Yoga for a Healthy Back and Neck
Back problems are very common among adults: some estimates say that over 20% of adults have some chronic back pain. Among the many causes of back pain are poor posture, back strain from poorly designed furniture, weak back and stomach muscles from lack of exercise, and injuries.
Many physicians recommend Yoga exercise as a way to gently stretch and strengthen back muscles. In fact, if you’ve had physical therapy, you’ll probably recognize several Yoga movements. In Yoga, a strong, flexible back is very important for maintaining posture, for insuring that the nervous system pathways are strong and clear, for improving circulation to the brain, and for maintaining the erect posture necessary for seated meditation in intermediate practice.
Yoga exercises can be helpful both in preventing and in healing from an injury. Many Yoga exercises gently stretch and strengthen the muscles in the hips, back, and legs; others improve muscle strength in the abdomen, which supports the lower back. In most people, muscles on one side of the body are stronger than those on the other; Yoga exercises stretch and strengthen both sides equally. If you practice every day, you will soon notice more relaxed posture and a more fluid carriage, and your back muscles won’t tire as easily. You’ll also learn how to recognize tension in your back and neck muscles more quickly so that you can release it before the muscles become tight and sore.
If you have suffered an injury to your back or neck, begin with extremely gentle movements that do not hyperextend the neck or back in either direction. In a class, your instructor will modify the Yoga exercises for you to be sure you don’t strain. Even if you have had back surgery, there will always be some movements you can do. Be sure to consult your physician before beginning any new exercise routine.
Breathing techniques and meditation training will teach you how to relax your body and mind at will and to recover faster from stress reactions. For beginning meditation, which is done lying flat so the spine can remain straight without strain, place a few cushions under your thighs and knees to release any pressure on your lower back.
By exercising carefully, and by practicing a simple routine of exercise, breathing, and meditation every day, you can help your back and neck become as strong and healthy as possible.
Courtesy of the American Yoga Association
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