How to Help Your Students in Philadelphia, PA, Use Yoga to Find Relief from Back Pain
Author, Dr. Jeffrey Langmaid from Laser Spine Institute
As you teach yoga in Philadelphia, PA, you may find that some students come to you looking for ways to alleviate back pain. A very common problem that most people will experience at some point during their lives, back pain can strike suddenly, after an accident or trauma, or it can develop gradually, as a result of poor posture or degenerative changes related to the natural aging process. One of the best ways to address this type of discomfort is through physical activity in the form of stretching and low-impact exercise – which are two fundamental aspects of the practice of yoga. Additionally, yoga promotes postural improvement, bodily awareness and stress reduction, all of which can contribute to enhanced wellness in general and spinal health in particular. In fact, many people who regularly practice yoga report significant gains in strength, flexibility and endurance, and these are basic goals of most rehabilitation programs for back pain.
In recent years, numerous studies have confirmed the positive effects of “nontraditional” mind-body therapies, helping to dispel the once-popular image of yoga as a mere form of meditation and stretching (and nothing more) among the uninitiated. As a result, within the medical community there is growing acceptance of yoga as a complementary treatment for many health conditions, including those affecting the spine, and more and more physicians in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area are recommending it to their patients. Additionally, many people with back pain find that traditional treatment options, such as surgery and medication, are too invasive, have unpleasant side effects or simply produce insufficient results. For these reasons and more, it is highly likely that, as a yoga instructor, you will have students come to you seeking advice on how to use the discipline as a way to prevent or ease back pain.
Of course, no form of treatment – including yoga – will be appropriate or effective for everyone. While yoga is generally safe for most people, certain poses may need to be avoided or modified for those who have certain medical conditions. For instance, an individual who has been diagnosed with spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal) should avoid spinal extension (bending backward). Likewise, a person with degenerative spine conditions affecting the cervical (neck) region should not practice headstands or shoulder stands.
When working with your students, you may want to consider the following general points, which are suggested by the experts at Laser Spine Institute as a way to ensure the safest and most productive experience possible:
- Whether the student is new to yoga and exploring it as a possible way to address back pain, or a seasoned practitioner who has recently developed spinal discomfort, you should advise the student to consult with a physician before attempting any type of yoga. A physician can diagnose the underlying source of the pain, which is important because, in some cases, certain postures can potentially cause more harm than good.
- Ask the student to explain his or her medical condition to you prior to class, as well as relate any specific instructions he or she received from a physician with regard to physical activity in general and yoga in particular.
- Develop a sequence of basic poses, such as the child’s pose and the cat/cow pose, modified as necessary to accommodate the limitations of the student’s condition. Demonstrate the poses for the student and have him or her try them under your supervision.
- Allow the student to observe a yoga class before deciding whether to participate. This can increase his or her comfort level by knowing what to expect ahead of time.
- If the student is a beginner, suggest private lessons so that you can observe, assist and provide personalized instruction on a one-on-one basis. This can make it easier for the student to eventually transition to a group yoga class or practice on his or her own.
- Encourage the student to let you know immediately if the pain worsens or new pain develops, or if a pose simply doesn’t feel right.
- Explain how regular yoga practice can help the student avoid further injury by listening to his or her body while participating in yoga and making appropriate physical and mental adjustments.
The underlying causes of chronic back pain can be complex and difficult to treat. Oftentimes, the discomfort experienced is not proportionate to an identifiable level of tissue damage or other injury. Instead, the pain results from changes in the way the body’s nervous system processes sensations. For instance, if a spinal nerve root is compressed by displaced spinal disc material (such as a herniated or bulging disc), it can send faulty signals to the brain that exaggerate the actual painful stimulation. On top of that, the stress of dealing with physical limitations and a reduced quality of life can also amplify an individual’s perception of pain.
The bottom line is that chronic back pain is usually a mind-body phenomenon. By integrating physical activity into a back pain treatment plan, which can play an important role in the recovery process, with mindful practices that address the cognitive and emotional components of pain, yoga can reduce not only the experience of pain itself, but the emotional aspects of it as well.
In many ways, being outdoors can intensify the yoga experience. As you encourage your students to be in the moment and become one with nature, you might suggest that they try practicing outside. There are many beautiful locations in Philadelphia, PA, that are well suited for this purpose. A few ideas include Fairmount Park, Schuylkill Banks, the grounds of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Race Street Pier.