Yoga Journal
Back to a standing pose, Intense Forward Stretch, or Uttanasana (oo-tan-ah-sah-nah), will do wonders for everyone. The only exception is if you have spinal disk disorders, then stop when prompted, and make certain your spine is concave throughout this pose. Otherwise, this pose is for all practitioners!
Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and move into Tadasana Urdhva Hastasana (Mountain Pose with Arms Stretched Up). Take one or two focused breaths here. Feel free to shift the feet to hips width apart, just a couple inches should do it.
Exhale and bend forward at the hip with a straight back. Keep the legs stretched and maintain the body weight distributed evenly throughout the feet. Bending at the hips always, work to place the palms of your hands on the floor directly in front of your feet. Remember to keep the knees engaged and back straight. If you have a spinal disk disorder, you have done beautifully! Skip to the last step!
For everyone else, once the hands have been placed on the ground, the next work-to is move the hands back and place them next to the heels. Exhale and push the torso closer to the thighs until the face rests on the knees. The chin should not touch the chest, that is too much bend on the spine. Hold this pose for 30 seconds while practicing controlled breathing.
On an inhale, carefully lift again at the hips and bring yourself up, hands reaching towards the sky, and on an exhale, bring the arms back down.
It’s incredible to know this is yoga, right? These poses are excellent for relieving back pain and a myriad of other symptoms. Of course, it’s important to know you’re practicing yoga safely and the way it’s supposed to be performed so as to deliver the best results. Consider signing up for a yoga class at your gym or even dropping into a yoga studio where a professional yoga teacher can make any necessary adjustments for the best results. And of course, as with pursuing any different course of physical activity, particularly when you’ve had bone or joint problems, consult your doctor at the Finger Lakes Bone and Joint Center to make certain your yoga practice is working as it should for your overall bone and joint health.
B.K.S Iyengar Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health. DK Publishing. 2014.
“Standing Forward Bend.” Yoga Journal. Date Accessed 29 Dec 2016. http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/standing-forward-bend/
Iyengar, B. K. S. Light on Yoga. London, Unwin, 1982.