When it comes to enduring discomfort, I would say that my threshold is high. I swam for over nine hours in 54F water with no wetsuit. I once got lost biking, and to survive the day, I was required to climb 6 miles, up 2,600 ft vertical, unprepared for the venture. I’ve been stung by a scorpion at a dance party in Mexico and kept dancing. As uncomfortable as these events were, I’ve never felt pain like what I’m about to describe…
In 2017 I was in a heated yoga class in an old warehouse renovated into a studio. About 12 of us were practicing together, and an hour into the session, I was really finding my stride—you might know the feeling. I had been a regular there over the last 4 months and was beginning to see progress. I was moving into the next pose—a seated forward fold—and the teacher came over to give an adjustment. As I reached forward for my toes, she laid her entire body weight onto my back and leaned in. At this point, I’m so deep that my nose hits the ground.
That’s when I felt The Tingle.
If you’ve ever suffered from a herniated disc, you know The Tingle. That burning/numbing sensation that runs down the side of your leg. Yeah, that tingle.
It started light, tickling my imagination as to what this sensation could be. As the day went on, The Tingle grew stronger. By early evening I could barely stand up. I laid in bed, writhing in pain. My entire body burned. Standing up hurts. Lying down hurts. Being alive hurts. I feel paralyzed.
After being bedridden for a week, I found myself sitting in the office of a spine doctor who specializes in herniated discs. She looks over my MRI without expression as if she’s reading the morning paper. At this point, I have lost function of my left foot (later diagnosed as “drop foot”), and I have complete paralysis along the left side of my leg. “You have a herniated disc between L5 and S1. The only thing that will make the pain go away and get motor function back is surgery. This is a bread and butter procedure here. We can get you in as soon as next week,” the doctor says.
Surgery?! On my spine! Hell no.
She assures me that this is my only option if I want the pain to go away. I told her I would get back to her and thanked her for her time. Limping out of her office, I pass another patient who was leaving from a follow-up appointment. He looked to be in his early 40’s. “Did you get surgery?” I ask him.
“I did, 6 months ago.”
“How is your back now?”
“The pain is gone, but my range of motion is now limited. I can’t bend over to put on my shoes.”
I was 30 years old, and I naturally refuse to surrender to the knife. Even if I did, it seems likely I would be dealing with post-surgery limitations. It was a catch-22. There had to be another way to heal my back pain without surgery. And there was.
Over the next 6 months, I used breathwork and extreme mindfulness to complement simple micro-movements as seemingly easy as lifting your toes and eventually flexing your foot. I spoke with others who had similar experiences, learning from them, and within 6 months, I had flexion of my left foot again. Within a year, I hiked up Machu Picchu.
I’m recounting this to tell you that your body has an amazing capacity to heal itself. I gave my injury the time and attention it needed, and when my body ‘spoke,’ I listened. I learned so much in my year of recuperation, and this healing experience informs not only my personal yoga practice but, more importantly, it significantly influences the way I teach. If you have suffered back pain or any severe injury, for that matter, know you are not alone.
Here are 9 Yoga Poses to Relieve Back Pain
Whether it’s through injury or just sitting all day at your desk, we know the low back tends to become very achy. Here at Office Yoga HQ, we are bust out the Office Yoga Low Back Lovin’ sequence weekly, if not daily, basis. Let’s dive on in!
Start in Sphinx
To get the juices flowin’, we gently warm up the spine with a sphinx pose. Hold sphinx for 5-10 breaths or longer if necessary for you today (remember: it’s different every day!).
Transition into Cat & Cow
Feel free to throw in some hip circles or externally rotate the hands and turn the fingers in for a wrist stretch. Just move around and flow on your mat. Close your eyes, and think to yourself, “No one is watching; Imma do me!”
Next, Puppy Pose
Lending a hand to many of the same benefits as Cactus Arms, puppy pose will help open up the front of the chest, the shoulders and (most importantly) relax and elongate the neck. Take 10 deep breathes here and feel the freedom arise.
Flow through a Vinyasa at any point in time. Just make sure you end up on your belly in shalabhasana before transitioning onto your back for a baby bridge.
Once you make it onto your back for a baby bridge, drive your heels into the ground and lift your hip bones. Interlace fingers behind your spine, lift your chest towards the chin. Hold for ten breaths.
Gently lower the spine to the floor and transition into figure 4. Draw the legs in towards the chest to amplify the opening in the outer hips. Do both sides. Take deep breaths. *sigh*
Finish with a Twist
Finally, move into your supine twist. This is where the magic happens. Feel the body sink down into the floor, allow your day to drift away.
Stay here as long as you’d like. When you’re ready, return to your comfortable seat at the top of the mat. Bow your head, and thank Office Yoga® for the mini flow session. Namast’ay healthy, y’all.