The Yoga Pose that Healed my Lower Back Injuries.

Via Gregory Ormson
on Dec 27, 2014
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Editor’s Note: This website is not designed to, and should not be construed to, provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion or treatment to you or any other individual, and is not intended as a substitute for medical or professional care and treatment.

Great reader comment: “For myself, plow and ear pressing pose both work wonders on lower back pain, they stretch out that area better than any other stretch.

Definitely build up to challenging poses or you may cause more damage.”

In nature, a rabbit is short-lived—the eastern cottontail’s life expectancy is only three years.

Yet in a short time, a rabbit can bring a lot of new life into the world. So, it is with the yoga rabbit, an asana that is held for a short time, but one that provides a cornucopia of benefits.

Rabbit, the sasangasana, is a hard pose, one that puts pressure on the neck and constricts the throat, making it hard to breathe. It’s my favorite asana though. Well to be accurate, not really my favorite, easiest or most fun, but favorite because of how it’s healed my back.

Growing up, I had injuries from trampolines, diving, weightlifting and falling from a roof. These resulted in lower back pain. Yet through the years, I found ways to get past that stabbing sensation in my lower spine close to my tailbone. On rare occasions, if I twisted the wrong way while grabbing a bag of groceries from the back seat of my car, a lightning bolt of nerve pain shot up my back taking me to the ground.

For years, my back aggravated me and compromised my activities. To motorcycle long distances, I added a lower back support and took aspirin.

But with yoga practice, the rabbit has since fixed my back and I am in debt to my adopted bunny.

The rabbit looks uncomfortable and it is. I feel choked and my neck is strained even before the extension. When my teacher says, pull your arms and raise your hips (full extension) it takes everything I have to do so, but I do it. I hold it for 20 seconds, I want to let go and I-can’t-breathe and then I hear the word “release” it’s become gospel.

Rabbit is so uncomfortable that every session I come within a whisker of talking myself out of doing it.

But rabbit has made me strong in the broken places, so I owe my rabbit and I strenuously pay my 20 seconds (twice!) for my new, healthier and flexible lower back and spine.

The secret of the rabbit is not really a secret.

It’s easy to see that rabbit creates maximum extension in the spine. When stretching into full rabbit, the spine measures fourteen inches longer than usual (i). This creates, over time a better spine, and with a full yoga practice a stronger supporting cast of muscles.

Although rabbit pose is hard, I am amazed by how little time it actually takes to effect a full healing of the lower back. In my two years of yoga, I’ve added up the time I actually spend in the discomfort of a full rabbit.

At 20-seconds each time, twice for each practice, that’s 40 seconds times the total number of sessions. When I divide these total seconds by 60, I end up with total minutes and then convert to hours. I’ve actually been in rabbit only 2 hours and 48 minutes.

It’s an astonishingly small investment for such a long-term positive impact. This is, in summary, the benefit of yoga. I will take gladly that ratio of work to a healthy spine and back.

Certainly, an option is to swallow aspirin and hope for the best but I am enjoying the benefits of a better plan.

These days, I don’t even stretch before taking a cycle ride. I simply swing my leg up and over the saddle and ride-on. Oh, and sometimes, when I’m riding and enjoying the day, I smile and think of my adopted friend.

Just for fun, I speak to rabbit in an imaginary game of poker, “I’ll see your chokehold, Mr. Sasangasana, and raise your bet by one healed back and a cycle ride.”

And since rabbits don’t speak, I imagine a furry-faced smile, a wink and a look that says, “I’ll see ya later.”

*

references:

(i) Choudhury, B., & Reynolds, B. (2000). Bikram’s beginning yoga class. New York: Jeremy P Tarcher/Putnam p.176~

Relephant:

Yoga is Where I Let the Healing Tears Flow.

Bonus! The hardest yoga pose:

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Author: Gregory Ormson

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr


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About Gregory Ormson

Gregory Ormson is the motorcycling yogi; he does hot yoga in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii and rides Wildfire – his Harley-Davidson –  365 days a year.  He earned a D. Min from the Chicago Theological Seminary and an MA in English from Northern Michigan University.

Comments

24 Responses to “The Yoga Pose that Healed my Lower Back Injuries.”

  1. Raven says:

    Last Dec 16, 2013 I herniated my L5,S1 disc, ( I have a 30% herniation). Apparently, it was in the midst of herniating for quite some time. This past year, I have seen 3 separate physical therapists, 2 back surgeons. For 2 months I had numbness down my right leg, glass like pain in my right heel. I was scheduled for a discectomy on Feb 26, 2013. Luckily for me my symptoms subsided and I no longer had the numbnesss. However the pain always reminds me of what happened. I have been told to stop running, (doing 5k’s) and no squats with weight, and no deep bends forward. I’m so really almost depressed because my method of staying in shape, coping, clearing my mind, and finding peace has been stopped. This pose intrigues me, howevet I am so afraid anymore. What would you advise me to do? I miss my yoga practise. 🙁

  2. scargosun says:

    I am in a similar position. Same injury only left leg involvement. I cry sometimes when I see people out for a nice walk. I have been in this position for around 6 months. I have a neurologist appt (recommended by my chiropractor b/c of the nerve and spinal cord involvement) in about 2 weeks that took 6 weeks to get. I am so tired of holding back in my practice, no twisting, not deep forward bends. I walk my dogs every other day but it can be excruciating. I stick to basics classes, slow flow and restorative classes at the moment. I am sure this is an injury from 20 years ago that overtime, just got much worse. I am looking forward to getting some answers and hopefully relief.

  3. Glad it helped you! I love yoga too the rabbit is full Flexion (not extension) offering some decompression too:)

    Advice: Make sure the spine is stable and get regular ongoing chiropractic care to optimize alignment, yoga is not corrective, rather it’s supportive & helpful at strength & flexibility.

    great link here to. http://www.yogabasics.com/asana/rabbit/

  4. Sarah says:

    I’ve had sciatica since October and pretty much tried everything to ease the pain. Medication helps. So I thought what the hell let’s try this position. Bad idea!! Although I couldn’t quite get my legs straight and my head tucked into my legs, I think I got pretty close and oh my gosh, the pain is now searing from my buttock down my right leg. Curiosity killed the cat. Ouch!!

  5. sara says:

    Hi, the best thing to do is exsit that medical system. Instead go to a holistic chiro. Engage in gentle tractioning which can reverse the condition. Which is why this pose worked for this person. Also lessen the pull pressure on the spine. Which a good chiro and good massage therapist can help you with. Get acupuncture often. Use topical oils. Look into working with a real ayurvedic practitioner. Lessen inflamed tissue and the qualities of weakness from within. You will have more of a challenge if the doctors have been giving you shots…..that weakens tissue. The least medical intervention the best chance you have to heal. But no matter what it can he done with time. Oh….and resting is essential. Running will likely hurt it more.

  6. elle says:

    I find grammar nazi people to be incredibly annoying so I apologize beforehand; however, as yoga instructors can we PLEASE learn the difference between "breath" and "breathe"? It is not hard to breath in rabbit, rather, it is hard to breathe. I'm truly not trying to come across as condescending but the breath is such an important part of our yoga practice and this is such an easy rule to learn. Breath is the noun and breathe is the verb.

  7. The spine is 14 inches longer than normal and is in full extension? This is impossible but also this is not extreme spinal extension, it is flexion! this is a very dangerous pose that creates compression of the anterior discs in the cervical and can overstretch the posterior ligaments. Why would we do any pose that feels like we are being choked? We do not have to suffer to feel good and anyone with back problems should avoid this. This pose can actually cause a disc herniation as there is so much pressure on the anterior discs. Also there are important stabilizing ligaments in the posterior chain being over-stretched here and this is necessary tension needed for upright alignment.

  8. Forward bends are quite possibly what caused your injury. You may have over-stretched your sciatic nerve and caused lumbar compression doing forward bending yoga poses.
    check out YogAlign as an alternative to your practice.

  9. elephantjournal says:

    Hi – thanks for your comment! We've updated the article. – Ed.

  10. gregorynorsk says:

    I can't give advice, but I want you to know that in a culture like ours where painful, negative and uncomfortable life truths bear down upon us, it's important for me (speaking just for myself) to acknowledge your pain and suffering. I am one of the lucky ones, moving beyond a painful history to one that is mostly pain-free.

    If you do try yoga again, take it slow. Take it very slow. I repeat … take it slow and celebrate your each and every bend.

    To elle, nice correction and thanks.
    To Michaelle also thanks. That's why I noted that statement with the reference from Choudry.

  11. Teresa Swift says:

    This asana is not spinal extension, it is spinal flexion. Advocating such a extreme pose coupled with a lack of the most basic knowledge of kinesiology is dangerous. There is no One Size Fits All approach to low back pain; this article constitutes yogic malpractice!

  12. Bkln df says:

    For those who have back issues, please listen carefully to your bodies–and medical practitioners.

    I also had a back problem/herniated disk, and for me, back extensions (in other words, back bends) along with core workouts gave me the relief and strength I needed to recover. I'm not saying the author is wrong. I"m saying that if you are injured, you must learn what can bring you relief and healing. Just as tight hamstrings and quads require similar, but somewhat opposing, work, your injury might require something different from another person's injury.

  13. Glad to know that you are healed through Yoga. Keep in mind that one aasanaa that works for you, might not work for another. Each practitioner need guidance for their own goals from their qualified Yoga teacher. And also, Aasanaas are done not just for health, but towards a higher possibility.

  14. Yoga can help many backs if the proper poses are performed. The Rabbit pose above may have helped your back, but I am fearful of your head and neck posture during the pose being too aggressively flexed (we call it "overpressure"). I would say to be careful and listen closely to your body as you progress with this pose! Most yoga practitioners are well in tune with their bodies, so it should be nothing new! Glad to see you found relief. I have just completed a blog post outlining 100 yoga poses and their benefit (or harm) for the back. I will link it below. Happy reading!

  15. Greg Ormson says:

    Thanks for all comments. As a student only, I shared my healing story. I’m glad that most of you celebrated it with me. If not, as the kids say, “it is what it is.”

  16. Kristi says:

    Your results may vary. He does back pain sufferers no service with his all-or-nothing statement: “Certainly, an option is to swallow aspirin and hope for the best but I am enjoying the benefits of a better plan.” There are LOTS of back-healing options between aspirin-hope and a painful pose that shuts off the breathing. He makes an astounding footnoted claim: “When stretching into full rabbit, the spine measures fourteen inches longer than usual.” Source: “When stretched in a full Rabbit, it is not unusual for a spine to measure fourteen inches longer than usual.” A small but important difference. I mistrust those who change source material. Sources for the source claims would be good, too. “But the choked feeling in your throat is no reason to stop. In fact, the more choked the better.” Yikes.

    He also gives the impression that all the rest of his yoga practice deserves no credit; it’s this pose alone that has healed his back. And if he stopped doing just that one pose, his back problems would return? Full disclosure: I had several years of disabling back pain around age 30 (30+ years ago), and I grew to hate hearing the One Thing that would cure me. Hot tubs! Running! Acupuncture! And so on. It’s more complex than that, and different approaches work for different people with different bodies/ages/jobs/lifestyles. Exercise was very important for me, as I’d become fearful/guarded to the point of paralysis. But “a Rabbit a day keeps the chiropractor away”? Chiropractors have been essential partners for me in gaining and maintaining a strong healthy spine. Please, no disdain or judgment.

  17. selma says:

    The whole tone of this article really captures everything yoga is not. Yoga certainly can BE therapeutic but if the prescription of these two poses twice a day is meant to convey to readers that they too can heal their back pain by forcing themselves into Rabbit pose, please, readers be forewarned. A sensation of choking? Resistance? And pain associated? Counting down until the pose is over? This sounds like torture and is the furthest thing from a yoga practice, let's be clear. You might be doing some stretching in bikram (taking a wild guess here) that has somehow helped your spine heal but certainly it's not to the credit of yoga. If yoga teaches us just ONE thing, it's a deep compassion for our body through developing a deeply inward focus. We get to know it. We pay attention. We go deeper and deeper inside to make those valuable connections and the second the breath is constrained, or God forbid we have a sensation of "choking," we back off mindfully and readjust. Happy your back is healed, but I hope you can find some of the amazing therapeutic benefits of yoga, starting with being kind to yourself.

  18. Guest says:

    Wow. The writer is simply sharing what helped him. He is not saying everyone should run out and go do this. Do what works for you. People and their urgent need to express every opinion on their mind…jeez.

  19. Kevin Graves says:

    No offense, but if I could GET into that pose, which is doubtful, I could never get OUT of it, due to 30 years of back problems

  20. Kathi says:

    I hear ya bud…..besides I'm so fearful of making my back worse.

  21. Beth says:

    I have had pretty significant back injuries with an unknown cause. I am not able to do forward bends. I am working with my yoga (Iyengar) instructor. I do not do forward bends. I am easing back into "downward dog". It is quite possible you may want to avoid forward bends as well. This decision was informed through an x-ray from a chiropractor and honesty with myself about the difference between pain and stretching. I highly recommend seeking professional advice rather than my advice. However, it is important that you seek qualified instruction. Not all yoga is created equal.

  22. MaryW says:

    Yoga is insanely good for treating a number of abdominal problems too! I found that the sasangasana was great for my hernia issues too. I got abdominal hernia repair ( http://shouldice.com/the-shouldice-repair.aspx ) at the Shouldice Hospital in Ontario, and haven’t done them after that. But still, it was really helpful in easing the pain in the initial stages of my hernia and containing the pressure. It’s much better than simply pushing your hernia back into your abdomen.

  23. gregorynorsk says:

    Thar's right, which is why I take criticism with a very small grain of salt. 🙂

  24. Claude says:

    I find the description of the pose lacking. There is a lot of talk about it but no detailed description of how to do it and the photo hides part of the action behind a mass of blond hair. Could you please provide a video demonstration or a detailed description. Thank you.

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