Yoga is the answer to back pain, the world’s biggest health issue
The key culprit of chronic back pain is our sedentary lifestyle and the collection of stress in one part of the body
The face is usually darker. The eyes, a bit watery. It is almost as if the edges of the face are slightly blurred. Great care is evident in physical movements—a deliberation that is not fully normal. I can make out backache in a colleague, friend, co-traveller, whoever, because I am a fellow sufferer. Lower back ache is a scourge of modern-day living that is affecting an increasing number of people. The desperation to find a cure, to just stop the pain, has resulted in a proliferation of solution givers—reflexology, physiotherapy, massage, some German technique, aromatherapy, ayurvedic massage, meditation—to name just a few.
On World Yoga Day, I want to weigh in and tell you what is finally working for me. Fifteen years of a weak lower back with a young person’s disdain for rest or care came home to hurt hellishly five years ago—the back packed up. The final trigger was an overenthusiastic gym instructor at the local DDA facility. For the next three years, I went from orthopaedic to orthopaedic, from one physio intervention to another. Kati pasti (the wonderful Ayurvedic massage), reflexology, hot compress, cold compress, meditation, thinking good thoughts about the back and the world (I kid you not—somebody told me to do that), I’ve been there, done that.
It is when one doctor finally told me not to bend or twist or make sudden movements that I realized this was a dead end. The human body is meant for complicated movements, what on earth was so wrong with me that I couldn’t bend or move?
The key culprit is our sedentary lifestyle and the collection of stress in one part of the body. The lack of oxygen in muscles makes them weak. As some muscles weaken, others do their work, and, soon enough, what began as a back problem results in neck or knee pain. The physio, the massage, the painkillers are all outside-in. There has to be an inside-out solution.
This is where yoga came in. Having learnt the basics many years ago, I knew that there is deep science behind the practice. But how could I get the right teacher? The wrong one can maim. And park yoga was not going to work.
I discovered Iyengar Yoga almost by chance. I had been waiting for the right solution. It had to have worked for somebody I knew and trusted. It had to be near my home. It had to be someone who was qualified to deal with my problem.
The first time I walked into Amina Bharat Ram’s Iyengar Yogamandala studio 18 months ago, I was wearing a back brace. I could not sit on the floor or bend to pick up the morning papers, I could not work for more than 3-4 hours a day at a stretch. She asked for my MRI reports before she let me into the class. I knew I was in the right place. Then began one year of excruciating pain as muscles that had been unused for years were pulled to attention. Worse was the fear of pain. Long years of pain leave us back-pain suffers afraid of back episodes. The biggest hurdle was mental—to not give up midway.
Why Iyengar Yoga? Because I found out that you can’t just get up one morning and start teaching this form of yoga. Instructors need certification from the Pune headquarters to start a studio. Because Iyengar Yoga, which focuses on getting the posture and body aligned, is not about pushing people, but about using props to help them get there. It is very rigorous, but with gentleness at its core. It aims at perfection and helps you get there.
Our bodies are not getting younger. Our work is not getting more body- friendly, so I don’t expect a full cure. I don’t know if the pain will recur. But I do know that Iyengar Yoga offers a way out. It’ll hurt like hell for a while and then it’ll get better. And that’s why I love the pose that gave me the confidence that I can do this. Adho Mukha Dandasana
Monika Halan is consulting editor at Mint and writes on household finance, policy and regulation.
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