Our natural inclination is to take it easy when our muscles feel stiff or sore. But unless you have an acute injury, your body needs to move. Intentionally designed movement, designed to create strong and balanced muscles. It is a myth that yoga is all about stretching. It’s about strength. And balance. Only then flexibility.
Hot Yoga is Therapy for your Back
Standing up straight on a yoga mat might be the first time all day you haven’t been hunched in a chair, in your car or at your desk. So you arrive on your yoga mat stiff and achy at the very least. Maybe you are experiencing chronic back pain. Welcome to the club! Atrophied muscle tissue and shortened muscles are a common result of sedentary lifestyles. So the first thing we do in every class is a breathing exercise, to wake up and warm up muscles with heat and oxygen. It gives you a chance to find out just exactly where you’ve been overstressing your body or numbing yourself to what’s really going on.
And then we get into the postures. They are very gentle, even if you find lots of sore spots you’ve been trying to avoid. And even if you only manage to do ten percent of the postures during class, you’ll reap amazing physical benefits.
What does movement do?
- As you move through the postures within your own range of motion, each muscle is oxygenated, reducing joint pain and eliminating scar tissue.
- The fascia—connective tissue that binds individual muscle fibres into working groups—can become sticky and form adhesions that impair normal tissue movement. Movement of injured or underused muscles prevents such adhesions. Movement also promotes healing by increasing the circulation of affected muscles and fascia, bringing fresh blood and nutrients to the area.
- Throughout class you exercise your muscles, contracting and relaxing them. Hot yoga strengthens injured muscles, but not in isolation. The beauty of yoga is its holistic nature which ensures that all of the muscles are strengthened—including muscles that usually lie dormant due to a sedentary lifestyle. This holistic approach helps prevent further injury.
- Consider what happens when you have back pain. You hunch over to try to ease the pain, which creates tension in the shoulders and hips. You compensate for back pain by moving differently, perhaps in a way that makes the hip or knee susceptible to injury. Yoga’s full body therapy addresses not only the affected joint or muscle but all of the connected tissue and all of the related muscle atrophy or misuse created by the response to pain. All of the muscles are engaged and strengthened, reducing the chance of further injury.
The heat you noted the moment you walked into the hot room for yoga class serves as a natural anagesic that reduces pain. Therapeutic heat dilates blood vessels and increases the extensibility (ability to stretch) of muscles, tendons and ligaments. Joint stiffness is reduced. Muscle spasms are eased.
The pain relieving effects of the heat is an essential part of what makes hot yoga such an effective movement therapy. Healing occurs faster in the absence of pain. Additionally, the heat increases blood flow, providing injured muscles with the oxygen and nutrients essential for healing.
The therapeutic approach of hot yoga makes it ideal for beginners, even if you don’t consider yourself to be flexible.
How can you maximize the therapeutic benefits of hot yoga to relieve back pain?
- Treat yoga as therapy. Do as much as your body will allow in every class. Apply yourself to the asanas as if they were a prescription for pain relief. They are.
- Be mindful of why you’re on the mat. It isn’t to outperform anyone—including yourself. Focus on increasing daily movement and eliminating nagging back pain.
- Focus on backward bends. There are more than you think in the Bikram sequence of postures. And they are a radical cure for your daily forward bending life.
- Suck your stomach in! The teacher will keep reminding you of this. Do it every time you hear it. Strong core muscles support the low back.
- Take what you learn in class off the mat. Employ proper body mechanics as you move throughout the day. Pay attention to your posture when walking and while seated. Get up and move. Stretch as often as you can throughout the day.
Hot yoga—an effective movement therapy can be an essential part of healing and strengthening weak or injured back muscles. The holistic approach of hot yoga, the soothing heat of the hot room and the increased circulation that results from focused breathing during movement are ideal for improving and preventing the chronic back pain that plagues so many of us.