I really tried to get this article out last month since apparently September was National Yoga Month but alas, life got in the way.
Still, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk to you all about how yoga fits into my lifestyle these days, particularly hip-opening yoga postures.
the cause of my back pain
I suffer from a back injury incurred during a car accident in 2014.
Since then I’ve endured a general soreness and tightness that varies from day-to-day and activity-to-activity.
This sort of back pain is sort of like white noise in that it’s dull and constant:
I sometimes consciously forget that I’m in pain, not because the pain is absent, but because pain is my new normal.
This is a double-edged sword, because I am not in constant excruciating pain that keeps me from enjoying my life, but at the same time I’m in danger of forgetting my limits.
This could make me more likely to do something to make my injury worse…
And as everyone knows, back injuries only get worse with time.
I am reminded when the pain sharpens from approaching my physical limitations in daily life or during exercise; forward bends being perhaps the most frequent culprit.
There are a lot of forward bends in yoga postures, even for beginners, as this is not supposed to be such a challenging pose.
But for me, avoiding pain has meant avoiding practicing yoga without an expert present to correct my posture.
That is, until I did a little more research to find some poses I could practice without putting any strain on my back.
why stretch my hips if it’s my back that feels tight?
I decided to focus on yoga for core strengthening and hip-stretching because I discovered that strengthening the core is the best way to protect a weak back, while tight hips are known to be a cause of lower back pain even in individuals with an otherwise healthy spine.
Tight hips are very common in people who are sedentary for much of the day, such as those who work in an office, but they can also be caused by overuse in runners who benefit from the stability of tight hips.
Incidentally, I fit into both of these categories…
I’ve done a lot of sprinting and jogging in my life, and the sweet spot I found during running was hitting a stride at which point I could mentally go somewhere else.
If I could reach that mental state while running, I could endure running for longer than if I was completely mentally present.
A neat trick, but I wonder now if it’s done more harm than good…
pain is in the mind, & yoga affects the mind like cardio can’t
Yoga is challenging in a way that is very different from the challenges of cardio.
Yogis relish in being mentally present and something called ‘breathing through the stretch.’
It’s a process of slowly eroding the edges of discomfort to eventually reduce overall pain.
Philosophically I think yoga is the answer, but in practice it’s a rigorous regimen that takes the dedication of an athlete—
The type of dedication I hope to one day maintain on a daily basis.
That’s OK though, because I’ve dabbled enough over the years that I have acquired some knowledge on the subject…
For example I know at least a dozen basic yoga poses and I’m finally comfortable with a little freestyle vinyasa on my own (a personal goal of mine.)
Now that I feel comfortable practicing yoga on my own, I find it’s a little easier to incorporate it into my regular life.
I can really make it my own now.
Still, I do love a good guided yoga session like the Hipster Release by Boho Beautiful.
my preferred hip-opening yoga sequence for a deep stretch without straining my back
As always, I start off with a little Downward Dog to Chatarunga to Upward-Facing Dog (not as complicated as it sounds.)
This is a popular warm-up, but you can do whatever free stretches that get you in the zone.
When you’re ready to begin the hip-opening yoga flow, you can lift one leg directly up in the air from downward dog to come into Three-Legged Dog.
arching three-legged dog
Once you’re here, take a few breaths and balance.
Experiment with flexing your leg and bending your raised knee, feel the change in sensation coming into Arching Three-Legged Dog.
This is a pose that demands balance, core strength, and shoulder strength…
If you do find it to strain your back you’re probably not engaging your core enough.
Now you’re ready to bring your raised leg down to the mat, with your knee aligned with your same side thumb and your foot aligned with your opposite thumb.
This is called Half-Pidgeon Pose and it is an deep hip stretch that doesn’t bother my back at all.
I usually chill here for a while, slowly trying to lay my torso as close to the floor as possible.
This may be a good place to stop if you find it to be a very intense stretch.
mermaid pose (optional)
If you enjoy this deep hip stretch, the next step may be to sit your torso up straight again without bringing your legs out of Half-Pidgeon.
Now you can pinwheel your arm backwards while bending your back knee to try to grab your foot behind you.
This is Mermaid Pose and when done perfectly you can tell where it got this name.
Mermaid Pose is a somewhat advanced pose— I can only barely grab my foot and hold it there— and there is some controversy surrounding whether it’s really safe for someone with a back injury due to the combination of extension and rotation you experience in this pose.
It is for this reason I’ve decided to omit it from my own practice moving forward.
I never personally pushed Mermaid Pose to the point that it caused me any pain, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?
Now you can come out of Half-Pidgeon and back into Downward Facing Dog to switch legs and stretch the other side…
Or you can repeat Half-Pidgeon and Arching Three-Legged Dog a few more times to really loosen up your hip flexors on that side.
One thing I love about yoga is you have a lot of creative freedom!
hip-opening yoga & the reason it helps
It didn’t really click until I started actually doing this hip-opening yoga sequence, but stretching the hips out is a really great way to alleviate back pain.
It makes sense anatomically, when you think about it—
Everything is connected after all.
The hip-opening yoga sequence described above should give a deep stretch to the hips and thighs without putting any strain on the back.
Give it a try and let me know what you think!
DISCLOSURE: I sometimes get free stuff so I can provide an honest review for you all. This post includes free product from LIVE! & prAna. All opinions are my own. Please click here to learn more about sponsored posts.