Yoga for good Back Posture

Let’s Talk About Posture! (part 2)

How can we strengthen our back?

 

A strong back is a key component to tall and beautiful posture. 

Your back is a beautifully complex structure of nerves, bones, cartilage, tendons and muscles.

It’s easy to take it for granted! After all, we use it automatically in every single thing we do. So there’s no need to actively think about it.

However, in this mini blog I will present some thoughts and evidence to show that we can do a little more these days to really look after our back and keep it strong.

This will be relevant to you especially if you have a job where you sit down a lot!

 

What does the back do for posture?

Your back is supported by muscles. These help hold the body upright and allow the trunk of the body to move, twist and bend in many directions.

Some of these muscles, called the back extensor muscles, are attached to back of the spine and enable actions like standing and lifting objects. These muscles include the large paired muscles in the lower back, called Erector Spinae.

The Erector Spinae helps hold up the spine for beautiful upright posture!

 

Why does our back get weaker?

If we’d live like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we’d always have a super strong and upright back. No questions asked!

Walking a lot, picking up heavy things, squatting, sitting on the floor without a back-rest are all movements that our bodies are designed to do and that keep the Erector Spinae muscles engaged.

We did these every day and most of the day, before office chairs and sofas were invented…

 

Is your office job weakening your back?

We all know that muscles get bigger and stronger when you use them. And, vice-versa, it is the same! They will start to weaken when there are long periods of disuse.

So just think about the position your back is in most of the day at work. Are you reclining onto a chair? And are you then you’re sitting in the car, reclining? And then when you come home, do you spend a few hours reclined on the sofa?

(No judgement from me, I’m sitting on an office chair while I’m writing this! And as I wrote this last sentence I found myself sitting up taller, away from the backrest!)

Yes, I know, we have to work. And for the vast majority of us we can’t avoid computer work!

But there are a few things we can do to counter-act this effect.

 

What does the research say?

I looked at what’s available on Google Scholar, and found many studies showing the benefits of exercise and yoga for improving low back pain (Anheyer et al., 2022; Owen et al., 2020).

That’s great! It partly shows us that these exercise modalities can help strengthen the back.

However, low back-pain is a much more complicated phenomenon than back strength alone, as it includes tightness in other muscles and psychological factors as well.

I was interested to find studies measuring actual back strength!

And I found one study of 193 office workers that did measure back strength, along with a host of other measurements (Genin et al., 2018).

When comparing those who regularly took part in the office exercise programme (2-3 times a week), to those who did not, the active group had statistically significantly higher back strength.

So the active office workers had managed to maintain a stronger back, despite their sedentary job, by regularly doing exercise 2-3 times a week.

 

Three yoga poses for a strong back!

Now, you know I am a big fan of yoga!

Personally, I have needed to keep my back super strong over the last two years to survive the physical demands of having a baby (now toddler)!

Picking up a young child from the floor and lowering them into a cot are very demanding for the back!

My strategy for surviving this time injury-free, was to really focus on back strength in my yoga practice. And I am happy to say, that it worked!

Some of my favourite poses for improving back strength are:

  • Locust Pose: Lying face down, lifting your upper back and legs from the ground just a little.
  • Side Plank: One hand (or elbow) on the ground, reaching high with the other arm. Side edges of the feed on the ground.
  • Upright big-toe hold: Standing up tall holding one foot up in front of you, maybe with the leg straight or knee bent, working on keeping the back straight.

You don’t even have to have a super long session to get the benefits of these poses.

A 10-15 minute routine that includes these poses would be beneficial for back strength, if done frequently.

If you’re thinking “That’s interesting, but I don’t know where to start!”

Then read on…

 

Want some help?

Do you want to see if you can strengthen your back with yoga? Well, I have something exciting coming up!

In September I will be launching a 28-day challenge to help improve posture!

This will involve a daily 15-minute class. That’s achievable – right?

Watch this space for the up-coming challenge!

Up for the Challenge?

Would you like to be updated when this challenge is available?

Then please put enter your email address below.

* indicates required

Want to read more about posture?

This mini blog is the third in a 3-part blog series. Why not take a moment to read the other two?

Part 1 went into detail about shoulder flexibility and Part 3 talks about how to reduce or avoid the ‘Neck-Hump’!

Enjoy your reading!

Love,

Jolanthe x


References

Anheyer, D., Haller, H., Lauche, R., Dobos, G., & Cramer, H. (2022). Yoga for treating low back pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain, 163(4), e504-e517.

Genin, P. M., Dessenne, P., Finaud, J., Pereira, B., Dutheil, F., Thivel, D., & Duclos, M. (2018). Effect of work-related sedentary time on overall health profile in active vs. inactive office workers. Frontiers in public health, 6, 279.

Owen, P. J., Miller, C. T., Mundell, N. L., Verswijveren, S. J., Tagliaferri, S. D., Brisby, H., … & Belavy, D. L. (2020). Which specific modes of exercise training are most effective for treating low back pain? Network meta-analysis. British journal of sports medicine, 54(21), 1279-1287.


4 Reasons to Stretch the Hips

4 Reasons to Stretch the Hips

It’s not to do fancy yoga poses…

 

The image of a yogi with their leg behind their head is a famous one…

Well, achieving this pose is NOT the reason to stretch your hips!

Most yoga classes you attend will include some hip-opening poses. I really enjoy these because they always give me a big sense of release.

My yoga students frequently tell me that they feel stiff in their hips. And after a class containing hip-openers I often hear from them that they ‘really needed’ those poses.

So, why are these beneficial?

By now it’s probably clear that it is NOT the point of yoga to look great in fancy yoga poses… But what actually IS the point of opening the hips?

Here’s my take on it.

 

1. Open hips make sitting more comfortable

There’s no denying it… our daily lives involve a lot of sitting.

But sitting on an office chair for a long time can make your back ache! (Hands up if you have personal experience with this…)

Well, the original yogis wanted to sit for a very long time to meditate, but they ran into the same problem! It was uncomfortable!

So the original point of yoga poses was to open the hips so that sitting cross-legged on the floor could be done comfortably for hoooooours of mediation.

Well, even if you’re not so keen on the mediation part, opening YOUR hips will help you sit comfortably, with your back straight, too.

(After opening your hips, you’ll most likely find yourself sitting cross-legged on your office chair, as I do – my favourite position to work!)

 

2. Open hips help you pick-up things

If I had a penny for every time I’ve picked-up our toddler or his toys/food/drinks off the ground, then I’d be veeeeery rich.

One thing that has saved my back is that I squat right down with a straight back almost every time. This requires open hips and strong legs. THANKFULLY my yoga practice has given me these.

This is not only relevant to parents, but to us all. We need to pick things up while tidying the house, gardening, picking up litter, collecting sea-shells, picking up a pet, weight-lifting at the gym… etc. etc. etc.

You get the picture. We ALL pick up things!

 

3. Open hips reduce lower back/knee pain

This is a little technical…

The muscles around the hip joint can get stiff and a little ‘stuck’. Where the muscles attach to bones (via tendons) can then start to pull a bit.

Our hips have lots of muscles crossing them and attached to them. Some of these muscles attach to the lumbar (lower) spine. One example is the pair of Psoas muscles. When these get tight with a lot sitting, they pull on the lumbar spine.

Other muscles originate from the hips (pelvic girdle) and go down towards the legs. One example is the group of muscles that form your Quadriceps. These attach to your knee-cap, so if they are tight, they can pull your knee cap in one direction (depending on which of the Quadriceps is tightest).

I’ll stop there before your eyes glaze over! Suffice to say, your spine and knees will be happiest with supple muscles around the hip-to-thigh and hip-to-back junctions!

 

4. Emotional release

This last reason is perhaps a little ‘woo-woo’.

In the yoga-world, it is said that we hold pent-up emotions and stress in our hips. So stretching the hips maaaaaaay be helpful for our mental wellbeing as well.

While my science-brain finds it difficult to put words to this phenomenon, I do FEEL this personally in my yoga practice.

I always end my own yoga practice with a long hold in half-pigeon pose, and this gives me a lovely feeling of mental and physical release.

You may have experienced that after a tough day in the office you feel physically tense, and perhaps especially in the hips?

Even if you’re skeptical about this point, it’s worth keeping an open mind about it. After all, who knows?

Happy Hips in 28 days!

I invite you to join my 28-day Happy Hips Challenge! 💪

This involves just 15 minutes of guided yoga a day.

Starting easy and then slowly getting deeper.

I’ve designed it to get RESULTS!

Your hips will thank you!

Join the Challenge!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Yoga for Back Pain

Yoga for Back Pain

Chances are, you have experienced back pain! It’s the…

  • Most common cause of limited activity in people below the age of 45…
  • Second most frequent reason for visits to a physician…
  • Third most common reason for surgery…
  • Fifth most common cause of hospital admission!

These figures are from the United States in 1999 (Andersson et al., 1999), but I am sure that the current UK figures are not much different, as there’s just as much desk work, lifting children, manual labour, stress, and those random movements that suddenly cause a back ache!

 

Does Yoga Help your Back?

There is a common belief that yoga is helpful for a ‘bad back’, but some people also think they shouldn’t start yoga for fear of aggravating their ‘bad back’.

So what is yoga….

helpful or a hindrance for the back?

Personally, I believe my (almost) daily yoga practice is a life-saver for my back. Helping me keep it strong enough to survive the constant picking up and putting back down of a toddler.

Yet… sometimes for a shot while after my yoga practice my back feels a little more delicate. This feeling is always gone within hours or latest the next day, so I take it as being like a muscle ache. Temporary discomfort, yet long-term increased strength!

But that’s just me!

What does the science say???

 

Science on Yoga for Back Pain

There have been many studies evaluating whether yoga improved persistent back pain in a variety of groups. Chang and colleagues (2016) systematically searched the published studies and found 14 interventions of good quality that compared a control group and a yoga group.

These are just some of the findings….

Significant reductions in functional disability, back pain intensity, medication use and depression after 24-weeks of Iyengar yoga (compared with a control group) (Williams et al., 2005; 2009).

A greater improvement in flexibility and reduction in back pain after 7 days of meditation, yoga exercise, chanting and yoga lectures, compared with a control group who also followed a daily routine of exercise, non-yogic breathing exercises, educational lectures and additionally filled their time watching nature programs. (Tekur et al., 2008; 2010)

Significantly better back function after a a 12-week yoga program versus a control group who received a back pain education booklet for low back pain patients (Tilbrook et al., 2011). This improvement remained at 3, 6, and 12 months after the yoga program!

This is just a snap shot of the findings section in the review by Chang et al. (2016).

 

Is Yoga a Risk for the Back?

Chang et al. (2016) found that ‘adverse events’ were equally common in the yoga groups as in the control groups, and reasoned that it was not surprising to see some adverse events, given that all these subjects generally already had back-pain to start with!

Yet, as I mentioned before, it is possible for you to feel more sensations, achy-ness and tenderness in the back after a yoga practice that has exercised this part of your body well!

Indeed one study did report 11 incidences (out of 156 participants) of temporarily increased back pain after yoga which was deemed non-serious (Tilbrook et al. 2011).

So! What do YOU make of this?

My opinion remains that while short-term discomfort may be induced at times… yoga improves back-health in the long term.

 

How can Yoga help the Back?

There is less research on exactly WHY yoga might help the back, so here is my own understanding of it…

 

1. Keeping your back and core muscles strong

You’ve all heard that to protect your back you need a strong core. Well, the muscles that protect the spine go all the way around it!

Many yoga poses such as balance poses, Boat pose, plank, Chataranga Dandasana (low plank), and the whole Sun-Salutation sequence all increase the strength of these muscles (like a corset around your lower back).

When these muscles are strong and when you automatically engage them while moving around, you decrease the chances of putting unhealthy strain on the back.

 

2. Stretching out tightened muscles that pull on the vertebrae

Various muscles are attached to the vertebrae of the spine. If these are very tight, they can start to pull constantly, causing posture changes or directly causing pain.

One example is the Psoas Major (there is one either side of the spine, see image below). When this is tight it will pull the lower spine forward (think belly out, bum back), and eventually cause low back pain.

To stretch the Psoas Major we need to do hip extension, which you find in Upward-Facing Dog, a deep lunge, Camel Pose, Frog Pose, and Half-Pigeon when arching the back (and any other back bending poses). (Find these in my Sun Salutation, Flexibility for Cyclists, and Mini Back Bend classes.

Another example is the Quadratus Lumborum (see image below). This can get very tight after a lot of sitting, and will then pull on the places where it is attached. Gate Pose is a lovely way to stretch this! (Find this in my Mini Back Release class).

3. Counteracting long-held positions from daily life

In daily life many of us sit for hoooooours on end. This means we are rounding the lower back more than is natural. This could cause a slow shift in the spine to remain in this position. In this case, practicing gentle back bending postures (arching the back) can help counteract this excessive rounding.

Anything else you do repeatedly or for a long time will also have an effect on your spine’s position.

Can you think of what you do regularly?

How do you need to balance out YOUR spine to avoid/alleviate a bad back?

So let’s do some Yoga!

I invite you to follow a class to help you strengthen and/or stretch your back.

We’re all different, but these classes might feel nice/be good for long-term strengthening…

Mini Back Release (20 minutes)

Sun Salutation (20 minutes)

Flexibility for Cyclists (35 minutes)

Mini Back Bend (10 minutes)

Mini Back Strength (15 minutes)

Open your diary and pan it in!

❤️

I hope you enjoyed my ramblings today. 🤓 Please feel free to add your comments below!

Love,

Jolanthe x

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x

References

Andersson GB. Epidemiological features of chronic low-back pain. Lancet. 1999; 354:581–585. [PubMed: 10470716]

Chang DG, Holt JA, Sklar M, Groessl EJ. Yoga as a treatment for chronic low back pain: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of orthopedics & rheumatology. 2016 Jan 1;3(1):1.

Tekur P, Singphow C, Nagendra HR, Raghuram N. Effect of short-term intensive yoga program on pain, functional disability and spinal flexibility in chronic low back pain: a randomized control study. J Altern Complement Med. 2008; 14:637–644. [PubMed: 18673078]

Tekur P, Chametcha S, Hongasandra RN, Raghuram N. Effect of yoga on quality of life of CLBP patients: A randomized control study. Int J Yoga. 2010; 3:10–17. [PubMed: 20948896]

Tilbrook HE, Cox H, Hewitt CE, Kang’ombe AR, Chuang LH, et al. Yoga for chronic low back pain: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2011; 155:569–578. [PubMed: 22041945]

Williams KA, Petronis J, Smith D, Goodrich D, Wu J, et al. Effect of Iyengar yoga therapy for chronic low back pain. Pain. 2005; 115:107–117. [PubMed: 15836974]

Williams K, Abildso C, Steinberg L, Doyle E, Epstein B, et al. Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of Iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2009; 34:2066– 2076. [PubMed: 19701112]