Low back pain relief

If you’ve wondered what the cause of your low back pain is, a physical therapist is your best bet. This article, however, summarizes findings from recent scientific studies about how tight hamstrings can affect the muscles in your lower back. Namely, tight or short hamstrings cause a posterior tilt (or cat tilt) of your pelvis, bringing more stress to your lower back muscles during a forward fold.

Loosening up the hamstrings gradually with dynamic stretching can help decrease the tension in the low back. In fact, dynamic stretching is the best way to warm up your body for a workout, yoga or otherwise.

A great way to start is with a forward fold with bent knees. Clasp opposite elbows and gently sway left and right. Then play with the bend in your knees, finding just the right amount of stretch: you will feel opening, but not pain.


Image credit: dailybandha.com

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Yoga in the great outdoors: is it for you?

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Last weekend, my partner and I took a camping trip to Big Sur. Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway from Pismo Beach, we were in awe of the natural beauty along the coast. (And the size and number of elephant seals!)

Our campsite was surrounded by redwoods that seemed to graze the clouds and that provided cool, shaded shelter from the piercing sunlight. The presence of these trees was very grounding, and practicing yoga amongst them was awe inspiring and humbling.

How does being outdoors change my yoga practice?

First thing I noticed was the earth. No longer was I on a perfectly flat hardwood floor, but I could feel the bumps and grooves from the soil. This made a radical difference in what my poses felt like: was I grounding down with my root knuckles in adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog)? Was I lifting my arches in tadasana (mountain pose)? I felt less certain in my stance and alignment, and realized how much information about my pose that I get from the earth.

Next thing that stood out was the surroundings and sky. Instead of being contained in a room with four walls and a ceiling, I was surrounded by trees, representing pillars of strength and resilience, and I felt the rays of sunshine that poked through the canopy. My practice felt limitless, my arms reaching towards the sky unimpeded, my nose touching and smelling earth when I lowered down.

The sounds of nature were its own soundtrack: the breeze rustling tree branches, the waves meeting the shore, birds vocalizing, the pitter patter of nuts falling to the earth. The sounds and rhythms were complex, but they complemented each other.

Finally, I saw many opportunities to practice. Some were very brief, like striking a tree pose by the ocean, and others were longer. But it was all playful, coming from a place of curiosity (Can I do a pose on a rock? How does this breeze inspire my flow?).

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Advice for practicing outdoors?

  • Use a good quality mat that won’t slip during your practice. Or practice directly on the earth!
  • Bring bug spray/sunscreen
  • Be open to the experience — it will feel different from an indoor practice, maybe in ways you don’t expect

Would I recommend practicing yoga outdoors?

Absolutely! It connects you with the aliveness of the earth, and opens your practice to new information. Maybe it will inspire your own flow sequence!

Whether you choose to practice yoga asanas outdoors or not, simply being outdoors can be a yoga practice in itself. Being in nature unites your individual self with the universal self — plus, who doesn’t love watching the sunset?

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Me? Calm? A brief pause can do it!

Tibetan master Tsoknyi Rinpoche has a powerful and accessible tool for creating calm in your busy and hectic day: meditate! No incense, quiet space, or chanting needed 🙂

Although I have a regular meditation practice, that doesn’t mean I never feel overwhelmed or anxious during the day.  Far from it! And when it happens, a brief pause in my day makes a big difference. Taking a deep breath and noticing where in my body I feel tension is the first step. Then, I let myself sit with whatever I’m feeling,  giving attention to each breath I take when it gets overwhelming. That’s it!

Slowing down the breath brings the body out of “fight-or-flight” sympathetic mode and into parasympathetic mode, a relaxed and resting state. That’s part of the magic behind meditation. The other part is cultivating awareness: of your thoughts and feelings, and how your body responds to them. By taking even a few seconds to do this, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed, will help you reset your thoughts and calm your nervous system. And the more you do it, the easier it gets! Happy breathing 🙂

Lila: being playful

Sometimes when I’m practicing yoga, I catch myself being very serious about my journey. Am I doing this pose good enough? Have I really let go with my exhales? Maybe I didn’t try hard enough in meditation…

There’s a concept I came across recently called lila, which means playfulness for the sake of playfulness.  I think it’s a way of letting go and enjoying the moment. When I fall during Natarajasana (Dancer’s pose) and I laugh, the pose is no longer something I must conquer, but a way of playing: standing tall and bending back and reaching for your toes!

On my journey as a yoga teacher and a yoga practitioner, there are times when I am so focused that I take things too seriously.  Being able to be playful, curious, and exploring with poses, philosophy, and finding my teaching style helps me balance the depth and profoundness of what I learn with lightheartedness and fun. After all, life is short! Why not have some fun?

Yoga and low back pain

NPR posted an article on how mindful meditation, yoga, and cognitive behavioral therapy can reduce chronic lower back pain and stress related to it.

As my practice of yoga continues, I am able to experience the intelligence of my body in new and eye-opening ways. Tension in the back of my neck can indicate that I’ve been at the computer too long, and also that I’ve been carrying and holding onto stressors in my day-to-day life. Asana practice teaches me body awareness so that I can hone in on exactly where I’m feeling pain or sensation. Meditation teaches me how to listen to my body and connect the physical sensations I feel with how I am feeling mentally and emotionally.

By developing mindfulness of my body, I can use its great intelligence to help make informed decisions when it comes to my physical health. Yeah, sometimes that means a visit to the doctor and a prescription to help my body in the fight. But I also have a powerful tool that I carry with me at all times, tailored to tell me the big picture of what the physical sensations I feel mean for me.