Archives for posts with tag: lumbar spine

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? 

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Backbends are the most preferred asanas in yoga classes. When bending backward, you are going towards unknown and are afraid of falling. Or when you are bending backward, you may have difficulties in opening your chest. To open the chest, to love more and to be more understanding… When we are down and gloomy or when we are bodily and mentaily tired, exhausted and unhappy, we want to bend forward and turn inward. To be on our own. However, this is the right time to bend backward and to feel more energetic. When I went to the private and group classes that day, I saw the students unhappy and tired. Unhappy, tired and hopeless.. They told me that they wanted to bend forward, stay in all asanas longer than usual and stretch their bodies. However, I had totally a different idea. We would bend backward, open up the chest, boost our energy and try to revive.

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After the opening meditation, we started to stretch the chest with “vyagharasana” (tiger pose) and “uttana shishosana” (extended puppy pose). Following a “vinyasa” (flow), we stood up and warmed the bodies with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series. Our class would be a “vinyasa” class. Therefore, we added asanas stretching the chest, shoulders and hip flexors in-between sun salutation series. Like “ashwa sanchalanasana” (high lunge), “anjaneyasana” (low lunge) and their variations. In order to stretch the shoulder girdle more, we used the arm position of “garudasana” (eagle) pose in “virabhadrasana I” (warrior I). In “virabhadrasana II” (warrior II), we used the arm position of “gomukhasana” (cow face) pose to stretch the shoulder girdle more and more. First right arm on the top and then the left on top.

We would do “urdhva dhanurasana” (wheel) as the peak pose. Wheel was a pose loved so much by the student but in which most of students have difficulties. Therefore, we were repeating the pose once in every three or four weeks. This asana was one of the routine asanas we were practicing often. It would be good if we made a little change.

When preparing the bodies for “urdhva dhanurasana” in the first half of the class that day, I decided to try the asana in a different way than usual. What we mostly observed in this asana was the problem to keep the legs and arms parallel, not to bend the elbows and the difficulty in opening up the chest. Moreover, the other problems were not being able to extend the area between the navel and groins and to cause a compression in lumbar vertabrae.

When practicing “urdhva dhanurasana”, we should push the inner thighs towards each other and keep the arms parallel to each other. If we were having difficulties in doing this, we should put a block between the legs and bind the arms with a yoga belt to keep the arms parallel. We should pull the navel up in order to keep the navel away from the groins and prevent a compression in lumbar spine. We should extend the spine starting from the groins, axially extend the spine and bend backward from the thoracic spine.

After repeating all these technical information, we would try a different way of “urdhva dhanurasana.” We would use the wall. First we turned our back to the wall and put the hands on the wall. We spread the fingers and placed the roots of the fingers on the wall. Then we inhaled and axially extended the spine and we exhaled, rolled the shoulders back and tried to open up the chest towards the ceiling. In every exhale, we tried to stretch the chest more and more. After five breaths, we relieved the lumbar spine in “uttanasana” (standing forward bend).

The second trial would be a bit different. This time, the top of our head was turned towards the wall and we would try wheel this way. After lifting our bodies to wheel, we would try to lift the chest up to the ceiling more and more in each exhale and at the same time we would try to bring the chest close to the wall. Also, we would try to keep the legs and arms parallel to each other and keep the elbowy straight. Was it that much easy to do this and do that at the same time?

Unfortunately no! Keeping the legs and arms strong and parallel, not to bend the elbows, to bend backward from the chest and upper back, to keep the groins and navel away from each other and not to compress lumbar spine. It was not that easy. When we were trying to do one thing, we might lose the other. But what we should not compromise was to stretch from the chest and not to compress the lumbar spine.

After working out “urdhva dhanurasana”, we neutralized the spine with “paschimottanasana” (seated forward bend), “baddha konasana” (butterfly/bound angle pose) and “twisted roots”. We opened the legs to both sides of the mat, keeping the soles of the feet on the ground and knees bent. Then we leaned the knees on each other. Then we swung the spine to right and left in “apanasana” (knees to the chest).

Following “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose), students said that they were so happy to practice a backbend even thought they did not want it at the beginning of the class. Even though they wanted to bend forward according to their mood, it was useful for them to just do the opposite.

And what I learned from class… We can become routine and monotonous from time to time not only in our daily lives but also yoga classes. Same types of yoga classes, same times of asanas and same peak poses. In fact the world of yoga is limitless. Why do we just hang on the same asanas even though there are many yoga asanas we can try? Believe me, I could not find the answer. It is worth thinking, isn’t it?

Sometimes life does not go as how we plan. We decide on something and when we are about to do that, a new choice or opportunity shows up and we may choose that opportunity or development. It is the same in yoga classes. When the teacher is going to a class, s/he has something in mind for that day. But when she arrives at the studio, s/he does something different. It is the mood of the students or bhava of the class that changes his/her plan… Or sometimes the developments in the class…

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When I went to my private class that day, I decided to teach a hip opening vinyasa class. I planned to stretch the hip joint, particularly the hip external muscles, inner thighs, hip flexor muscles and the hamstrings. I would mainly focus on groins, inner thighs and hip external muscles. After stretching all these muscles, I wanted the student to try “padmasana” (lotus).

That was our first class after a week long holiday. We al know that how quickly the body got tight. Within a week or ten days, the body of the student got tense as usual. It would be good to stretch it.

At the beginning of the class, the student told me that she was feeling a pain at the back of her leg but she would feel so good to practice a hip opening sequence and it would probably alleviate her pain. And we began the class.

After the opening meditation, we sat in “sukhasana” (easy pose/cross-legged position) and laterally stretched the body and then bent it forward. Then we brought the other leg to the front, i.e. if the right leg was on the front we brought the left on the front or the vice-versa, and we again laterally stretched the body. Then we bent the body forward once more. After that, we came on all-fours and we stood up after a “vinyasa” (flow).

Warming up the body with “surya namaskara” (sun salutation) series, we added hip opening poses in-between the series like “ashwa sanchalanasana” (high lunge), “anjaneyasana” (low lunge) and “parsvottanasana” (pyramid pose). The first hip opening pose we added in-between sun salutation series was “ashwa sanchalanasana” and the second was “anjaneyasana.” When we were in the low lunge, the student told me that she could not go on as she was feeling the back of her leg too much.

I have told you that we could never know what life would bring. So we left the flow and we started to work “yin” style. I was asking the student some students to learn what had happened. Where is the pain exactly? What kind of a pain is it? A pain that starts at the back of the leg and the pain goes through the knee. Ok then what about the lower back? Do you feel a pain, tension or anything in the lower back? “Yes, my lower back aches. I guess I hurt it when I was carrying my suitcases.” Then I thought that there could be a compression in the lumbar spine, that compression pressed on the nerves and that pressure and compression spread through the knees and even to the feet.

So how could we make the student feel more relieved? Asanas relieving hip external muscles would be so fine. We could both relieve the hip, the leg and all connective tissues and nerves. Then we practiced “sleeping swan”, “square”, “shoelace” and “eye of the needle.” To relieve the lower back and thoracolumbar fascia more, we practiced “caterpillar.” We waited in all poses for at least three minutes and relieved and relaxed her body.

We laid supine and stretched the spine with “jathara parivartanasana” (abdominal twist) and ended the class with “savasana” (deep relaxation and resting pose).

When I went to the private class two days later, I asked the student about her pain. She said the pain in the back of her leg and the lower back were over. “Maybe it was because of lifting heavy suitcases and maybe I was sick because of the cold weather.” I told her that it would be better if she consulted a doctor and we then practiced “vinyasa.”

When I was going home after the class that day, life was very interesting. Sometimes you were planning something but life was not showing up as you imagined and you needed to change. If you were a stubborn person, this change was so hard and troublesome. You were not accepting and thus you could not see the new opportunities brought by the new choice or development. Maybe you were missing the opportunities for your own sake. However if you were an easygoing and flexible person, that obligatory change could be easier and fun. You can easily accept the changes, invite them to your life and live in harmony with those developments. You are open to changes and you do not see them as problems.

We can never know what life will bring. In Turkish we have a saying, “What you planned for, how you ended up.” This is what yoga teaches us too. Being flexible, moving with the flow and accepting whatever comes in front of you. When we perceive and live life this way, it is not hard for us to enjoy life and be happy. Just not persist and push life hard by trying to change it.

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.