Archives for posts with tag: herniated disc

I sometimes got myself thinking why I am posting yoga blogs and why I am trying so hard to write these blogs. Yes, I love to write and I feel as if I was just born to write. However, I cannot keep myself from thinking whether people are really reading the posts or whether they are making a difference or being beneficial to some people’s lives. When these thoughts come to my mind, I stop writing for a while. Then a moment comes and life reminds me why I should write. 

I have not been writing for a few weeks. Besides group and private yoga classes, the yoga teacher training program is so full and I cannot have time to post blogs. Moreover, I have a private life. Whenever I turn on the computer to post a blog, I find myself taking notes for the training or making researches for the training. However, I should write. This is what makes me happy. How could I get away from myself and the things that makes me happy this much and when did this happen? 

Daily flow of life reminded me the answer to this question. One morning, I got the answer when a friend of mine with whom we are training teachers called me. She told me that a woman called the studio, who was suffering from a serious herniated disc in her lumbar spine. Doctors had advised that she undergo a surgery but she instead googled to read about herniated discs. That was when she found one of my blogs on herniated discs and then she found the yoga studio of my friend and called the studio. My friend invited her to the studio for a free trial class and had a really beneficial class with the woman. The woman told my friend that she felt so relieved after the class and she had not felt so well for a long time.  

After the class, my friend called me and informed about the development. That was when I found out the answer I had been searching for a long time. Why was I writing? I was looking for an answer for a long time and I was thinking that what I was doing was just in vain because there was not any satisfying answer to my question. However, maybe I was writing a blog in order to beneficial to only one person. Only one person would benefit from it and maybe this benefit would be today, tomorrow or a year later however that blog would be a healing for “just one person.” This reminded me a story I shared with you years ago. A story by Lauren Tseley: 

“Once upon a time there was an intellectul who used to write his stories on the shore of the ocean. Before starting writing, he used to walk on the shore. One day, he saw a man who seemed like dancing on the beach. He thought that the man could be a person who liked to start the day by dancing and he smiled. He walked fast to catch up with the man. When he got closer, he saw that it was a young man who was in fact not dancing. He was running a few steps, taking something from the ground and then throwing it to the ocean smoothly. He talked to the man as he came a few steps closer: 

– Good morning sir. What are you doing? 

The young man raised his head and answered: 

– I am throwing starfish to the ocean. 

– I think I should ask in another way, thought the intellectual. Why are you throwing starfish to the ocean? 

– The sun has already risen up and it’s the low tide. If I don’t throw them to the ocean, they will die. 

– But don’t you see that the coast is kilometers long and full of starfish. It will make no difference. 

The young man listened to the intellectual politely, took another starfish and threw it to the ocean. 

– It made a difference for this one. 

This answer surprised the intellectual and he could not know what to say. He went back home. When he tried to write for the rest of the day, all he could do was to see the man’s face in front of his eyes. He tried not to think of the man but he could not. In the end, he realized what the young man was trying to do. The young man was trying to be an actor in the universe and making a difference instead of being just an observer and watching what was going on. He felt ashamed. That night he did not sleep well. He woke up next morning, got out of bed and went to the shore to find the young man. He spent the morning throwing starfish to the ocean with the young man.” 

Maybe I am calling it “just a blog” however maybe that single blog will make a difference in the life of “a single starfish” that is just one person. I really want to thank to that person who inspired me again in days when I question why I am still writing blogs. I am grateful for having yoga in my life, reaching people with yoga, helping and extending body, soul and mind support to people with yoga as much as I can, and touching not only my life but also lives of other people. How could one be better than this? 

We are undertaking a lot of burden on us, aren’t we? And we do not know how much burden we are carrying. Responsibilities of our loved ones, the burden we put on our body when we are angry and cannot express it, the burden we put on ourselves when we are sad, all kind of moral and material burden on us… And when the responsibilities are over and sadness and problems go away, we think all the burden is gone. Is it really so?

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After I started teaching yoga, I am more careful about the bodies of the students. Most of the students were suffering from herniated discs in their neck and lower back. Some students had a thoracal curve more than usual curve. Some had problems in their hips. Leave aside some body injuries, almost all health problems result from emotional state of mind. Before I started yoga, I would laugh at this if somebody told me some stuff about emotional reasons of health problems. Moreover, I would burst into laughter and I could not stop until my eyes are filled with tears. Now I have realized how emotions affect our state of health.

When I went to one of my group yoga classes last week, students wanted an upper back focusing flow. As you may imagine, the weaker the upper back muscles, the more back pain we have. We would also stretch the chest when we focused on upper back muscles.

Standing erect is one of the most difficult things in life. Have you ever checked whether you are standing erect when you are standing on your feet? Imagine yourself in a long queue. Even if you stand erect for a few seconds, you will bend your knee and deteriorate your posture and spine, won’t you? Or think of yourself in front of a TV or computer. Are you sitting erect or have you rolled your shoulders in? When you are in front of the computer, are both of your legs touching the floor, have you lifted your head to look up the monitor, is your neck looking upward or is it level with the monitor? Just think.

After thinking all these things, imgine how you may feel when you try to keep your spine erect in an upper back-based yoga class. To stand erect in “tadasana” (mountain pose), to roll shoulders back, to keep the chest open, to keep the neck parallel to the floor… To keep the back straight and not to round the spine in “ardha uttanasana” (standing half forward bend)… In another “vinyasa” (flow), to extend the arms in the front just beside the ears, not to let the arms to fall down below the level of the ears, not to bring the shoulders and arms together when doing so, not to compress the neck in “ardha uttanasana.” In “dandasana”, to keep the arms beside the ears and to keep the distance between the ears and the shoulders… After waiting for some time there, not to round the spine… If the spine wants to get rounded, to resist. To keep going keeping the arms beside the ears in “dandasana”, to tuck the tailbone out and bend forward without rounding the spine. How much you bend forward is not important. What is important to keep the spine erect when you bend forward and to bend forward to that level, not more. To do the same flow in “upavistha konasana” (seated angle pose).

To observe the students when they try all these poses. To see which one of them is rounding the “thoracal” (upper back) area and could not extend the body to the front from the “sternum” (chest bone). To think of the reasons and to talk about the burden we are carrying at the end of the class. Responsibilities and burden. Take a deep breath and imagine that you leave the burden out of your lives when exhaling. Everything begins with imagination. When I was in high school, there was a picture on the wall. On the picture was the photograph of scientist Albert Einstein with his quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” As long as we imgine and want, nothing is impossible.

Have you ever thought why we are so much interested in yoga? If we live a busy life, if we work long hours before computers and if we have lower and upper back problems including herniated discs, we get interested in yoga. We really want to learn what yoga is and go to a yoga studio or a gym club to get to know yoga. The reason why we are interested in yoga is totally physical. A physical relief, to alleviate the pain and to gain an erect posture.

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Days, weeks, months and years pass. As time passes, our interest in yoga changes. When we start attending yoga classes regularly, we start to discover the mental and spiritual benefits of it besides its physical benefits. At first, we do not like the opening meditation and the “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose) at the end of the class. But in time, they both become enjoying. As time passes, we get more interested in the spiritual and mental benefits of yoga than its physical benefits. We overcome the mental and physical fatigue of all day in a yoga class and feel refreshed.

You may ask me why I am writing such a long beginning. I have realized that I focused on “male energy”, “being a doer” and “achievement” in my posts for a long time and I have decided to deal with the mental and spiritual aspects. And I have been asked questions about spiritual and mental relief and meditation. So, let me try to elaborate meditation as much as I can.

Yes, if it is your first yoga class, you may probably not like the opening meditation and “savasana” at the end of the class. Generally, we are used to rushing and always “doing something” in our daily lives so it is hard for us to slow down, to stop, to calm down. Actually, sitting silently at the beginning of the class, closing the eyes and focusing on the breath are so good for calming down, turning inward and relieving. However, when we join a yoga class and see someone familiar, we immediately start talking to them and we continue the chat and the murmours even if the teacher turns the lights on and starts to prepare us for meditation. Have you ever thought why we cannot stay silent? Why cannot we just sit and wait? Why do we think we are obliged to socialized? Because this is how the mind works. The mind does not want to stay silent, calm down and stay on its own. Think of the mind as a “naughty kid.” It always wants a toy and to be kept busy. This way, it will always be active and continue to push you like a “devil”. It will always talk and make you uneasy.

Just think that you have silenced your mind! Eyes closed, you are sitting with an erect spine and the mind is silent. You are just watching your inhales and exhales. You are just watching your spine move upward and downward and realizing that your chest is expanding and narrowing. Your face is soft, your eyebrows soft, your breath is calm and this serenity spreads to all your body. Just imagine. And yes haven’t you feeling yourself peaceful even when you are imagining?

On one hand you are keeping your spine erect so that your breath can freely and easily move through your body and on the other hand your face and body is soft and comfartable. And a moment has come and you think you are not breathing. The breath is so silent that you think you are not breathing and you panic. Do not panic. The breath is naturally flowing in your body. The breath is a part of the autonomous nervous system and so it is flowing through your body naturally. You just do not realize it anymore. You are so relieved and relaxed, your body and mind are so relaxed that you do not realize your breath. And those moments when we do not realize breath and which we define as breathless are the moments of “meditation.” Yes, it is just so. One second, two seconds maybe three. And then you are pushed by your mind again and welcome back to regular life.

And a moment came and colors in front of your eyes. The colors of rainbow. Yellow, red, blue, purple. Or maybe geometrical shapes in front of your closed eyes. Square, rectangular, circle. Maybe colorful geometrical shapes.

Maybe your body is tired of sitting in the same shape for a long time and you change your sitting position without opening your eyes. You want to lean your back on somewhere or maybe you want to lie down in “savasana.” If we feel body disturbances, we are living in the moment. It means the mind has not gone away.

Maybe it has been just five minutes but it is a long time or a decade for a beginner. And the teacher asked us to open our eyes.

At the end of the class, again a meditation but a different meditation. “Savasana” i.e. deep relaxation and resting pose. Can we call it a conscious sleep. Maybe. Lying down on our backs and relieving all your body. Leaving all the body on the ground as if the body does not belong to me and as if I am a puppet. As if I cannot rule my body and it is doing whatever it wants. Lying down on the ground and the body is left there on its own. Am I just consisted of breath? I now realize my breath. My breath is getting calmer each passing moment. Am I really inhaling and exhaling? I am not sure. As if somebody is pushing my body down to the earth through my arms and lgs. As if my body is stuck on the ground and I am no more in that breath. Is my soul free? I am lying down but is my head turning? I am turning on my own axis. Similar thing happened during the opening meditation when the teacher kept the meditation long. What has happened to my mind? Has it stopped irritating and disturbing me? I think it is tired. Has it really stopped talking? I have left everything, I have left my body, I have left my mind. “Savasana” is like the death of body, mind and soul for some time. Leaving everything, giving up, self-surrendering, totally vanishing, melting and a temporary death. A conscious sleep. A state of “being” instead of a state of “doing.”

Yoga which I started for just physical purposes has been the cure of my soul and mind. I have loved “meditation” and “savasana” more than yoga “asana”s in time. Watching my breath, soul and mind. Observing my body. Just to be a spectator and looking at myself from outside. To see how much I am unaware of myself and how strange I am to myself. To see that I have forgotten to “just be”, stop and experience the “state of being” because I focused so much on “doing.” To be calm, serene, silent, peaceful, free and to feel myself home.

It is one of the hard parts of being a yoga instructor. Sometimes new students join your group classes, particularly in gym clubs and you try to adjust the new students with the old ones. You try to find a solution not to make old students be bored of the class and not to force the new students and make them have negative thoughts and feelings about yoga. And when some students with special conditions show up in crowded group classes. How? Like students with scoliosis, herniated discs and ankylosing spondylitis. This was just what happened in my group class last week.
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Before the class began, a new student came beside me, introduced herself and told me that she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. I knew about what this disturbance was as I had joined workshops on spine and spinal problems. But I had only theoretical information. I knew that it was kind of arthritis, it was genetic and it was first felt in the lumbar spine. I also learned that it could affect all the spine in time, increase throcal kyphosis, bring shoulders forward, narrow the chest and lead to shortness of breath. What could I advise to the student that day with this much of knowledge about the disturbance? Her doctor recommended that she join yoga classes. My advice was: “Listen to your body throughout the class. When you feel tired and exhausted or feel the asana and flow are too much for you, take a rest. Do the asanas without harming yourself and as much as your body prevails.”
That day we would focus on standing asanas, balancing poses and backbends. When I evaluated the situation before the class began, I thought that backbends would be good for ankylosing spondylitis. Backbends were stretching the chest and strengthening the back muscles. I guessed this class would be beneficial to the new student.
Following meditation, we began to stretch the spine with “marjaryasana-bitilasana” (cat-cow stretch). After stretching the chest with “uttana shishosana” (extended puppy pose), we started to bend the spine backward with “vyaghrasana” (tiger pose). Resting in “utthita balasana” (extended child), we stood up in “tadasana” (mountain pose) after a “vinyasa” (flow).
We started to warm the bodies up with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series. I thought sun salutation would be beneficial to “ankylosing spondylitis.” “Surya namaskara” was bending the spine forward and backward, opening up the chest and stretching the body. When we inhaled and lifted the arms and slightly bent the body back in “urdhva hastasana”, we were stretching the chest. When we exhaled and bent forward, the lumbar spine was relaxing, when we came half-way up and made the back straight in “ardha uttanasana”, when we got into low plank (chaturanga dandasana) and when we extended forward from the chest bone (sternum) in upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), we were stretching the chest. We were getting from one “asana” to another each time we inhaled and exhaled and thus we were regulating the breath.  We were lifting the coccyx upward in “adho mukha svanasana” (downward facing dog) and relieving the spine, particularly the lumbar spine.
By adding standing asanas like “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I), “virabhadrasana II” (warrior II), “parsvakonasana” (side angle pose), “utkatasana” (chair) and “trikonasana” (triangle) in-between sun salutation series, we continued to open up the chest. To stretch the chest more, we inhaled in “urdhva hastasana” and bent backward and waited in that pose for five breaths. “Viparita virabhadrasana” (reverse warrior), “camatkarasana” (wild thing), “urdhva mukha svanasana” (upward facing dog), “bhujangasana” (cobra), “sphinx” and “salabhasana” (locust) were the other backbends of the day. After all these backbends, we rested in “balasana” (child pose) and stretched the spine, particularly lumbar spine and hip flexor muscles.
We added “ashwa sanchalanasana” (high lunge) and “anjaneyasana” (low lunge) in “surya namaskara” series to go on stretching the chest and hip flexor muscles. I thought these asanas helped relieve “ankylosing spondylitis” pain. When bending the spine backward, we were stretching the chest, rolling shoulders back and stretching quadriceps muscles.
After stretching the chest and hip flexor muscles this much, I wanted to try “setu bandhasana” (bridge) and “urdhva dhanurasana” (wheel). As you may imagine, these were poses good for people suffering from anklyosing spondylitis.
Before ending the class, I also wanted to do some corework. The stronger the core was, the stronger the lower back was. I decided on “navasana” (boat) variations. So far, we did “chaturanga dandasana” (low plank) and “phalakasana” during sun salutation series and worked the core muscles. Now we would wait in “navasana” for five breaths and make the core stronger. We did “navasana” for three times. We were trying to sit on sitting bones and try to keep the chest open. Surely, core muscles were engaged. It was also a good asana to relieve ankylosing spondylitis.
With “gomukhasana” (cow face pose), we rolled the shoulders back and opened the chest up more and with “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend), we anteriorly tilted the pelvis and kept the chest open. Thus, not only the spine was stretched but also the lower back pain relieved.
I wanted the students to practice a “pranayama” (breathing) exercise just before ending the class. People suffering from “ankylosing spondylitis” could face shortness of breath from time to time. As I was thinking about the type of the breathing exercise, I decided on “nadi shodhana” (alternative nostril breathing) in order to equalize the right and left energies of the body. In the most simple way, we sat in cross-legged position, used the index and little fingers of the right hand (or the left hand if we are left-handed) and opened closed the nostrils one by one. First we inhaled and exhaled from both nostils, then closed the right nostril and inhaled through the left nostril. As the exhale is over, we closed the left nostril and exhaled through the right nostril. After the exhale, we inhaled through the right nostril and closed it then exhaled through the left nostril and went on doing the same one by one. One from the right one from the left. To end the breathing exercise, we should exhale from the left nostril and place the hands on the knees to feel the effects of the breathing exercise on the body and mind.

As we laid supine, we twisted the spine to right and left with “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist). We hugged the knees and relieved the spine with “apanasana” and ended the class with “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose).
Once I got home after class, I looked into my yoga sources and googled “ankylosing spondylitis.” It was a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine. Other joints could also become involved. It caused inflammation of the spinal joints (vertabrae) that could lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort. The inflammation of ankylosing spondylitis usually started at the base of the spine, where the spine attaches to the pelvis (sacroiliac joints). This inflammation could spread upwards to involve other parts of the spine and, in the most severe cases, it could involve the entire spine. As the inflammation continued, new bone forms as the body tried to repair itself. As a result, the bones of the spine began to “grow together” or fuse, causing the spine to become very stiff and inflexible. Even though new bone had formed, the existing bone might become thin, which increaser the risk of fractures. It not only affected the vertabrea but also other joints, tendons and ligaments.
According to theoretical information, because of the fusion, joints became less flexible and all the bones stuck together. Mostly the pelvis was affected at first.
So could yoga help ease ankylosing spondylitis pain? Surely yes. To alleviate the pain, the chest had to be stretched, core and back muscles, particularly the lower back should be strengthened. Moreover, breathing exercises could also help. Asanas like “marjaryasana-bitilasana”, “balasana” and “adho mukha svanasana” were stretching the spine. Asanas like “salabhasana”, “sphinx”, “bhujangasana” and “setu bandhasana” were bending the spine backward, stretching the chest and strengthening the back muscles. Asanas like “navasana”, “phalakasana” and “chaturanga dandasana” were strengthening core muscles. Lateral bends were opening the chest up and stretching the two sides of the body. Yoga practice was increasing the mobility of the body, strengthening the body and correcting the posture.
When the body was getting more and more flexible with yoga, it was also regulating the breath. When moving from one “asana” to another, we used the breath and helped stretch and extension of the chest. “Pranayama” exercises were also so helpful to people suffering from this disease. Particularly diaphragm breathing could be so helpful. Breathing techniques like “nadi shodhana” and “kapalabhati” (skull shining breath) at the beginning or end of the class was enlarging the chest and providing more oxygen to the body. “Kapalabhati” was also a breathing technique that engaged core muscles and therefore it was so good for people with ankylosing spondylitis. If we could do none of these, we could just blow up the abdomen in each inhale and bring it down in each exhale, work out our core muscles and increase our breath capacity.
After I read all these, I realized that I did something correct with my instinct. We are not doctors but yoga instructors however we could know about particularly spinal diseases as we could face any type of disturbances in our classes. We should only accept students to class after asking the students if their doctors allowed them to join yoga classes. We should remind that they could rest any time they felt tired and exhausted and suggest them that they should not push themselves hard. We should also tell them that they should check their breath and body and take a rest when they lose body-breath balance and connection. Even though we know that yoga helps relieve many physical disturbances, we should not be defeated by our “ego”s and always remember that we are not doctors. We should keep the “ahimsa” (non-violence) principle of yoga in mind and remind it first to ourselves and then to our students. We should not give harm when we want to be beneficial. Particularly in crowded classes, all students have different health problems. We should learn all of them before the class, find a moderate way of teaching that day and teach a class suitable for everybody. We can never know what we will face when going to a class. What is important is to trust ourselves, keep our information fresh all the time and be ready for every condition.