As Dr. Evans explains in this video, at the root of chronic back pain is often more than a physical issue:
It is my least favorite and most favorite thing to hear:
My back hurts, should I stop doing yoga?
Short answer? Nope.
But why is that my least favorite question? I have been there, and I feel for you. I know back pain can be debilitating, life-altering, make you feel hopeless, make everything suck. I want you to feel better, and I want it to happen fast.
I also know the internet (and potentially your doctor's office) is riddled with myths and misunderstandings about the causes of back pain and what the most effective treatments really are. I have heard of medical pros recommending extended bedrest (which has actually been found to make back pain worse) or to avoid backbending (which in many cases is the exact kind of movement needed to balance the great amount of forward bending we do in our culture.)
Here's why it's my favorite question, though: because I have been there, and I have also experienced the tremendous power of - myself - to heal my own body.
You thought I was going to say 'the power of Bikram Yoga,' didn't you?
And in a way, I did.
Bikram Yoga is an incredible tool designed to diminish pain and disease in the human body.
A tool is what it is.
It won't work without you.
Your outlook, beliefs, attitudes and behavior are actually as or more reliable predictors of your pain than any physical issue!
If you believe your pain will last forever, if you let fear keep you from moving your body, if you think you are too fat, too thin, too busy, too old, too poor, too sick to deserve to feel better?
You won't do the things (like coming to class) that will help you feel better. And you won't feel better. Which will reinforce your negative outlook and pretty much keep everything sucking until something has to give...
Luckily, Bikram Yoga will help you improve the health of your outlook as well as your physical health!
Because watching yourself not give up on yourself for 90 minutes at a time? That's bound to generate some positivity.
Access to a supportive community/ social connections have also been found to correlate with reduced risk of chronic pain.
Have you been trying to get your "palms together like glue" but it just ain't happening?
Lots of people try to bring their arms back too far in Bikram yoga's "arms over the head" position. If this is you, you'll have trouble getting your palms together. Because of anatomy, everyone has a certain point where, when the shoulders are pushed back too far, the arms will not be able to fully extend at the elbow. Pushing or forcing the arms too far back and then trying to straighten them puts a lot of strain on the shoulders.
Bikram yoga is hard enough! Take it easy on your shoulders, please.
If your shoulders are feeling strained when you stretch your arms up in this position, try bringing the arms slightly forward, then bringing the elbows toward each other to straighten out the arms. This will help you keep your palms together, which will help you stretch your shoulders, create length in your spine and...
Feel better during and after your class.
This is an issue I help a lot of students with, often because they have told me their shoulder(s) hurt. As Emmy Cleaves says, pain is a gift. That shoulder, bless it, is trying to tell you something! It's the first thing I look for when the student takes my class: are you overusing your poor shoulder?
Bikram yoga is so, so great for healing shoulder injuries because we don't do any weight-bearing on the arms. If your shoulder was bugging you when you started but you are not experiencing improvement after a few weeks in the hot room, it could be because you are overusing the shoulder in class and thereby preventing it from healing. Once you learn how not to overdo it and start practicing that way, any chronic pain or stiffness in the shoulder should improve relatively quickly.
Bikram yoga is hard enough.
Work smarter, not necessarily harder, in class and you will notice the difference in how you feel after.
So how do you work smarter, in this case?
Whenever you are not going to bring your palms together for the pose, there is no need to bring your palms together in the set-up of the pose. This means Eagle pose, Standing Separate Leg Stretching, and Triangle pose.
Simply bring your arms over your head sideways with shoulders fairly relaxed, the way you would do if a cop (hopefully this never happens to you, but it's just the best example I can think of!) told you to put your hands in the air. You wouldn't stop to think about stretching or looking pretty, would you? Just bring your arms over your head.
Check out the video above for a demonstration, and check out these related posts for more tips on how to stop overdoing it in yoga:
I've shown this hack to a buncha people with a variety of issues: hypermobile joints, "knock knees," lower back pain, swayback, trouble balancing, knee pain and more. It has helped them. Try it in your next class and let us know what it does for you.
By the way, we had so much fun making this video. Yoga should be fun.
What will make your yoga practice even more fun is if you do it without pain or strain and your injuries heal faster because you are using correct musculature to support your body. Bonus if you feel strong and stable while standing on your own feet!
Want to deepen your understanding and get more goody out of your Bikram yoga practice? Check out these posts below for more videos from Kay, or search the archives for "tips!"
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!