You asked: I have been plagued by lower back pain most of my life. How can yoga help? We asked Jesse Enright, instructor and “Smart Yoga” therapeutic practitioner at Octopus Garden. Jesse: Yoga is an amazing technology and strong medicine and, when used effectively, it is capable of healing and correcting many physical ailments and dysfunctions thought by western medicine to be mysterious or ‘incurable’. For over a decade, as both an instructor and therapeutic practitioner, I have been using the incredible tool of yoga combined with anatomical explanation to educate and empower my students and myself. In my years of practice I have found that true healing depends on two important factors: education and empowerment.
Shifting our Perspective…..
If we are to truly take responsibility for our bodies and our health we must first shift our perspective from that of outside observer to one of inside participant. Although most of the pain and symptoms associated to ‘low back’ disorders seem to be oriented in and around the ‘back’ body, in truth these definitions of back, side or front are arbitrary at best and for our purposes of shifting perspective no longer useful. Our real work lies inside and our ultimate goal is integration, therefore we will no longer focus on ‘low back’ issues, but instead focus on what we will call the core cylinder of the body.
What is the Core Cylinder?
For our purposes we will define the core cylinder as the region from the floor of the pelvis to the bottom half of the ribcage. It is an area combining both the abdominal and pelvic cavities. The cylinder, tube or tunnel analogy could quite accurately be applied to virtually every system and structure in the body. Veins, arteries, nerves, even the energetic pathways conform to this model. The health of these “cylinders” much like a water hose could be defined as their ability to be adaptive, mobile, and sturdy while still channeling whatever form of energy they are designed for. Of the larger ‘cylinders’ of the body it is no wonder that the ‘core cylinder’ is the most prone to dysfunction. Unlike the arms, legs, thoracic cage and pelvis, whose structures are determined mostly by bone, the core cylinder relies heavily on the cooperative tone of its musculature for shape and support. When these muscles are out of balance our core cylinder distorts or collapses in some way, losing its ability to properly channel energy and compressing its contents. As a simple analogy, visualize an aluminum can that has caved inwards on one side forcing a bulging on the opposing side. Or, as is often the case in the core cylinder, a torsion of the can which pressurizes the contents while forcing the two ends toward each other. Note: I want to make it clear that rounding, arching, side bending and rotation are all necessary as part of the healthy range of motion for the core cylinder in much the same way that a water hose must twist and bend. What I am describing here is a collapse and distortion which deprives the core of its shock absorbing ability and much like a kink in a hose, prevents the optimal flow of energy, this is what causes low back pain.
So what is the solution?
A new model! What we need is a mobile core capable of flexion, extension, side bending, and rotation while remaining strong and here is the key….KEEP it LONG! Why long? Almost all “lower back” dysfunctions are caused by unwanted pressure. The core cylinder could be compared to the shocks of a car. It needs to be able to compress and then decompress. Without the ability to elongate; the core cylinder is placed under constant pressure possibly causing: disc herniation, loss of circulation, nerve impingement, strain to the abdominal organs, restricted breathing and postural compensation. By balancing the tone and length of the musculature of the core cylinder we restore the ‘springy’ recovery ability to lengthen our core. A long mobile core cylinder is a healthy one! For our new model we will use an analogy first introduced to me by my teacher Gioia Irwin…The Snake Body. The snake body describes a core cylinder that is flexible and highly adaptable while remaining incredibly strong and, as discussed above, LONG. The snake body analogy brings to mind a core that is even and symmetrical with a toned belly, a long waist and a full, strong lower back. It also suggests a core that is intelligent and alive!
So how do we do it?
We do it by strengthening and balancing the musculature of the core and by reversing dysfunctional patterns in the neighboring regions, which for us will mean primarily the hips, shoulders and the rest of the spine. Dysfunctional patterns of tightness and or weakness in the rest of the body will place undo strain on our core, forcing it to compensate therefore focusing just on our core is not enough. The body is a community and must also work cooperatively for health to be restored and maintained. It is not enough, in my experience, to simply performan exercise or technique. To truly heal we have to understand the reason the problem occurred in the first place, how to heal it and how to prevent the problem from reappearing in the future.
To book an appointment with Jesse, call 416-515-8885 or on line. Questions and
requests can also be emailed to Jesse at firstname.lastname@example.org