(certified YIDL teacher)
In the preceding articles (Part 1, Part 2) we have considered problems of the Cervical and the Thoracic Spine and suggested suitable Asanas (Yoga exercises) which can be useful in the prevention and treatment (and sometimes cure) of these problems. The following article provides information about the anatomy of the Lumbar Spine and the Sacrum and offers further Asanas, which are very helpful in maintaining a healthy condition in the lower part of the spine.
The Lumbar Spine and The Sacrum
The Lumbar Spine lies between the Thoracic Spine and the Sacrum. Movements of the Lumbar Spine inevitably cause movement in the adjoining regions, namely in the Thoracic Spine and the Sacrum. The Sacrum is connected to the pelvic bones through the Sacro-Iliac Joint. In the Sacro-Iliac Joint only very slight movement occurs. This mobility between Sacrum and Pelvis has a very important shock-absorbing function. A reduction in the mobility of the Sacro-Iliac Joint is a frequent functional problem that becomes obvious through pain in the sacral or pelvic regions. On the other hand, too much mobility in this joint is not good, as this would cause a reduction in the stability of the Pelvis.
The range of possible movements in the lumbar spine are: flexion, extension, lateral movement, and to a lesser degree, rotation. Movement of the Lumbar Spine causes movement of the Pelvis and the Hip Joints. For example, an increased Lordosis (extension) of the Lumbar Spine, as is the case with a "sway back", causes a forward tilting of the Pelvis and flexion in the hip joints.
Postural Problems in the Region of the Lumbar Spine
The most frequent postural mistake in the Lumbar region is the anterior pelvic tilt, commonly referred to as a "sway back".
This position leads to the weakening of the abdominal, pelvic floor and buttock muscles, which are responsible for an erect position of the Pelvis. An anterior pelvic tilt also has a negative effect on the pelvic and abdominal organs and can be the cause of digestive problems.
A "sway back" causes a greater or lesser degree of tension and contraction of the muscles in the region of the Lumbar Spine, as well as shortening the hip flexing muscles and the muscles at the back of the thighs. Yoga exercises that work specifically on this section of the spinal column, as well as those which strengthen the abdominal, buttock and pelvic floor musculature and relax and stretch the back, thigh and hip flexing musculature are necessary.
Tensed back muscles can also be relaxed with the help of the breath. The diaphragm – the most important respiratory muscle – extends to the first three Lumbar Vertebrae. Through deep breathing in the direction of the Lumbar Spine the relaxation of this area can be considerably supported.
Exercises for the stabilisation of the Pelvis and for the stimulation of blood circulation and mobility of the Lumbar and Sacral regions, are not only extremely important for a healthy physical posture, but also for the protection of the most vulnerable part in this region – the transition from the Lumbar Spine to the Sacrum (the Lumbo-Sacral Joint) – and the Sacro-Iliac Joint, from being overtaxed.
Picture 2 - Lumbo-Sacral and Sacro-Iliac Joints
Physical Exercises (Asanas)
The following Asanas have a relaxing and strengthening effect on the muscles of the lower part of the spine:
Torsion Lying On The Back
n: Lie on the back. The arms are stretched out sideways at shoulder height and the palms face upwards. The legs are bent with the soles of the feet on the floor.
The legs are together.
Inhale deeply and elongate the neck.
Exhaling move the knees to the right side and turn the head to the left.
Inhaling round the lumbar spine by tensing the abdominal muscles and bring the legs back to the centre. At the same time bring the head back to the centre.
Exhaling continue the torsion to the other side.
Repeat four times in rhythm with the breath and then on the fifth time remain for 5 breaths in the stretched position. Relax a little more with each exhalation and feel the movement of the breath, particularly in the stretched side of the body.
: Perform the stretch slowly with the help of the abdominal muscles. This slows down the movement of the legs to the side and forces the muscles to do most of the work when bringing the legs back to the centre. Be fully conscious of rolling from one buttock to the other across the sacrum and lumbar spine.
As in Variation a: but with the legs about half a metre apart.
At the end of the torsion one knee comes towards the opposite heel.
5 times to each side in rhythm with the breath.
: Variation a) has a relaxing effect on the torso and neck muscles – particularly on the oblique, deep back muscles along the spinal column and on the transverse abdominal muscles. Activates the stabilising musculature of the Pelvis. Also relaxes the organs in the pelvic and abdominal cavities.
Variation b) specifically relaxes and improves the circulation to the hip joints promoting their mobility. It stretches the muscles responsible for rotating the hip joints in and out, and has a generally relaxing effect on the Sacro-Iliac joint.
Skandharasana (Shoulder Pose)
: Lie on the back. The legs are bent and the feet are hip-width apart. The hands hold the ankles, or lie beside the body with the palms facing down. The neck is lengthened (by moving the chin slightly towards the throat).
Inhaling slowly raise the pelvis and the back from the floor, beginning from the coccyx. At the same time consciously tense the buttock muscles.
The lumbar spine should arch with this movement. (This means, the pelvis should be raised as far as possible for a good pose).
Exhaling slowly lower the back to the floor again.
Perform 3-5 times in rhythm with the breath.
Straighten the legs and be aware of the after-effects of the movement.
Once again come back into SKANDHARASANA and remain in the position for 3-5 breaths. Bring your attention to the abdominal breath.
: Has a relaxing effect on the pelvic and abdominal organs. Strengthens the back, buttock and thigh musculature as well as the diaphragm. Has a stabilising effect on the position of the pelvis and strengthens the pelvic floor.
Bending the Legs
: Lie on the back.
Inhaling bend the right knee and hold the knee with both hands.
Exhaling pull the knee towards the chest. At the same time pull the toes of the left foot upwards and press the back of the left knee towards the floor.
Remain for 5 breaths in this position and with each exhalation gently pull the knee a little closer to the chest.
Exhaling place the leg back onto the floor and perform the exercise with the left leg. The right leg presses towards the floor.
: Guide the breath awareness towards the back of the straight leg and the buttock of the bent leg. Feel the stretching through the side with the inhalation and the relaxation with the exhalation.
Now bend both knees and bring them up towards the chest and, clasping the knees, roll the body a few times with complete relaxation to the right and the left. The head remains on the floor and initiates the movement (Eyes and head begin the movement – the body follows).
: The movement of one leg has a correcting effect on the position of the pelvis and the Sacro-Iliac joint. Strengthens the leg musculature and stretches the back of the hip muscles. Relaxes the muscles in the region of the lumbar spine and deepens the breath into the back. Supports healthy digestion. The rolling on the back relaxes and improves the circulation to the musculature of the back and the neck and works as a massage for the back and the kidneys.
: Sit on the heels (Vajrasana). The hands lie on the thighs.
Inhaling raise the arms forward to shoulder height and come up onto the knees.
Exhaling place the hands beneath the shoulders on the floor, round the back and move the right knee and forehead towards one another.
Inhaling extend the back and raise the right leg (with knee bent) and lift the head upwards.
Perform this movement 3 times in rhythm with the breath and finish with the exhalation where the knee and forehead are moving towards one another.
Inhaling place the knee on the floor and come up onto the knees.
Exhaling come back into Vajrasana and place the hands on the thighs.
Repeat the exercise with the other leg.
Afterwards, relax in Tiger Relaxation Pose.
: Correcting the position of the pelvis and stabilising the Sacro-Iliac Joint. Strengthens the hip-extending muscles and promotes the extension of the hip joints. It also promotes mobility of the spine and deepens the abdominal, chest and back breath. Supports healthy digestion and improves kidney activity as well the function of all the pelvic organs.
: If there is instability in the lumbar region or Osteoporosis, the leg should only be raised to the horizontal position.
Tiger Relaxation Pose
: Lie on the abdomen.
Turn the head and body slightly onto the left side.
Pull the right knee as close as possible towards the chest.
Bend the right arm and place the elbow close to the knee.
Lie the head on the left forearm and the left hand on the right hand.
Remain for 10 breaths in this position and consciously direct the breath to the lower part of your back.
The position should be comfortable and relaxed. If the position creates discomfort in the shoulder joint you can lie the arm along the floor behind the back. But try to come into the given position, as it will provide a better stretch to the extended side of the body.
: Relaxing the back, particular in the lumbar region and deepening the breath into the back. Promotes breathing into the lower, extended side. It relaxes muscular tension where the muscles along the side of the trunk are shortened. Has a generally quietening effect on body and mind.
This concludes our series about the use of yoga, especially the system "Yoga in Daily Life", in the prevention and treatment of back problems. Materials presented here are presented in more detail in the book "YOGA AGAINST BACK PAIN" (original in German: Yoga gegen Rueckenschmerzen) by Mahamandaleshwar Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda.
Although such papers and books are a valuable help and good source of information, they cannot entirely replace direct expert guidance, not to mention the diagnosing and treatment of more serious problems. Exercises described in this series are a very good prevention, helping to correct posture and alleviate minor back problems. Still, in case of more serious problems, you should first consult your physician about starting the exercises; exercises cannot be the only therapy in such cases. It is also advisable to attend "Yoga in Daily Life" classes to learn the asanas and other techniques properly. You should inform your yoga teacher of your physical condition, to receive concrete advice about what types of exercises you should practise and which exercises you should rather avoid. Also keep in mind that you yourself are your closest advisor and the best "teacher", if you practise with care and awareness and observe closely what is going on in your body. Learn to know your limitations and respect them (yogic techniques should never cause you pain or discomfort), and you are on the right path to success. As you will proceed, you will find that your limitations are diminishing and that you can cope with them more easily.
Pictures and some parts of the text in this article are taken from the book YOGA AGAINST BACK PAIN (original in German: Yoga gegen Rueckenschmerzen) by Mahamandaleshwar Paramhans Swami Maheswarananda.