Jennifer Dixon MBA ERYT 500
This morning while practicing, it suddenly hit me that I hadn’t worked on a post for the blog yet and a brief moment of panic set in, just before I pressed off into the next pose. Then, while struggling to engage my abdominals enough to hold my body upright, it dawned on me exactly what sort of post we should be reading and learning about.
This title may be deceptive though. You read this and were probably in a little bit of back pain (maybe a lot) and you were hoping for not necessarily a magic yoga pill, but something really really close to it. Well, I hate to break this to you-you’ll have to go back to the previous post (best poses for low back pain pt 1) for that….or read next week’s post. These won’t be magic pills perse but they the poses discussed in those posts are a little less active and more restorative.
Today’s post is all about strengthening the muscles necessary for taking up to 40% of the pressure off our low backs, helping to integrate our upper and lower body parts together, and they help us stand up taller too. What muscle group is this? You guessed it, the “core” muscles.
When you have a strong foundation of muscles, the rest of the poses come easily. The foundation of muscles I’m referring to today are the deep abdominal muscles, known as the Transverse Abdominals. These aren’t the super sexy 6 pack abs, but they are like the ugly sister of those muscles that actually does all the heavy lifting.
Before I get into this, let me explain how I know this is true. (Because I certainly don’t have the strongest “core” system ….YET!)—two babies definitely wreck a bit o havoc on the whole center. Period. However, I have a student. He’s an absolutely fabulous, super strong, new but dedicated yoga practitioner. He started at my studio recently and is actively trying to get his teaching certificate. He’s a strong dude that has spent the last several years bodybuilding. You’d think, oh well it’s going to take him forever to get caught up.
That’s where you’d be hugely mistaken.
Did you know that in Bikram’s autobiography (which I know may have been embellished a bit), he was a weightlifter before a yogi?
He wasn’t the only yogi that used a bodybuilding regime to get strong. Let’s face it, yoga takes STRENGTH.
So let me get to the point of this post, right?
Well, my new student was basically a very strong, sinew of muscle. Unless continually practiced and forced to do this, muscle doesn’t necessarily like to be stretched. This guy was exactly that. A lot of strength that hadn’t been forced into the stretches of yoga. He’d do stretches, but let’s face it, there’s no stretching like yoga stretching…Can I get an amen?
Did that stop him? Oh HECK NO! It motivated him to keep practicing and keep stretching (which is awesome right?)
The very first class he was in, I was teaching on abdominal work and how it could help you to get your inversions, and tried demoing a “floating” landing, and like magic, “voila” he floated his way up. Granted, floating isn’t just abs but it’s a heck of a LOT of abs! (And shoulders, and back, and glutes)… Of course, the rest of the students look on in awe, and I was really proud (hey, that means people actually listen!!)
Here’s the truth though, all that muscle that didn’t want to stretch DID want to work. It DID want to keep his body all in line, all the muscles integrated and working to keep the top half of the body and the bottom half talking and working synchronously. This guy had tremendous abdominal strength which kept his upper and lower body parts working together much more seamlessly, to do poses most of us only dream about or have to work years and years to get to.
This is where the best pose for low back pain comes in.
How do you strengthen the deep down core muscles responsible for integrating the northern and Southern Hemispheres of the body? You may have guessed it…
Everyone loves to hate boat pose. That’s because it’s a hard stinking pose.
You sit back, try to raise both legs out straight, hold them up there without using your hands/arms and only your abs are supposed to hold that lower extremity up. Ya, I can see you laughing.
Let’s hear another story. This time, it’s about me.
I hurt my back years ago..you guys probably all have heard about it. I have a herniated disc and it kept me from doing the things I loved. BUT..that injury lead me to yoga, so I guess it just introduced me to my true love…but that could be a rather deep philosophical hole to dive into, so let’s move on shall we?
Yoga did help my back, but every now and then the pain would flare up so badly I didn’t even want to practice-even the practice that had helped heal me would make things worse it seemed…. So I went to my very first chiropractor, trying to seek some relief.
This guy was old, he’d been in the business for longer than I’d been alive (at the time) and he was a little different in his ways (BUT AWESOME!). He knew me and my family -let’s be honest, there are some family traits even in our bodies!! So as he was adjusting me, and I just keep coming back, he finally asked, “Jennifer your body isn’t holding these adjustments. Will you do some homework to help get your muscles strong enough to keep these bones in place?”
Of course, I said yes.
Want to know his exercise?
Of course, he didn’t call it boat pose, but he gave me drills that I had seen in some of my Power Yoga classes. Basically very small boat crunches he called Sit DOWNS, not sit ups.. He asked if I could do 5, and I did. My homework became do 50 of these Sit Downs every single day, without fail.
When I did them, my back stayed together. When I got lazy, my back would KILL ME.
It was in the middle of a “lazy” spell (not proud of this, but yes, I get lazy sometimes…I’d love to be lazy for a couple of days any day soon, but that isn’t going to happen with two little ones!). So my back was KILLING me. I went to my favorite Chiro and he adjusted me and he said, Jennifer, are you doing your sit downs? I sheepishly replied to the negative…but I did say, my back was hurting too much to do them.
Do you know what his response was? He said, the next time your back hurts that much, stop what you’re doing and do your “Sit downs.” —boat poses. I said WHAT? He said, “trust me.” “If your back is hurting and you do 25 of these, it will help to bring you relief. “
I didn’t believe him, but I said Ok.
Two nights later, my back was hurting. I was laying in bed lamenting the fact that I’d have to go spend yet another $40 to get my back put back in place when my husband (ever the voice of reason) said, why don’t you just try to do some of the exercises the dr told you? I got my lazy self out of bed (with an eye roll) and did 25 sit downs.
Would you believe it? The exercises HELPED!
After 25 I laid back and thought, hmmm, that DID help take some pressure off, maybe I should do more! So I did 25 more. That was the beginning of the road that I like to call, “Jennifer’s Abdominal Evangelical Boat Campaign.”
It works. A strong, consistent deep core strengthening regime helps to keep your back safe, stomach strong, upper and lower body working together synchronously, and relative pain-free living can result.
Deep core exercises include plank poses, boat and canoe poses, and modifications of all of these. It is also small movements inside of these poses.
In upcoming posts, I will really break down the “sit-downs” that my dr showed me, but until then, get into yoga classes. Try your boat pose (whatever variation that is for you today) and keep practicing! Strength is coming!