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.
Cobra pose is the greatest for preventing and relieving lower back pain and tension! Practicing with impeccable technique will allow you to get all of the goody out of it. Check out this video for tips:
For more on the benefits of the Cobra, check out this post from way back! For more spine strengthening, come to any class on our schedule. ;)
In 2009, I was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, spondylosis and degenerative disc disease. I was told I would need to have a spinal fusion surgery or, eventually, lose all feeling in my legs. At the time, I was running marathons, extremely active and couldn’t fathom the thought of having surgery on my spine.
Understanding that running wasn’t going to be a long-term activity due to my diagnosis, and that I wasn’t ready to succumb to surgery, I began to explore more low-impact activities. It wasn’t until I tried Bikram yoga that I felt the physical challenge I was seeking in an activity that would not progress my diagnosis. In addition to the satisfying physical challenge, I found Bikram brought me significant mental clarity and focus.
As I began to increase the frequency of my practice, I found myself diving deeper to help manage emotional and mental health. At the time I started practicing I was struggling with various aspects of life and Bikram yoga gave me an outlet to support my emotional and spiritual well-being. I still don’t quite know what it is, but to this day when life feels draining I latch on to my yoga practice and begin to feel filled up again.
On the physical side, I haven’t yet had to resort to spinal surgery and still have all the feeling in my legs. In fact, each summer I go on a week-long 500-mile bicycle ride. Due to other commitments, I typically don't find the time to train. Despite this, for the past two years, I have been able to participate in these rides without significant struggle. Fellow riders are always shocked when I say I haven’t ridden my bike for more than 50 miles since the last year. I give credit to my consistent yoga practice for giving me the power, strength and mental agility to successfully participate and enjoy myself on these rides.
Today, despite numerous scheduling challenges, I make my practice a priority. I am proud of allowing myself to make the time and I (usually) don’t feel guilty about it. I now know, no matter how difficult it seems in the moment, each time I step out of the hot room I will feel more positive and be healthier than when I walked in.
Before I moved to Portland in June 2016, a friend in Albuquerque introduced me to hot yoga. It wasn’t Bikram yoga and I didn’t understand the postures, but I was determined to keep trying. When I got to Portland, I was pleased to find Bikram Yoga St. Johns in my neighborhood and, although I knew nothing about Bikram yoga, I bought a year membership.
I didn’t get my money’s worth that year. I didn’t attend class regularly, rarely drank enough water, and every pose was "awkward pose." Classes were hard because I would lose my balance and even fall sometimes. I would leave bewildered, embarrassed and dehydrated. But something kept me coming back, and I always felt welcomed with open arms no matter how long I had been away.
This New Year's Eve, I came to the studio for a late night yoga class. I rang in the New Year with Kay, Orlo and the rest of the Bikram St. Johns family, under the blacklight with kombucha. I decided to do the 30-day challenge shortly after that. I came up with a yoga schedule that fit around my work schedule, and I set a goal to do 20 classes in 30 days. I loved seeing the stars by my name accumulate.
I did 18 classes in 30 days and I began to see first-hand the benefits of regular Bikram practice: my balance and eye- hand coordination improved, my chronic back pain and stiffness lessened, and my mood improved. I've been practicing about 10-12 times a month ever since.
I am a Registered Nurse and my job is demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. I also have scoliosis and a leg length difference. I could barely move my shoulder at one point. With regular practice I can now move my shoulder without pain. I didn’t think that was going to be possible.
I didn’t think a lot of things were possible when first started my Bikram practice. I didn’t think I would ever get into Fixed Firm pose (check out my photo above!) or stand on one leg. Now Fixed Firm pose is a favorite of mine and I’m getting closer to Standing Head to Knee every day. I have conquered many challenges in my life and Bikram yoga is a very worthwhile challenge. And I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.
I will be 70 in January 2019, and I have had back issues most of my life. Last year I was in a lot of pain, almost to the point of not being able to walk. I would need to rest after walking only short distances with my little granddaughter. I was also feeling depressed a lot of the time.
My son and daughter-in-law encouraged me to try hot yoga, which I was sure was not for me. I tried it anyway, mostly so they would leave me alone!
I have now been practicing Bikram yoga 2-3 times per week for about a year. My back pain is nearly gone and my range of motion is incredible. I had a serious balance issue and now, nearly a year later I'm getting my balance back. I know my good balance is going to be even more important as I get older for avoiding slips and falls. As I gain strength and balance, my mood and confidence have also improved.
These days my energy level is very good, even though I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia years ago. I tell all my friends about yoga, and I’m trying to get the ones who could really use it to come to class with me! This little yoga community at Bikram Yoga St. Johns has brought me a new social life full of friendly and amazing people.
I also have osteoarthritis, plantar fasciitis (which is no longer bothering me) and scoliosis. I have spinal stenosis, which used to cause leg and foot pain as well as lower back pain and balance problems. I thought the only alternative was to have surgery, but I certainly don't need that now. Bikram Yoga was the answer.
I can feel my spine is so much better and stronger than before I started at BYSJ. I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to try Bikram yoga, and I look forward to many years of practice ahead!
I remember, after mentioning to Kay that I’d lost 40 lbs in just over 100 days, her asking “But it’s more than that, it’s the inner transformation, right?” My response was quick, “Absolutely, I just have no other way to sum it all up!” Later, I've been able to clarify my thoughts:
The weight loss, I decided, was a 'superficial yardstick' for the multitude of positive life changes i was experiencing due to my new yoga practice. Essentially, the real transformation was me getting back to me.
Everything kept falling into place, like a domino effect. I was eating healthier & required less sleep. I soon found I had more energy then I knew what to do with. This means I now find time for personal creative endeavors as well as exploring the natural beauty that is just outside our doors.
These past 6 months of yoga have shown me, and I want to tell you: You Already Are That Better Version Yourself! If your intention is set, nothing can stop you from reaching your goals. Pardon the hippie-dippy sentiment, but I did kinda move here from Santa Cruz, CA ;)
My first class was the sliding-scale donation class on a Thursday night last fall. After reading of the many benefits associated with Bikram, I thought it was something I had to try for myself! I approached with a healthy skepticism, and after giving it test-run realized it was everything I was hoping for and more.
Within a week, I was telling friends it was "the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time.” Within a month, the lower back pain I was suffering from had disappeared.
Savasana (aka Dead Body Pose) is still extremely challenging for me. Patience is a life-long lesson. I believe that learning to be still and relax is one of the best things we can do to maintain balance in this fast-paced world in which we live. Look around- we’re all here for the same reason. As we become better versions of ourselves, we’re better able to serve the community around us- what an amazing gift! P.S. Don’t forget to breathe.
Here's a recipe for one of my healthy meals that keeps me hydrated and energized for practicing 4-5 times per week:
Original Hot Yoga Salad
• your favorite greens mix
• low-fat cottage cheese
• roasted sunflower seeds
• kosher dill pickles
• chili flakes (100% *not* optional!)
"I have always been active and used to run quite a bit, but that took a toll on my knees. When I originally started at Bikram Yoga St. Johns in 2016, I was looking for something to help my joints and lower back issues.
"For me the obvious benefits of regular practice have been decreased knee pain and conditioning for my low back. But more importantly I find that it really helps control my anxiety through the focused breathing. I am very conscious of my breathing in class and I find it transitions to other stressful situations in my life. When I found out I was pregnant I was so thankful that my doctor was so encouraging about continuing to practice throughout pregnancy. There is so much misguided information out there, and Kay has been an amazing resource through this journey.
"When I really started to show, my pesky low back issues started to creep up again and were exacerbated by a trip I had to take for work. I returned home with sciatica and could barely walk without limping. After just a couple of classes, my back improved again and I have had hardly any issues since. It sometimes feels daunting when I am getting ready to go to class at almost 8 months pregnant, but I always feel so good after and know the breathing and focus will help me when its time to welcome my baby to world!"
Update: Bridget gave birth to a healthy baby girl on February 28, 2018! Congratulations to the whole family!!
i"The principle of Ardha-Matsyendrasana and of other spine-twisting asanas is the use of the legs as fulcrums or levers so that the pull of the arms on the two upper corners of the rib box can bring the spinal twist to its maximum potential. The value of the twist is that it exercises, adjusts and rejuvenates the spine, and that it stimulates all the organs of the trunk to better health."
(from "Yoga Postures for Health", compiled from articles in the 1956-59 Self Realization Magazine)
Half Spine Twisting pose improves blood circulation around the spinal nerves, veins and tissues. It increases flexibility of the entire spine and range of motion at the hip joints, helps alleviate back pain caused by lumbago, kyphosis, scoliosis and arthritis. Twisting improves digestion, relieves flatulence and strengthens the abdominal and thigh muscles while providing a tremendous stretch for the illiotibilal (IT) band.
So how come we only do 1 set of this fabulous pose? Bikram might say he ran out of time- but we think it's just so great that only 1 set of it does the job. ;)
How to do:
"I signed up for Bikram yoga after seeing BYSJ's booth at the Farmer's Market in spring of 2016, and the timing could not have been more serendipitous. Deep down I knew I needed to do something to get back into a consistent exercise routine. The very first big difference thing that I noticed after a few weeks of practicing regular Bikram Yoga was the skin on the back of my upper arms/tricep was no longer bumpy (a very common skin thing)- - it was smooth!
Being in the military (at the Oregon Air National Guard in Portland - our F-15 airplanes share the runway with PDX) we have a PT (physical training) test each year. I had found recent years that I 'crammed' for it-- going into 'beast mode' about 6 weeks or so before the test (which comprises of timed situps & pushups-- 1 minute allotted for each-- not to mention waist measurement and a mile & a half run.
In June 2016 (about a month or so of getting into Bikram yoga) I scored the highest PT (physical training) score ever (in my 20+ yrs in the military) with a 96.9 (out of 100). To score Excellent, one must get 90 or above. Fortunately because of my regular yoga practice, i don't have to worry about not passing.
"Cramming at anything in life does not help anybody! I wanted a regular exercise practice that I liked and that give me great benefit and to also be a role model to my kids for a picture of health. Many career military folks lose their dedication to their health and I think it's so important to set the example but, more importantly, to live my best life (like Oprah says.) I was looking primarily for physical benefits; toning & flexibility appealed to me. My high school and college days of track and volleyball are far behind me, and now I have fallen in love w/ Bikram Yoga particularly. It's easy on the joints, non-competitive, and the benefits, as I've learned, are far more than physical: my practice has increased my patience and motivation in other areas of my life.
"The greatest benefits in the last year in particular are: 1) healing a fresh back injury! With physical therapy, I took a short break right after the injury and then got back into it right on time for January 2017's 30-day challenge! I took it very easy and did very little in some postures and it healed me 98%! The other 2% was just time. Today I am 100%. 2) I credit Bikram Yoga for the remarkable healing following an ovarian cyst removal surgery in early October 2017; after 3 days I felt restless and was ready to drive to my doctor's appointment. In each class when it's mentioned that we receive 100% of the benefit for every attempt we do, that really speaks to me. I have learned to really listen to my body since regularly practicing (I aim for 3x/week.)
"I love putting my energy into Bikram yoga. The 5:30am class is great for my work-life balance. When I get home after the early morning class, my husband and 2 kids are just getting up (so I don't miss family time) and I'm still able to get to work on time. I LOVE that our cozy St. Johns neighborhood has its own Bikram Yoga studio and I am proud to be part of it! "
"About seven years ago my friend told me what a deep and awesome yoga series Bikram Yoga was for her; I had heard about Bikram before, but seeing her enthusiasm really sparked my interest. When I finally made the decision to go, I really went because I wanted to heal my spine from a car accident and in general I wanted to develop a more healthy lifestyle.
I hoped to lose body fat, and build muscle and bone strength. I wanted to quit smoking. I knew that if anything would help any combination of these things, it would be reintroducing a yoga practice into my life. I had practiced Ashtanga yoga, years prior to trying Bikram and my car accident, and I was looking to try something new.
My regular practice has helped me achieve all of these goals! I once suffered from three bulging discs in my lumbar spine. My bulging disks often became inflamed in other exercises she tried, and through the warmth of the heat and the progressive backward bending and aligning postures of the Bikram yoga series, I no longer have any bulging discs or discomfort in my back.
"I lost close to 30 lbs that I took on after my car accident and struggled to lose before. I began to have strength and definition in parts of my body that had previously felt static. I also quit smoking. My regular practice has helped me achieve all of the goals I started with, but has moreso helped me realize that by making it an integral part of my life it helps me in many more ways!
"My yoga practice has become my catalyst to overcome whatever it is that I need to work out, literally or figuratively, each day. It's amazing how the same series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises remains consistent, but my experience changes daily based on the external energy I bring in from outside of the hot room.
"Besides the obvious physical benefits, I've also been most grateful for the spiritual, mental, and emotional growth that has come by integrating my Bikram yoga practice into my life. By embracing the uncomfortable obstacles I encounter in the hot room (the heat, my stiffness, distractions, the sweat!) I find I have great strength to take on challenges I meet outside of the hot room. Simply put: practicing this series makes me a better human!
"The thing that continues to amaze me most is the reassurance I gain from the practice that BIG things are possible: that if you apply action, with patience and intention, and the willingness to fail, and try again, that anything is possible.
"I am preparing to go to Bikram's Teacher Training this fall, and I am so excited! By becoming a Bikram Yoga teacher I will be able to inspire and help others heal themselves through this yoga. I want to study and know in depth the science and meaning behind every bit of the dialogue. I want to deepen my personal practice. I want to dedicate myself to Bikram yoga for life. It has improved my life so much for the better and it's time to share it with others!"
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!