As Dr. Evans explains in this video, at the root of chronic back pain is often more than a physical issue:
It is my least favorite and most favorite thing to hear:
My back hurts, should I stop doing yoga?
Short answer? Nope.
But why is that my least favorite question? I have been there, and I feel for you. I know back pain can be debilitating, life-altering, make you feel hopeless, make everything suck. I want you to feel better, and I want it to happen fast.
I also know the internet (and potentially your doctor's office) is riddled with myths and misunderstandings about the causes of back pain and what the most effective treatments really are. I have heard of medical pros recommending extended bedrest (which has actually been found to make back pain worse) or to avoid backbending (which in many cases is the exact kind of movement needed to balance the great amount of forward bending we do in our culture.)
Here's why it's my favorite question, though: because I have been there, and I have also experienced the tremendous power of - myself - to heal my own body.
You thought I was going to say 'the power of Bikram yoga,' didn't you?
And in a way, I did.
Bikram yoga is an incredible tool designed to diminish pain and disease in the human body.
A tool is what it is.
It won't work without you.
Your outlook, beliefs, attitudes and behavior are actually as or more reliable predictors of your pain than any physical issue!
If you believe your pain will last forever, if you let fear keep you from moving your body, if you think you are too fat, too thin, too busy, too old, too poor, too sick to deserve to feel better?
You won't do the things (like coming to class) that will help you feel better. And you won't feel better. Which will reinforce your negative outlook and pretty much keep everything sucking until something has to give...
Luckily, Bikram yoga will help you improve the health of your outlook as well as your physical health! Because watching yourself not give up on yourself for 90 minutes at a time? That's bound to generate some positivity.
Access to a supportive community/ social connections have also been found to correlate with reduced risk of chronic pain.
Which means: at BYSJ. we are basically your 1-stop shop for back (and all kindsa) pain relief: emotional, mental, physical, social, spiritual.
See you in class soon. :)
Have you been trying to get your "palms together like glue" but it just ain't happening?
Lots of people try to bring their arms back too far in Bikram yoga's "arms over the head" position. If this is you, you'll have trouble getting your palms together. Because of anatomy, everyone has a certain point where, when the shoulders are pushed back too far, the arms will not be able to fully extend at the elbow. Pushing or forcing the arms too far back and then trying to straighten them puts a lot of strain on the shoulders.
Bikram yoga is hard enough! Take it easy on your shoulders, please.
If your shoulders are feeling strained when you stretch your arms up in this position, try bringing the arms slightly forward, then bringing the elbows toward each other to straighten out the arms. This will help you keep your palms together, which will help you stretch your shoulders, create length in your spine and...
Feel better during and after your class.
This is an issue I help a lot of students with, often because they have told me their shoulder(s) hurt. As Emmy Cleaves says, pain is a gift. That shoulder, bless it, is trying to tell you something! It's the first thing I look for when the student takes my class: are you overusing your poor shoulder?
Bikram yoga is so, so great for healing shoulder injuries because we don't do any weight-bearing on the arms. If your shoulder was bugging you when you started but you are not experiencing improvement after a few weeks in the hot room, it could be because you are overusing the shoulder in class and thereby preventing it from healing. Once you learn how not to overdo it and start practicing that way, any chronic pain or stiffness in the shoulder should improve relatively quickly.
Bikram yoga is hard enough.
Work smarter, not necessarily harder, in class and you will notice the difference in how you feel after.
So how do you work smarter, in this case?
Whenever you are not going to bring your palms together for the pose, there is no need to bring your palms together in the set-up of the pose. This means Eagle pose, Standing Separate Leg Stretching, and Triangle pose.
Simply bring your arms over your head sideways with shoulders fairly relaxed, the way you would do if a cop (hopefully this never happens to you, but it's just the best example I can think of!) told you to put your hands in the air. You wouldn't stop to think about stretching or looking pretty, would you? Just bring your arms over your head.
Check out the video above for a demonstration, and check out these related posts for more tips on how to stop overdoing it in yoga:
I've shown this hack to a buncha people with a variety of issues: hypermobile joints, "knock knees," lower back pain, swayback, trouble balancing, knee pain and more. It has helped them. Try it in your next class and let us know what it does for you.
By the way, we had so much fun making this video. Yoga should be fun.
What will make your yoga practice even more fun is if you do it without pain or strain and your injuries heal faster because you are using correct musculature to support your body. Bonus if you feel strong and stable while standing on your own feet!
Want to deepen your understanding and get more goody out of your Bikram yoga practice? Check out these posts below for more videos from Kay, or search the archives for "tips!"
I've been practicing Bikram yoga since I was a 20-something in nursing school. After about 3 months of taking class 3-4 times a week, my whole life started to change. I'm not sure there is much outside dancing and breathing that I have 'stuck with' for the past 20 years!
There are so many benefits I have received from Bikram yoga. Balanced mood, resolve to face life’s disappointments, better sleep, more energy in my body, less pain, more coordination. If I’m practicing 3-4 times a week: my cellulite will (mostly) go away, my cravings for sugar, caffeine and alcohol (mostly) go away. I’m suddenly ravenous for huge bowls of salad, sautéed spinach and hummus. People start telling me my skin looks incredible, and to be totally honest, sometimes after class I feel like I’m glowing from the inside out, bones to skin. My body is happy and my mind follows. Oh, and sex! Can't forget that good ole' sex drive that most definitely comes into play with good hormonal balancing… TMI? J
I have a pretty 'serious' neck injury - it's a tear in my spinal cord called a syrinx and I get migraines/headaches because of it. When I practice consistently my overall body pain is lessened, my headaches are much less often and I feel I am 'more stable' overall. I drink so much water when I practice consistently, and I know good hydration is a huge factor in my wellness.
The people who love me most have started practicing yoga too, because they see how significant the impact has been in my life. Those who are closest to me always ask (from my partner to my mother to my best friend) if things seem amiss, 'have you been getting to yoga?'
Everyone in my life knows how important my practice is to me and they encourage it because I'm nicer, I laugh more and I'm not bitchy when I take care of myself. Taking care of myself for 90 minutes several times a week allows me to be the engaged, present partner and mother that I want to be.
I am naturally flexible in my body, so Bikram offers me a lot of chances to build my strength. Being determined to do it is where the growth happens, that for me is where I know I can face anything (dishes in the sink I'm coming for you!) Being 'determined' to hold my self accountable to giving my best (whatever that is, and sometimes that's having a 'gentle' class so I don't worsen a sore back or pop my spinal cord open!) My determination to honor my body and the messages it is giving me - that keeps me in the room.
One of the things I love the most about Bikram is that is constantly surprises me. Who would imagine that a class where you do exactly the same thing every time could offer a lifetime of surprises?! Since my body is different every day and each teacher or class provides new opportunities for understanding, it never gets boring.
I’m so happy you have a studio that is so warm and welcoming I want to bring everyone in my life there! Thank you for having child care and making it a place for my whole family! I'm so grateful to my husband who now practices too, and that has really turned Bikram yoga into something we do/are as a family.
If you're a heavy sweater (not the wool kind!) or practicing a lot (shout out to our 30 day challengers!) you may need a lil' sumpn' extra to replenish the electrolytes you lose from sweating. But first: what are electrolytes, anyway?
Science says multi-tasking makes your efforts less effective.
We're always telling you to stare at stuff in class, aren't we? Your knee in the mirror or your stomach or 4 feet on the floor in front of you.
A single point of focus is a tool you get to use not only for balancing, but also to quiet your "monkey mind" which likes to swing from thing to thing (mine sometimes even screeches or bites!)
With our phones and cars (not to mention kids, if you have them!) so many of us are almost always multi-tasking. Bad news, because it turns out multi-tasking is really ineffective and may actually hurt your brain.
The good news is, your yoga practice can help you hone the skill of focusing on Just. One. Thing.
Studies show that the more you practice mindful concentration, the better you'll get! For example, the results of a pair of studies in "Frontiers in Human Neuroscience" suggest that "brief meditation impacts attention even in novice practitioners."
Try in class: commit to tuning in to each present moment your main objective for one session. Notice how you feel afterwards. Then try it on a stressful day at work or when there's just a ton to do around the house: Pick one thing, focus on it.
Focus one point, eyes open and breathing normal. We have a feeling you'll feel better! But let us know how it goes in the comments below!
Especially if you practice Bikram yoga daily (shout out to you, yoga challengers!) it's critical to replenish your electrolytes and fuel your body with all the nutrients it needs. One of the most delicious ways to do that is by eating plenty of hydrating fruits and veggies. Here's one of our favorite go-to recipes, full of leafy greens and citrus. "Pro" tip: double the ingredients and keep the extra salad in the fridge for lunch tomorrow!
Ingredients for 2 servings
4 cups kale, thinly sliced in ribbons
1 can chickpeas/ garbanzo beans
1/2 avocado (use other 1/2 for garnish)
1 grapefruit, sectioned then cut in chunks
Tahini Citrus dressing:
1-1 1/2 Tbsp creamy tahini
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp maple (or agave) syrup
a few pinches black pepper
a few pinches cayenne (more if you like it spicy)
a pinch of sea salt
water if needed to thin it out
1. Add dressing ingredients to small bowl, whisk together.
2. Rinse your greens. Pat dry between paper towels and chop.
3. Rinse beans and toast briefly on a frying pan (optional)
4. Dice avocado, add to greens bowl. Set aside 1/2 of it sliced for garnish.
5. Add dressing to greens bowl and toss well.
6. Fold chickpeas and grapefruit chunks into greens.
7. Serve right away, or refrigerate covered for up to 3 days.
Adapted from the recipe at https://www.popsugar.com/Kale-Chickpea-Power-Salad-sweet-tahini-dressing-26959938
Bikram Yoga St. Johns' studio owner, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay D.