Your Questions Answered…

This section answers Grads questions about teaching yoga classes, private sessions, and Thai Yoga Massage.
Q: A male student of mine is quite inflexible but quite strong. He is very dedicated, comes each week and tries hard. He has been complaining of a sore lower back after classes. I have found through my own body and a number of other women I teach that lower back tiredness/pain is usually related to a need for more core strength and I talk about flattening out the lower back bringing awareness to the core etc. He says however that his core is strong – this is true – and what should he do. I suggested that tight hamstrings pull all the way up and can cause back pain. So keep working on kindly stretching out those hammies. I understand it is all a little general talking like this however do you have any other standard answers that come to mind.

A: It’s hard for me to advise without seeing the client personally – and of course there are (many) limitations to my scope of practice. However, maybe some of these inquiries/adjustments will help:

Firstly, a few guidelines:

Technique over intensity – make sure that his technique is refined before he adds on intensity. Those of us who like to try hard often compromise the body in an effort to ‘get there’, but keep repeating the mantra ‘good technique comes first, then you can add intensity’.

Breath with your breath, move with your muscles. Breath is always a good indicator of what is happening in the core – and keep in mind that your core can be super strong but if you are bracing with your breath instead of stabilizing with core muscles then you may run into trouble. So, if he is holding/struggling with his breath or not able to take a full breath, then he needs to reduce intensity.

As well, for anyone with low back pain, particularly those with tight hamstrings, straight leg forward folds could/should be modified to bent-knee forward folds ie: in Sun Salutations bend the knees before hinging the hips to fold down – and the same on the way up. And apply to that a subtle Jalandhara Bandha and hollowing of the belly and you’ve got much more support for these actions which do put a lot of strain on the lower spine.

Be careful with ‘flattening the back’, what techniques would you advise this in? Ideally, each posture has an element of Tadasana in it – which means neutral spine, not flat spine (now of course this doesn’t apply in spinal flexion/spinal extension as much…but Tadasana is still there in essence) and when we flatten the back we take away the natural action of the spine and replace it with strain…so that’s one to be careful with.

Finally, take care that twists are done with the spine beginning in neutral, and maybe take away any leveraging with the arms. Sit up on cushions until sit bones are flat and even, and then take the arms out of the twist to get the core engaged and reduce the strain of leveraging with the arms. What often happens in twists, and can lead to lower back pain after yoga class, is that due to tightness we start out behind the sit bones in slight lumbar flexion and then add a leveraged twist and this can cause strain/pain. Also, often when we leverage with the arms there is a lateral flexion in the spine (ie: one sit bone is lighter on the ground/one side waist is shortened) and again the spine undergoes a great deal of strain.

The above are some of the more common causes of/ways to address low back pain during or after yoga class.  I hope you find these inquiries, adjustments and techniques helpful….let me know how you go…

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