Mindfulness and Low Back Pain

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I have stress fractures in my lower back due to being a pretty serious gymnast as a child. When I quit the sport, doctors told me I’d be in pain for the rest of my life. I did not appreciate that opinion! What a crappy thing to say to a 12 year old!
 
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Through my teenage and young adult years, my back pain would act up occasionally. I’d have to rest and take it easy for a couple days. It wasn’t until pregnancy and after I gave birth to Vivian that it became a serious problem again.
 
I was waitressing at the time, so I was on my feet on concrete a lot and I assumed the pain was due to the extra weight. But after Vivian was born, it got even worse. I started going back to yoga because I heard that might help.
 
But, at first, it actually made it worse!!! Our yoga practice is just a space to observe and gather information about our own tendencies. If we don’t use our awareness to cultivate balance, the practice will just exacerbate all of our imbalances (Heidi Grace). I showed up really out of practice, and since I’d been a gymnast, I pushed myself really hard, past my edge into all these crazy shapes and I hurt myself.
 
It wasn’t until I began to study more deeply and learn about biomechanics that I found some relief. But it was still a slow process! I would practice the principles of alignment on the mat, with a teachers guidance and my body would feel a little bit better. Then I’d go home and completely forget about it!
 
Most back pain is a result of compression on at least some level. None of us have very good posture in this society of constantly sitting and being hunched forward into the front body, driving and on our computers and phones. All of these problems are only compounded by accidents, injuries and how the body compensates for them. The habits and patterns of how we sit, stand, and sleep can bring us great relief or further exacerbate our problems.
 
This is where mindfulness comes in, paying attention and allowing the practice to extend off the mat. Every time I felt pain in my back, I began to check in with my alignment from the ground up. Patterns began to emerge very quickly! I was usually standing with my feet turned out, my knees locked and my pelvis pushed forward. This stance creates exaggerated and very obvious compression in the lower back, right where the pain was.
 
I had to begin to make adjustments. Turning my feet to face forward, taking a slight bend in my knees, sticking my thigh bone back, and rooting the tailbone down to create space in the lower back. These adjustment had ripple effects and required by whole body to compensate: drawing the abdomen in and up to stack the vertebrae and engage the core to support the spine. Lifting through the heart and the crown of the head.
 
I’d go through this process 20 or 30 times in a shift. If it was super busy, I’d totally forget. This went on for years! But eventually, I built new pathways in the brain, and habits and patterns in the body. I was no longer in such intense pain all the time and customers started noticing the effects of my practice. They said I looked taller and were constantly asking me if I lost weight. I had a little bit, since the baby was born, but mostly I was just standing up straight. Now, I actually weigh more than I did then, but I’m strong!
 
The point of this story is that through mindfulness, through paying attention and making adjustments, we can change things, even in the physical body, the most dense layer of our being. It’s actually easier to change our thoughts and minds because they have less solidity. And with many bodies and minds together, doing this practice, we can change the habits and patterns in our relationships, communities and the world. The first step is to believe and start!

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