Action in Relaxation
the yogic way for back pain
You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction. […] actions are better than renouncing actions; by ceasing activity even your bodily maintenance will not be possible. – Bhagavad-Gita (II. 47; III.8).
We have to act in life, we cannot avoid it. Sometimes action can be exhausting. Sometimes it gives so much stress that we would rather be inactive. That’s the case of depression and it can be the case of lumbar pain too. Let’s see why.
The lumbar region carries the weight of the body, especially when a bad posture doesn’t allow to download the weight to the floor through the barycenter. The barycenter, or center of gravity, is the point where all the forces on the body apply. When the barycenter falls in the correct basis of support, we have balance and stability. In other cases, unless we have another support available, we lose stability and we need extra work by some muscles to maintain balance. That is what happens in cases of slipped disk and lumbar stiffness. If back muscles are weak, the spine will do the effort. This leads to the compression of the disks between the vertebrae. If vertebrae get too close, the disk slips out pressing on the spinal nerves. If, instead, muscles are strong enough to protect the spine, they become so stiff that the spinal nerves again will be pressed. Pain comes from the muscular contraction or/and from the nerve inflammation.
But why do we lose balance that way? Most of the times it is a problem of posture – like sitting in a car or at a desk for long time, carrying or lifting heavy stuff. Interestingly, often back pain manifests in people, who don’t have those kinds of situation.
The body is not really able to recognize a physical weight from a psychological weight. When the burdens of life become overwhelming, we feel like we can’t hold any further. Some people feel like they cannot go on – with lumbar slipped disk or sciatica, legs are blocked so that they prevent walking. It’s curios that in Tuscany, Italy, people call back pain «life pain».
What has yoga to teach about it? Action becomes difficult and exhausting because of the expectations we have from it. Expectations cause the action itself to be less natural and relaxed. If not fulfilled, they cause frustration and sense of failure. Unless we are very strong and optimistic, we might feel that difficulties are insurmountable and burdens impossible to carry. But what if we deeply understand that we cannot expect anything from our actions and yet we cannot exempt from acting? The sun is shining because it has to. It earns nothing, it doesn’t pretend anything, though it gives benefits to many. We have to do something, otherwise we starve. But we can’t know precisely the consequences of what we do. Even inaction can be a strong action – think about Gandhi’s political choice of non-violence.
So while thinking about your back pain, consider all your bad habits – bad posture at the desk, too many hours driving, a wrong way to lift weights – but then consider also how do you project yourself in your actions. Listen here to a simple yoga sequence to gently stretch and enforce your back muscles so that they can protect the spine, while the vertebrae are given more space to allow the relief of the compressed disks. Practice gently, expect nothing, be aware of everything!
About the author: Gilda Giannoni has been practising yoga since 1992 and teaching since 1999. She founded her school YogaMarga in Verona in 2005 and since then she has been involved in several Teacher Training Courses, conferences and seminars in Verona and other cities in Italy. She holds a degree in Philosophy (Pisa University, Italy), several certifications as a Yoga Teacher (Italy and India) and a post-graduate degree in Yoga Therapy (S-Vyasa Yoga University, Bangalore, India). She has written articles for an Italian yoga journal and her book, Yoga, dall’Armonia alla Gioia, was published in 2012.