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.
Dandayamana bibhaktapada paschimottanasana! This posture is not only the most fun posture to say the name in Sanskrit, but also a phenomenal stretch for your hamstrings, hips and spine.
Because of the upside-down position, this pose provides increased circulation to the brain, nasal cavities and adrenal glands. It decompresses the spine, relieving pressure on the intervertebral discs and the spinal nerves (including the sciatic nerve) as well as having a pretty incredible effect on your cardiovascular system (see below...)
Check out our video about how adjusting the size of your step can help you get the most out of this one:
Have you heard of a baroreflex? "Baro" comes from the Greek baros, meaning pressure or weight. So the baroreflex is one of your body's mechanisms which helps maintain blood pressure at nearly constant levels. When you hang upside down in Standing Separate Leg Stretching, baroreceptors in your arteries sense that blood pressure to the head is elevated, and this starts a rapid feedback loop which causes the heart rate to lower and blood pressure to decrease to a more normal level.
Lower heart rate and lower blood pressure is associated with a calming sensation in the body, amirite? Which, if you think about it, means the placement of this pose in our series is simply genius! I mean, you just completed Balancing Stick pose, which got your heart beating out of your chest. And you're just about to do Triangle pose... But first, you get to do Standing Separate Leg Stretching, to bring your blood pressure and heart rate down, so by the time you hit Triangle you're operating on a much more even keel. Wow!
What if you have sciatica?
In this pose, a special consideration for those with active sciatica is that the feet should not be "slightly pigeon-toed." They should be parallel to one another, or even a little turned out. This takes pressure off the sciatic nerve during the pose.
“My first Bikram yoga class was in New York City about 16 years ago when a friend invited me to share in her new obsession. One day after work I jumped on the subway and made my way downtown to Chambers Street with just enough time before class to chug a Starbucks latte… I didn’t know anything about this hot yoga! Halfway through the standing series I ran out of the room and threw up in an aptly placed trashcan by the studio door.
“It took me a couple of years to gather the courage to go back, and this time I knew how to better prepare for class. I came hydrated, went to find peace and some relief from the stress NYC provided with unlimited generosity. I walked into class angry, grumpy, tired and walked out of class serene and sweaty: I was hooked!
“For me, Bikram yoga is primarily my mental health medicine. Sure, it keeps me toned and focused on healthy eating, but what it really does is reorganize my energy and keep my brain and body in balanced, optimal working order. One class solves a design problem, another class offers forgiveness or releases sadness, some classes cultivate joy or compassion, or sometimes it’s just the sweat that washes away the day.
“Recently I was surprised to receive physical healing for my body. This is what most people proclaim as their primary benefit! But, because I’ve never had injuries, I didn’t seek yoga to heal my physical body. This past winter (probably from the stress of driving in that dangerous winter weather) I experienced great sciatic pain. The pain disturbed my sleep, distracted my work, and was overall exhausting. During my 30-day-yoga-challenge, I worked through the pain, gently stretched the sciatic nerve, and used the meditation of class to help relax the spasms of muscles surrounding the nerve. The pain has gone away!
This past spring I ‘threw my back out’ from sitting in a 3-day conference. I could hardly move I was in so much pain. I came to yoga every day for a week and each day the pain was reduced and my range of motion was increased.
“What is magical is how Bikram yoga gives me what I need each class. Each day is different. Bikram yoga is unconditional in offerings and I am always finding more ways to appreciate and learn from my practice. As teacher Bill says: “You are your best teacher!” Using Bikram yoga to feel better requires that I listen carefully to how my body speaks to me. I am learning how and when I can be my own healer, or to work in concert with other modalities of healing.
“Here at Bikram Yoga St. Johns, we are all part of a community of positivity and joy! This studio is unlike any other studio I have practiced in. Here we are all equal, all included, we are all working together to be our better self, we are open, vulnerable and strong together. Being part of this community is one of the most special gifts I have received this year and I thank you all for being here with me! See you in the hot room soon.”
BONUS: Charlotte is our cuurent featured artist at the studio! Check out her colorful, joyful prints on your way to the yoga room today...
Studio leader, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.