You can’t release tension against resistance

Have you ever told an angry person to calm down? How did that go? My guess is, the best it went was they looked at you in disbelieve and the worse was they became even angrier. That’s exactly how it works for muscles. An angry, aggravated muscle will not let you stretch and lengthen it.

You could visualise this by making a tight fist and then try to gently move your fingers away from the fist. Not that easy right? Especially if you don’t want to damage your fingers. Then make your hand into a relaxed fist and, magic, your fingers move away quite easily.

Muscles tense for a reason. Most of the time it’s a good thing otherwise you wouldn’t be able to move. And sometimes they try to protect themselves and their surrounding area. And when they get tight and can’t release anymore they will most likely to start hurting.

How to release tension?

To release tension you could come into a position where you don’t use those muscles anymore. Do you have lower back pain? You could lay on your back, feet wider then your hips, knees pointing up and relaxing towards each other. That position hurts you? Turn around into child’s pose. Hips towards your heels, head relaxes down. You see, it is very difficult to relax when you are in pain. Rambo may have been able to breathe through the pain, but that took him a long while to learn.

When you found your relaxed pose, start to breathe. Fill the belly with air, the chest, the ribs and then visualise the area where you can feel tension filling with air. That rhythmic movement will calm your muscles and your mind. When the body notices there is no harm coming from you breathing it might even relax more.

And when you have found a relaxed state of long, deep, slow breathing, you might want to start adding some movement. Slowly. If you are lying on your back you could start shifting your pelvis from left to right, tilt it forward and backward, lift the hips up for an inhale and lower them down for an exhale. Slowly and mindfully. In child’s pose you could take both hands over to one side for a side stretch or shift the hips from side to side. Whatever tickles your fancy. Notice how it feels.

Just remember, if you can’t take full deep breaths because you are feeling the tension, back off.

 

How to look after your back

Yoga for back care

You have probably heard how yoga can help with back pain. Yoga can do that however not every yoga class is going to help you with your back problems.

Here are some tips on how you can support your back health during a yoga class (and beyond):

 

  1. Firstly if you feel a sharp pain in any posture, come out of that posture. A sharp pain usually means you are aggravating a nerve, which is never a good idea. Go into a gentler variation of that pose or wait for the next one, maybe in child’s pose (unless this is the posture that causes you pain) and tell your yoga teacher that it is causing you pain.
  2. Even if your yoga teacher cues to have a “flat back”, we don’t actually want you to have a straight back. What we mean by flat back is keeping the natural S-curve of the spine, with a slight inward curve of the lower spine, a slight outward curve of the middle and upper spine and a slight inward curve of the neck. These curves are important for the optimal health of your spine. You might even want to remember this throughout your day especially when sitting at a desk.
  3. When in a forward bend, any forward bend standing or seated, bend your knees unless you can comfortably get your belly to rest on your thighs. If you are keeping your legs straight and your hamstrings and hips aren’t as open yet, you will start rounding your back. Most people spend the majority of their day working on a computer or driving and doing this their back probably rounds. Repeating this posture during your yoga class will aggravate those tired muscles even more.
  4. When you are getting up from a standing forward bend, use your core muscles (a slight pull of your navel towards the spine could be enough) and again, bend your knees. Standing up with a straight back can compress the front part of your spinal discs.
  5. You probably heard that having a strong core will help to prevent back pain. That is correct, however first the muscles need to be relaxed to then get strengthened. Starting a strength routine with very tight muscles can cause them to become even shorter and tighter and they might even start to spasm. Relaxing those muscles first will help to lengthen them first and then you can work on your core strength.
  6. When working on increasing your core strength don’t just focus on your abs, think of your core muscles as a cylinder and the core muscles to protect your inner organs. The main ones are the Transverse Abdominis and Obliques in the front and sides, in the back the Multifidus (the muscles along your spine), the bottom is the pelvic floor and the lid your diaphragm. I also add the psoas muscles to this, which are also known as hip flexors. If you work only your abdominal muscles, these will shorten and with weak back muscles they can actually cause you to hunch over and cause even more back pain.

Medication for back pain can give you almost instant relief from the pain however, they don’t address the underlying causes of your pain. This can end in a vicious downward spiral with the drugs you are taking becoming stronger and stronger over the years and your body still not getting what it actually needs. A dedicated yoga class can help you with building awareness, slowing down, releasing tension and building strength, which will help you rediscover your mobility and support an overall wellbeing.

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How to stay mindful throughout your day

Your spine is an amazing structure, stacking one vertebra on top of the other and then aligning them in an S-shape curve to stay upright. Without this intricate structure, we wouldn’t be able to stand up. On top of our spine balances our head, which is pretty heavy. It’s a masterpiece of engineering.

But did you know that your head becomes heavier to carry when it isn’t aligned properly on your spine? Try holding something heavy (maybe a bottle of laundry liquid) close to your chest and then hold it out straight in front of you on chest level. Your arms will get heavy quicker holding it out in front.

Now, look at your posture throughout the day. These days we spend a lot of time in front of a PC or looking at a smartphone, or driving a car. Sticking our head out in front can cause muscle strains and pains, pinched nerves or even wear and tear on the vertebrae.

In the beginning, we may have noticed when sticking our head forward, however muscles adapted to this unnatural posture and hence it feels normal. How can we know how it should feel like?

What is good posture?

Try to balance a book on your head. Use a substantial one like one of those cookery books with lots of lovely photos. Place the book on top of your head, where it naturally flattens. If it stays, that’s the posture you are aiming for.

You can’t go to the office with a cookery book on your head? That’s where it becomes tricky. How do you remember throughout your day to stand tall?

How to stay mindful throughout your day?

Let’s introduce a mindfulness trigger into your day. A mindfulness trigger is a situation which triggers you to be present, to be mindful. Let’s say you are going into the kitchen to make yourself a tea, therefore boiling the kettle can be your mindfulness trigger to stand straight and with good posture.

Have both feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Lift the chest without overarching your lower back. Relax the shoulders. Lift the top of your head towards the ceiling with your chin slightly tucked into your chest, just where you start to get a double chin. That should give your neck a little stretch and then you relax your shoulders a bit more.

Make this a habit every time you make a tea and at some stage, this will become a habit and you can add another trigger.

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