05 December 2010

YTT - Week 5 Sunday

Backbends and more backbends... Wow.

I was so stiff and sore from yesterday's standing twists practice I didn't think there was any way I would make it through today's... I had to take quite a few breaks because my legs were trembling. I think this has been my hardest weekend since inversion weekend.

We went through Salambhasana (Locust), Dhanurasana (Bow), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog), Salambhasana with variations, Ustrasana (Camel) at the wall, and Salamba Setu Bandha (Supported Bridge).  That's a lot of backbends!  (You'd likely never do that many in a regular class, but this is teacher training and we are hard core. LOL) Ustrasana at the wall is fantastic for learning the legs work for the pose, but it was so hard because I felt as if I were going to fall backwards. The wall was just a little too close for comfort!

More fascinating information this weekend too about my back injury: I need to be doing backbends to help heal my posterior slipped disc.  I have avoided backbends for years because I thought they would do more damage than good. Little did I realize that I was doing precisely the wrong thing for my particular injury.  I have long had a love affair with forward folds, especially Utanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Prasarita Padottasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold), and  Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). As it turns out, forward folds are likely to exacerbate a posteriorly slipped disc.

So let me explain the disc. Check out this picture from Wikipedia contributor Edave. (This is where my injury is, but this is NOT my spine. My herniation is not this large, but it works nicely for my explanation.) Look at the third disc down. It's herniated out the back of the disc (i.e., posterior). If it were out the front of the disc, the herniation would be anterior.

So, as it turns out, for those of us with posterior slipped discs (herniated is technically the correct medical term), backbends help to encourage the protruding disc material to reenter the disc - and forward folds have the potential to squish more fluid out of the disc. It's the opposite for someone with an anterior slipped disc: forward folds help the fluid back in, backbends would push more out.  That's not to say that someone with a posteriorly slipped disc can't do a forward fold - BUT, it should be done slowly, with caution, body awareness and ideally, guidance from a teacher.

I no longer do the seated forward folds the way I used to... I would get into a position and just hang out there for minutes, working on lengthening my hamstrings. Never realizing I was at the very least, irritating my back injury, and at worst, making it worse. I don't hold seated forward folds for a long period of time now, though I will hold the standing folds for a while because they feel amazing on my neck (which is a whole different story of injury...).  I am very careful to ensure I have more extension in my spine than "bend" when I do them, because I want to increase the space between my vertebrae in an even manner, and stretch the intercostal muscles (tiny muscles between your ribs). Oh, and another thing I avoid now, which I did for years and years...  If you are in a standing forward fold and the teacher instructs you to "roll up, one vertebra at a time)... ick.  This is not a good thing to do for anyone with a posteriorly slipped disc. It hurts. For me, it's much better to press down into my feet as if I am pushing the floor away and come up with a flat back. It might sound silly, but just give it a try.

YTT Week 5 - Saturday

Standing Twists... What a day!

The biggies in today's practice were: Parivritta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle), Parivritta Ardha Chandrasana (Revolved Half-Moon), and Parivritta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Extended Side Angle).  I was surprised that the revolved half moon seemed easier than the unrevolved half moon...

After practice and lunch, we did some hands-on adjustments and then practice teaching of several poses and switched partners each time. That was fun because it got us working a bit out of our comfort zone. I feel so clunky right now when trying to instruct on the spot like this.  Definitely need to work on my "yoga voice."

One of the most amazing things about this experience for me is how healthy my back feels. I've had years of chronic back pain and earlier this year discovered thanks to an MRI that I have a posterior "slipped" disc between L4 and L5. The practice we are doing in this teacher training is generally an advanced level practice, and yet, for the most part I am able to keep up (with modifications) AND feel good while doing so. It's just a reminder to me that this is where I belong... Not in a chair at a computer (which is really hard to accept since that's been my life for so many years).  But on the mat. That's my future, and it's the best thing I can do for my body.

Did you know that the blood supply to the intervertebral discs stops around age 25? Check out this WebMD quote: "By early adulthood, the blood supply to the disk has stopped, the soft inner material has begun to harden, and the disk is less elastic."  I was rather surprised to learn this - I mean really, wouldn't you think that if a part of your body has a blood supply, it would just always have it?  Anyways, this simple fact explains a lot about why disc injuries can take such a long time to heal. This is the great thing about spinal twist poses in yoga. They have what B.KS. Iyengar calls a "squeeze and soak" effect that helps to squeeze out old fluids and then allow fresh fluid to flow in upon release of the twist. It doesn't have to be the fancy twists either, the simple relaxing ones have the same effect. My favorite is a nice reclined twist. Here's an article on this pose at Yoga Journal.

I probably shouldn't be surprised, but I am a little that my back is staying so healthy these days. In March, I was up to having a major "back outage" every 3 months for the previous year+ (which had been a gradual increase over a period of 5 years with the disc problem).  Now, I'm on my ninth month with nothing more than a little soreness or general feeling of misalignment. It's amazing and wonderful, and I'm incredibly lucky to be recovering from this recurring injury with no medical treatment (injections, surgery, etc.).