Back pain is one of the biggest industries in the US, costing billions of dollars in pain medications, surgical interventions and lost productivity. Disc degeneration, ruptured discs, pinched nerves and the dire sounding lumbago (which is simply a word for unexplained lower back pain) interfere with performance and pleasure leaving many people feeling hopeless.
While injury and wear and tear are certainly contributing factors to back pain, the elephant in the room is not simply mechanical. It’s your emotions. No one says, “My back is anxious,” or “My back feels abandoned.” And yet even our common phrases intuit this emotional part of the anatomy. “She has no backbone,” “I feel like he doesn’t have my back,” “It was like a stab in the back,” “Back me up, here,” “I’ve got my back against the wall and I can’t get out of it!”
Anxiety, grief, insecurity can all influence the muscles of your back. Combine that with poor use of self, whether from sitting too much or postural choices and you’ve got a recipe for discomfort. Add fear of pain to the cocktail and you’re literally stuck in a holding pattern: holding yourself together, holding on for dear life.
Untangling the emotional interference with your happiness can take some practice, but here are some tips to begin the process of freeing yourself from habits that can lead to back pain.
1. Use Your Breath To Free Your Spine. Every breath you take involves a movement of your diaphragm, moving down as you inhale, then back up as you exhale. As your lungs expand, your ribs spread and as you exhale, the ribs move down and embrace your diaphragm. All of this interacts with your spine and your ribs, which attach to your spine. Every emotion has a breath pattern, so if you’re anxious or angry, your breath will respond and immediately tighten your back. You don’t need special breathing exercises, you just need to remember this very important fact and pay attention. Take time to stop, notice, and soften your breath.
2. Walk Like A Dinosaur. One cause of chronic lumbar pain is a tendency to tighten the buttocks and hold the pelvis up. There are many reasons for this toxic habit, but you CAN let it go. Stand with your feet comfortably apart. Sense your pelvis and your lower back (Lumbar). Imagine that hanging from your tailbone is a dinosaur tale that goes all the way to the floor – heavy, long and strong. Allow your pelvis and tailbone to lengthen and be supported by the tail. Walk around allowing the tail to support your lumbar so you don’t have to hold it up. Do this for a few minutes a day.
3. Rock and Roll Your Pelvis. Feel your sit bones contacting the seat of your chair. Rock your pelvis backward so that your back rounds. Then rock it forward till your back arches a bit. Go back and forth a few times and exaggerate the rounding of your back till your head bends forward and back with the pelvic rock. Rest. Rock your pelvis from side to side, letting your spine flop a little. Imagine connecting all the points you rocked to and circle your pelvis all around your seat. Try circling a few times in each direction. Don’t push it, keep it pleasurable and easy, your spine will thank you.
4. Relax Your Flexors. Your Psoas is a huge, deep muscle that connects your spine and hips. It governs your Fight, Flight, Fear response and can be instrumental in tightening everything, especially during stressful times. Lie on your back and bend your knees over your chest, holding onto your knees. Gently circle your knees. As you do that, you will feel the back of your pelvis moving. You can circle your knees in opposite directions, or both together. Take your time, breathe easily and after you do a few movements, let your legs come down and rest before you reverse direction.
5. Give Yourself a Hug. Sitting or lying down, wrap your arms across your chest. If you are lying down, have your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor. Begin to rock and roll from side to side, using your hands to help roll your ribs. Let your head go with you. Then let your pelvis go with you. (If you’re sitting, let your knees move.) Pay attention to your breath. Don’t force anything. Then make it smaller and speed it up, as if you were playing like a child. Rest. Change over your arms and repeat.
We are complex creatures with many stories locked in our bodies. Learning to listen to our hidden emotions can put your back, back on the path toward happiness and well-being.
Lavinia Plonka has been teaching the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education for over 30 years. She is a lead instructor of the Emotional Body®, author of several books on movement and an internationally recognized teacher of movement studies. For more information on Lavinia’s retreats visit www.laviniaplonka.com/kinesaretreat. For additional articles and tips visit www.laviniaplonka.com.