The lower back is our most vulnerable spot.
Anyone who’s gotten up off a couch, reached for a dropped napkin, or, oh, I don’t know, sneezed recently knows that the smallest, most everyday actions can wreak big time havoc on our lower backs.
Lower backs are our most vulnerable spots for a simple anatomical reason—the lumbar spine is responsible for most of the movement the entire spine is capable of. Just below this area are five fused vertebrae that make up the sacral spine. Where the two meet—at the L5/S1 joint—is extremely susceptible to injury because, to put it simply, something that moves a lot (lumbar) is right next to something that doesn’t move much at all (sacrum).
With apologies to Kenny Loggins, if L5/S1 is the lower back’s “danger zone,” the strength and flexibility regular yoga practice brings to our bodies is the highway out—even and especially in those pesky everyday actions that can lay us flat if we do them “wrong.” Here are 5 of the worst offenders, and a yoga pose that can help stop each in its tracks.
Danger Zone: Your Desk
Whether you have a job that requires you to sit all day, or you just sit when you’re paying bills, chances are you spend some time each day in a desk chair. Even with so-called “lumbar support,” sitting for too long drives all the gravitational forces of your upper body straight down into your sacral joints and sit bones, stopping the flow of blood and energy between your upper and lower bodies. Throw in a badly constructed chair, odd computer placement, or good old-fashioned poor posture, and you’ve got a recipe for injury.
Yoga Highway to Health: Chair-Seated Twist is an excellent way to elongate your back and “lift” your lumbar spine off your pelvis, which helps to alleviate lower back compression. It also keeps your sacral joints and hips aligned and stabilized. Try it when your back (or brain) tells you, “You’ve been sitting for too long.”
Danger Zone: The Dishwasher
Loading and unloading the dishwasher requires a lot of forward bending, which asks the lumbar spine to round and stretch. Dishwashers’ locations relative to sinks and cabinets further complicate this action because we are often bending forward at odd angles, reaching for a dish while twisting our spines and leaning toward it. Standing up in a rush to put the dish away or take the next dirty one out of the sink can be a risky proposition as we ask our low backs to realign on a dime.
Yoga Highway to Health: A supported Downward-Facing Dog Pose, with your hands on the kitchen counter, stretches your entire back body. It elongates your spinal muscles and undoes the chest-collapse typically caused by those repeated, angled forward bends. Try it immediately after a session with your dishwasher, and be released from carrying kitchen drudgery in your lower back!
Danger Zone: The Car
Think for a moment about all your body has to do to get into a car. One leg stretches into the car, temporarily shifting your balance onto the leg that’s still outside. You then quickly drop your hips into a quasi-squat and shift them over onto the seat before pulling your outside leg into the car. That’s a lot of opportunity to tweak something in your hips, sacrum, or lumbar. And it doesn’t even stop there, as your very next action after turning on the ignition is usually to reach one arm back, twist your spine, and reverse out of your parking spot or driveway.
Yoga Highway to Health: Table Balance Pose helps strengthen, stabilize, and balance your hips and lower back. It also strengthens your abdominal core, so the next time you get into your car, you’ll move from your core, not your lower back.
Danger Zone: The Vacuum Cleaner
Even if you don’t vacuum as often as you think you should, you’re still in a danger zone every time you clean house. Pushing a vacuum cleaner is a very uneven action in your lower back, because you’re using your upper body strength to push back and forth, often at angles, while your legs and hips either stay relatively still or step and twist in unpredictable ways. Vacuuming is actually good exercise, but only if you don’t hurt yourself in the process.
Yoga Highway to Health: Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend helps your trunk lengthen, relax, and let go of tension and tightness while it tones your legs and hips. You’ll feel a gentle spinal traction that balances your lower back—a relieving sensation after a vacuum session—while your spinal muscles elongate in the forward bend.
Danger Zone: Your Stressed-Out Mind
Stress is the scourge of modern life, and few among us can truthfully say we are free of its ability to build in our bodies and sabotage our healthy habits. Many “hold our stress” in our lower backs, either by overarching our lumbar spines in a state of tight tension, or slumping from our shoulders in a way that tugs the top of our lumbar spines in a painful direction. You might not be able to banish stress from your life, but you can take steps to prevent it from hurting your back.
Yoga Highway to Health: Taking the time to rest your lower back, and your whole body for that matter, in Reclining Bound Angle Pose provides your spinal muscles with the therapeutic rest they need to release stress and restore healthy tone. This type of restorative quiet creates healthy pathways for energy flow through your legs, hips, and spine.
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Assistant Ed: Judith Andersson/Ed: Bryonie Wise