I have a love -hate relationship with yoga. When I started doing it about eight years ago I absolutely loved it. I loved the peace, the stillness, the relaxed and gamely attitude of the group doing it with me. Then something happened. I hurt my back and nothing I did took the pain away. The pain eventually spread through my right hip and leg, and down both my arms. I woke every night (often several times) and I was fearful to bend down, to sneeze, to twist, to do anything really. So I did something really stupid, I stopped doing yoga.
In the three years that followed I sought the advice of various doctors, chiropractors, osteopaths, and physios. I saw a hand and wrist ortho, a rheumatologist and a neurosurgeon. I was given huge quantities of painkillers, some for nerve pain, some for inflammation, and some to help me sleep through the night – often to be taken all at once; it’s amazing I actually remember anything throughout that time. When the painkillers failed to take the pain away, even in huge quantities, I was reluctantly sent for an MRI scan.
What the scan showed was minor disc bulges pretty much all the way down my spine and up through my neck. Nothing that warranted an operation (although if I’d had private medical insurance I’m sure they’d have booked me into the operating theatre in a flash). Some of the damage was degenerative caused by years of sitting at a desk, some probably made worse by ‘hard core’ body conditioning classes that I’d been doing (with bad technique!). After a routine visit to my opticians where I was informed my eyesight had deteriorated rapidly (caused by the huge quantities of nerve suppressants) I knew I had to do something (my handbag simply wasn’t big enough to carry two pairs of glasses – one for reading, one for driving and watching TV…), so I did what everyone facing that kind of dilemma would do, I withdrew from the medication (not quite as slowly as advised, something I wouldn’t recommend) and I went to Florida and to ride rollercoasters for two weeks…
When I returned the pain had almost disappeared. Walking, heat, fresh air and no exercise? Or the fact that I’d been doing simple yoga stretches on returning from the theme parks each evening? What I knew was that I felt better than I had done in years. So, on my return to England, and painkiller free, I changed my routine to static strength and conditioning classes and I went back to yoga big time.
After four months of doing my new routine, what I’ve finally begun to realise is that I NEED to do yoga at least three times a week to feel normal. Without yoga the pain gradually creeps back in. So, I’ve learnt the hard way that yoga is medicinal, for me anyway, and essential to my wellbeing. With yoga I don’t need painkillers, without yoga I do. This is a no-brainer – who wants to flood their body with synthetic drugs?
So, what works for me (with bilateral traversing disc bulges at c3/c4 and l4/l5) are the following poses:
And four stronger poses that work for me (but won’t necessarily work for everyone):
This is me in the pictures. You can see my form is better in some poses than others. Yoga is a progressive thing, it’s taken me years to get to this stage and I have to be honest I’m still challenged by a simple forward bend.
Please take note, I am not a yoga teacher and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you but what I would say is this: if you have lower back pain go to a yoga class. Explain your ailments to the yoga teacher and work with their recommendations.
It’s a known fact that yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing and is suitable for all ages, sizes and fitness levels. Not only that but there is evidence to suggest that regular yoga practice is beneficial for people with aches and pains – including lower back pain and depression and stress.
The sad thing is that if it was available on the NHS I’m sure we’d save £ millions on unnecessary and unwarranted painkillers and antidepressants and generally have a fitter and healthier nation.