n our society, back problems are one of the most common physical ailments, leading to days taken off work and a need for back- specific rehabilitation. Part of the reason for this is that we are not built to sit in chairs, and with our culture of offices and computer work, we can find ourselves sitting for many hours of the day. This results in the deterioration of the support structure of the spine, and can lead to back pain.
Imagine you are sitting at a desk – you are relaxed, and typing on a computer. Chances are, your stomach muscles are relaxed, your chest and solar plexus are concave (curved inward) rather than puffed up and out. This movement of the spine then means the trapezius muscles relax, your shoulders drop and your upper back rounds. As a result of this movement, in order to keep looking forward at your computer screen, you stick your neck out forwards like a turtle, compressing the back of your neck and your spinal nerves. Overall, the spine, shoulders and torso are taking a shape that the body is definitely not meant to take. And over the hours and months and years spent sitting at a desk, with the body and its incredible ability to adapt (positively or negatively), this becomes its default posture.
In a chair, the glutes are so inactive that they begin to experience ‘gluteal amnesia’, which is where they ‘forget’ how to work effectively. The hip flexors are in a constant contracted state so they tighten. This causes a forward tilt in the pelvis, which stresses the lumbar spine and is the cause of this type of lower back pain.
Are you sitting up straighter? Of course, sitting at a desk is not the only cause of back problems – it’s just the most common. Yoga has proven extremely effective in counteracting these imbalances by working the spine and the muscles which support it, strengthening and toning these areas to take the pressure off.
Backbends work to lift and open the chest, show the trapezius muscles how they should be working, and give the normally over-flexed spine the chance to extend. They allow movement in the shoulders, and give the neck and the cervical spine a much-needed break.
Standing postures, such as Warrior 2, encourage the torso to be held in a neutral position – the chest is open, shoulders are working apart, the abdominals and erector spinae are engaged. Crucially, the legs are also working: a stretch for the hip flexors and a workout for the quads and glutes.
The problems which can lead to back pain are often so complex that it is difficult to pinpoint one cause and identify its corresponding treatment. This is the reason that yoga is so great for back pain: the body is treated as a whole, and as a result receives all-round attention to bring it back into balance.