I feel your (back) pain…

Muscles connecting the upper extremity to the ...
Backs are strong but complex! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have something to share with you. Something I feel almost guilty to admit it. Something I feel shouldn’t happen to me, because I’m a yoga teacher.

I’ve hurt my back.

Not sure how it happened, or precisely what happened, but since Monday evening something odd has been going on in my lower thoracic spine.

It tends to start off as a bit of a niggly ache in the morning and gets worse through the day. Sometimes as I move the muscles in the middle of my back spasm – leading to much catching of breath and grimacing :-(

I can’t pin point when it started and can’t link it to anything specific I’ve done.  But it’s there, and it’s getting on my nerves…

A new sensation

Having been blessed not to have experienced much physical pain/discomfort in my life (apart from when I fell down a couple of carpeted stairs when I was 12 and bruised / cracked my coccyx, the doctors weren’t sure which, but I knew for sure that it hurt like hell to move…) this new experience has rather knocked me off balance.

My initial reaction was: this shouldn’t be happening to me. I’m a yoga teacher. I move my body every day. I listen to my body. No, no, no! Yoga teachers don’t hurt their backs!!!

OK, well that’s a pre-conception. Whether it “should” happen or not, it has. Accept it.

Then I got interested in how it felt. Where were the sensations? How do they feel? What affect do they have on my body and mind?

…Ooh, I’m not breathing very deeply. My throat feels constricted. I’m feeling scared to bend forward. My core muscles are switching off.  Ooh, I’m bracing myself for a spasm as I get up off the chair.

Now I’m acting as there’s no problem and carrying on as normal.

Ow! I need to prop myself up with cushions to sit and the slightest movement sends my middle back into spasm. This is very annoying.

Blimey I feel knackered. Hmm, how does it feel when I stretch my arms over head. Ooh, that’s OK.  How does it feel to slowly twist my spine? Ooh, that doesn’t feel good…

Pain v sensations

One thing I’ve noticed is that the word “pain” didn’t come into my mind. It’s not that I pushed the word away. It’s just that the various aches, snatches and niggles feel like different sensations to me. Not particularly pleasant ones, but sensations all the same!

And because I haven’t been telling myself I’m in pain I’ve kept moving. Pain is a word loaded with lots of connotations and reactions. Fear being one of them. And fear can stop us in our tracks. Fear can stop us moving.

My back sensations feel muscular. Nothing went ping, it’s not acute.

So I know that the best thing to do is to keep moving, mindfully.  And the sensations are encouraging me to move more slowly and therefore very mindfully – which is not a bad thing for me as I’m a bit of a rusher!

Keep on moving

So I’ve been practising the Dru Earth Salutation to gently mobilise my spine. Also the flowing Tree as it eases the niggles and aches.

Also the Cat and Tiger to strengthen my back muscles and keep my awareness on my core. Plus Bridge pose is both  soothing and mobilising.

And some gentle Lying Twists. Something feels tight to the right of my lower spine as if it needs releasing. This posture helps, although at the time it feels, erm, interesting!

And I’ve been practising the Dru Yoga sequence Energy Block Release 3 to keep my heart centre open – as the back of my body has been constricting I’ve noticed a tendency for my chest and heart centre to feel tight. This sequence opens your chest and activates your heart centre along with feelings of gentleness, acceptance and compassion.

And I’ve been practising relaxation – which is so important if you’re in discomfort of any kind (whether physical or emotional). Inviting your body and mind to let go and be still for a while is so healing.

All of this is helping. Sitting in one position makes it worse. Movement is vital – for any kind of non-specific back pain not just for me and my “sensations”!

Why I think this has happened

So why this and why now?

Well, I’m not sure what is physically going on (and I’m going to see an osteopath to get it checked out) but I have some theories about why it might have happened.

In my day job I’ve been working on two large (separate) projects which both had the same deadline of 29th November. And for both of them it was pretty much up to me alone to get everything checked, finished and delivered on time.

That meant a lot of sitting at a computer all day, a lot of work and a lot of concentration all at a really intense level for a couple of months.

Basically, in putting all my effort into thinking, planning, working busily and meeting deadlines I was forgetting about my body.

Yes, I continued my yoga practice through this period. But when I was sat at that desk my posture was alternating between being slumped and then over-compensating by over-straightening; my breathing was really shallow; and my energy was tense and intent upon the work in hand.

This pain in my back is my body’s way of telling me “hey, it’s great that you move me first thing in the morning and in the evening, but I really don’t like being hunched up over a computer all day thank you very much!”.

A wake-up call to me to stop, slow down and relax.

So what am I going to do about it?

  1. Move  – and listen to my body as I move. I know I need to ground my energy – my mind is always active so I’m going to make even more of a conscious focus on feeling the sensations in my body throughout the day.
  2. See a professional – to get this checked out.
  3. Take time during the working day to move my body mindfully. Stretch, twist, bend – all can be done in a chair! And I’ll go for a walk every lunchtime.
  4. Make time to relax – daily. What with my job and teaching yoga 2 -3 evenings a week I don’t always make time for relaxation. I know I need to. My body has just given me a wake-up call to do it!
  5. Accept my body how it is in this moment – back niggles and all! There’s no point telling myself I shouldn’t be experiencing a back problem. I am.
  6. More yoga. More movement, more relaxation, more meditation.  More focusing on uniting my body, mind and spirit. That’s my calling. That’s my love.

A learning experience

And I’m making this a learning experience. I’ve learned firsthand that back problems affect your whole being.

Back discomfort / pain affects how every limb moves as you really feel how every movement originates from the back muscles.  It leads to fear that any movement will trigger a spasm.

But I’ve learned that that fear needs to be overcome, because you need to keep moving.

I’ve learned how discomfort/pain triggers emotional reactions. I’ve felt how it restricts your breath and drains your energy.

This will help me as I teach yoga. To understand a little more of what people who come to class with joint or muscle pain/discomfort are experiencing.

And to love them even more for being brave and strong as they live with that pain/discomfort and start to heal their body, mind and spirit through yoga.


Stella Tomlinson teaches slow, flowing Dru yoga in Southampton, UK, to improve posture, flexibility and spinal health. Dru yoga is characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. It aims to relieve the stresses of modern-day living. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.

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