You're out for a run when all of a sudden you feel a slight pain in your back that lingers for the rest of the day. The slightest move creates a sharp pain, forcing you to steer clear of running for a week or two.
Back pain is one of the worst ailments an athlete deals with because the only way to heal is to rest--and you never really know how long it will take. However, there is something you can do to prevent an achy back: yoga.
The two well-known culprits of back pain are weak abdominals and tight hamstrings. The challenge often stretches beyond these muscle groups. Weakness in the front of the torso creates instability in the back. The deep hip flexors, or psoas, that connect the top and bottom halves of the body, need to be strong in order for the back to be supported. Abdominal strength also assists back support. Flexibility plays an important role too. If the muscles of the neck, chest, hip flexors, glutes or hamstrings are too tight, it can pull on the back from each direction causing misalignment, compromised posture or even pain.
As much as we want to create more length in the back of the body we need to build strength as well. Equally, the front of the body also needs to be stretched and opened not just strengthened.
It's about creating balance. If the back muscles are weak then the front of the body collapses and the muscles shorten, causing strain. If the muscles in the front of the torso are too weak, then the back muscles are overworked causing stiffness. Either imbalance can result in pain, which means no running.
Therefore, you want to create a balance of strength and length in the front and back as well as the top and bottom of the body. Yoga is a practical solution to back issues because it's a full-body practice. The way we walk, how often we sit, our level of exercise, stress or even past emotional trauma all influence where we hold tension in our bodies. By targeting all the muscle groups with emphasis on strengthening and lengthening the back, yoga can help relieve back pain.
Practice these four poses to create a strong, pain-free back.
Marichasana C: Marichi's Pose III
Begin seated with legs straight out in front of you. Bend the right knee up towards the sky, bringing the back of your heel as close to the sitting bone as possible. Align the right ankle underneath the knee; leave space between the right foot and left thigh. Activate the left extended leg, reaching through the heel and pulling the toes back toward you.
Inhale, lift the torso and twist to your right placing the inside of your left upper arm on the outside of the right knee. Bend your elbow and allow for a comfortable resistance between the arm and knee. Exhale; place your right hand underneath the right shoulder and twist. Press the floor away to help lift the torso and gaze over the shoulder. Breathe deeply for five cycles. Inhale back to center, exhale, and release the arms and legs. Switch sides.
Benefits: The pose stretches the shoulders. It also strengthens and stretches the spine as well as relieves mild backache and hip pain.