5 Yoga Poses to Reduce Back Pain

5 Yoga Poses to Reduce Back Pain

Do you sometimes feel tight or stuck in particular parts of your body? Perhaps from being in a certain posture for too long? I have five gentle yoga postures for you (and they’re even based on scientific research).

What a pain in the… back!

In a world where we spend so much of our time seated at a desk. or in the car. or on the couch… it’s no wonder most of us experience some kind of non-specific musculoskeletal pain at some point. As an exercise physiologist, I hear a lot of complaints about back pain, and more specifically, lower back pain… and I’m going to talk about this in a blog all of its own next month; keep your eyes peeled for ‘Low back pain is a tug-of-war between your abs and hamstrings’!

Why do I get back pain?

The short of it is this: when we’re sitting down, the muscles at the front of our body are in a shortened position, whilst the muscles on the back of our body are typically in a lengthened position. Our bodies are really, really smart organisms that want to adapt to make our life easier. So if we sit for 8-9 hours a day, then our body is going to adapt to this shape by adding adhesion to the muscles around our hips and chest, and it’s going to ‘tune-out’ from the muscles on our back body, since we don’t really activate these much *cough, glutes*.

Solution 1 – Increasing neuromuscular connection

By waking up some of these ‘sleeping’ muscles, we increase our brains ability to communicate with that muscle and it’s surrounding muscles so that we can utilize them for movement. A great example of this is our glutes. As I hinted at above, many of us sit on our bum all day long and as a result of this we actually really struggle to consciously activate and squeeze our glutes on our own command. Try it now, lay down on your back and see if you can squeeze your glutes one at a time! (and you’re not allowed to let your hamstrings switch on!). It’s really hard for the majority of people! Our glutes should be the biggest and strongest muscles on our body, these guys are really important and their main job is to stabilise our pelvis, which gives rise to our spine – and that’s a pretty important structure! If we can’t recruit our glutes then other muscles have to do the work that they should be doing, and this is how and why we often get tightness in our back.

If glutes don’t work, then these muscles here (see below) do the brunt of the work when we’re walking, stabilising, leaning, running, reaching, bending over, standing up, climbing the stairs etc.

 

Solution 2 – lengthening the myofascia

Just as importantly, we need to lengthen the muscles, and more importantly the fascia that are have adapted to be short, tight, and a bit sticky from our lifestyle of habitual sitting. This is where these yoga postures will come in handy! I recently read a research article about a yoga study that showed 96% of people in the yoga group experienced significant reductions in musculoskeletal pain (compared to 36% in the control group) with just a single session of five yoga poses! This builds on existing evidence that regularly attending yoga may improve pain and reduce pain medication usage. So below is a short, evidence-based yoga program that absolutely anyone can do at home to help ease back pain or discomfort!

Instructions:

Aim to hold each posture for about 4-5 minutes. When you’re setting yourself up, you don’t want to go past 60% stretch; this is important as if we go past this point we typically start to see the central nervous systems automatic response to protect our muscles and joints kick in and the muscle will actually be holding on to protect you! So a gentle, light sensation is okay – but nothing strenuous. And lastly, try to pay attention to your breath – particularly noticing the length of your inhale and the length of your exhale and trying to make them smooth, steady and even – this helps put our nervous system at ease and will allow the tissue (muscle and fascia) to ‘soften’ a bit more.

Forward fold, foot to thigh

Great for the hamstrings, the glutes, the fascia that all our back muscles insert into across our sacrum and our adductors (inner thigh muscles). You can use a pillow, a rolled up blanket, or anything really to support your forehead so the stretch isn’t too intense.

Half pigeon pose

This accesses the hip flexors of the leg behind you, if you can, play with gentley engaging the glute and seeing how that changes the sensations at the front of the hip. Chest can stay up, or you can fold forwards onto a pillow. Note: the knee should be out wider than your hips, and if this doesn’t feel great in your knees – don’t do it. 

Bound angle pose

This is a favourite. Feet together, knees out wide. Hands can be out like cactus arms, on your belly, or above your head – whatever feels good for you! If it’s too intense, pop a rolled up towel under each knee.

 

 

Supine twist

Make sure your knees are relatively even (the top knee will try to crawl back), and then twist from above your navel. It doesn’t matter if both shoulders aren’t on the ground, as you relax into the pose they may head in that direction. Your arm can be outstretched or you can pop the hand behind the head.

Legs up wall

This can be done with or without props. Definitely recommend elevating the hips either on a yoga block or on a rolled up blanket. Arms out (as pictured) is a nice way to open up the fascia in the chest area. If it feels like a struggle to keep your legs up, you can pop a belt/strap around them… and then relax into this juicy pose.

Now let’s be honest, there’s definitely more than 2 solutions. There’s probably hundreds! But increasing your bodies neuromuscular connections, and lengthening out the myofascia that surrounds our muscles can only be a great place to start! Your body is unique, and your discomfort and pain is unique to you, so if you experience back pain and it doesn’t want to go away, or if you’ve nailed the first two steps in this blog and now you’re ready to start loading up the musculoskeletal system to get nice and strong (the ultimate pain preventative); it might be time to see one our Exercise Physiologists.

What should you do now?

  • Check in with your glutes daily. Once that’s easy, it’s time to challenge them with some load.
  • Do these five yoga poses at the start and/or end of each day, and see what differences you notice
  • Set little reminders throughout the day to get up, sit up straight, elongate your spine, pull your shoulders back, squeeze your glutes, stretch, or whatever works for you!

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5 Things You Should Know About Yoga

5 Things You Should Know About Yoga

About Yoga

Yoga is an ancient and complex practice, rooted in Indian philosophy, that originated several thousand years ago. Yoga began as a spiritual practice, as a way of reaching enlightenment, but in Western culture it has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.

Although classical yoga also includes other elements, yoga as practiced in the West typically emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana). Popular yoga styles such as hatha, iyengar, bikram, and vinyasa yoga focus on these elements. Several traditional yoga styles encourage daily practice with periodic days of rest, whereas others encourage individuals to develop schedules that fit their needs.

What do we know about the effectiveness of yoga?

  • National survey results from 2012 show that many people who practice yoga believe that it improves their general well-being, and there is beginning to be evidence that it actually may help with certain aspects of wellness including stress management, positive aspects of mental health, promoting healthy eating and physical activity habits
  • Yoga may help relieve low-back pain and neck pain
  • There’s promising evidence that yoga may help people with some chronic diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life
  • Yoga may help people with diabetes control their blood sugar
  • Growing evidence indicates that yoga may help women manage both physical and psychological symptoms of menopause
  • Yoga may be helpful for anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations
  • Yoga may help people to manage sleep problems
  • Yoga may be helpful for people who are trying to quit smoking
  • Yoga-based interventions may help overweight/obese people lose weight

 

What do we know about the safety of yoga?

Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity when performed properly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Serious injuries are rare, however, as with other types of physical activity, injuries can occur. (One of our honours students, Zoe Toland, is currently working with one of our EPs, to investigate the most common forms of yoga injuries as reported by physiotherapists, yoga teachers and yoga practitioners – we’ll keep you updated with the results!).

The most important thing to remember, as with any exercise, is to listen to the feedback your body gives you and modify and adjust what you’re doing accordingly. We want to push ourselves, and whilst feeling some level of discomfort is okay (think muscle burn and high level of challenge), but pain is our bodies way of saying ‘probably best to not do this’.

People with certain health conditions, older adults, and pregnant women may need to avoid or modify some yoga poses and practices. These individuals should discuss their specific needs with their health care professional/yoga instructor and may be better suited to more clinical yoga classes.

What happens in a yoga class?

Sometimes the biggest thing that stops us from trying something new is not knowing what to expect and fearing we’ll be the awkward newbie!  So let’s go through what you can expect from a yoga class (or at least ours!)

  • Yoga mats and all the props you will need (a block, a strap, a bolster, a towel) are provided, but you can always bring your own if you would prefer!
  • The teacher will introduce themselves and talk about what the focus of the class will be; this could be a range of things from a certain postural focus, or an attention focus, or it could be a focus on the pace of movement
  • Classes start with slow, controlled, warm-up type movements and typically move into some more challenging series of movements; you can expect challenges that target strength, balance, range of motion, focus, stability, control and your attitude toward the practice

What you won’t get…

  • Spiritual-talk. We’re not dissing the spiritual talk, but we prefer to focus on your physical and mental alignment in class
  • Chanting. We get it, it feels a bit weird.
  • Basically, anything that’s not evidence-based within the scientific literature, won’t be included in our classes (e.g., chakras, lifestyle choices)

How often should I practice yoga?

The recommended frequency and duration of yoga sessions varies depending on the condition being treated. In general, studies examining yoga have included weekly or twice weekly 60- to 90-minute classes. For some studies, classes are shorter, but there are more classes per week. So whilst the research evidence is inconclusive, we think that any form of exercise that is challenging strength through range of motion, and providing you with a form of mindfulness is a great addition to your weekly activities!

Our recommendation: as much or as little as suits your body’s needs and fits in with your weekly schedule.

 

iNform’s NEW Clinical Yoga Classes!

We are super excited to be launching clinical yoga classes at the end of May, at our new Malvern clinic! Classes will run on Thursday mornings and evenings, for a duration of 45 minutes and will be run by our Exercise Physiologist and Yoga Teacher: Jacinta Brinsley. Jacinta is also completing a PhD in the area of yoga and mental health/mental illness.

If you have any questions, want further information, or want to book in for a yoga class – get in contact with our front desk team!

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Make The Most of Your Incidental Physical Activity

Make The Most of Your Incidental Physical Activity

Who would have thought that an anxiety-provoking sprint after the bus could illicit, and even add to your physical activity?

Some neat new research into Incidental Physical Activity has eluded some unsuspecting findings that I will elaborate on in this blog. First and foremost, I will provide a definition of what incidental physical activity is.

What is incidental physical activity?

Incidental physical activity is any form of activity of one’s daily living that is not associated with the purpose of health nor a sacrifice of one’s time (1). Examples include: walking a short distance to the bus-stop, taking flights of stairs at work (notice the suffix is stairs) and riding to and from work. As mundane as these repetitive tasks may be there is a great opportunity to utilize more energy. For any nerds out there, ATP!

In a editorial published in the reputable journal: British Journal of Sports Medicine, Stamatakis et al, took two sedentary healthy groups. The active group was asked to walk three flights of stairs, every four hours of his/her working day, three days per week for two weeks. The control group remained sedentary for the two weeks of the short study. The independent variable was measuring cardio-respiratory fitness which we have good evidence is a strong predictor for mortality. Findings from the aforementioned found that the active group’s cardio-respiratory fitness had a significant statistical improvement over the control group.

Now there are limitations to this study (age cohort, duration of study). However, to mandate incidental physical activity as a genuine form of physical activity is great. I hope to see incidental physical activity implemented, along with the physical activity guidelines. The guidelines are: 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity a week; along with two resistance sessions per week.

So what is the punch line?

Intensity will also contribute to overall cardio-respiratory fitness. There is continuing evidence that short bursts of high intensity exercise, lasting 5-10 seconds is extremely beneficial to the power-house of the cell: Muscle Mitochondria Biosynthesis (1). Climbing a few flights of stairs with a little vigor will nicely spike the heart rate for a short period. It may even help with an adrenaline release, if one is on their way to an important meeting.

So now that i have given you the gist of incidental physical activity, what would this look like in a typical day?

For example: 5 minutes walk up-hill to the bus stop (am), 1 minute walk up the stairs to work (am), Brisk walk home from the bus stop- 3 minutes (pm), playing with your children/participating in their physical activity 15 minutes + (pm), carrying the shopping into the house 1+ minute (pm). As you can see, there are ample times in the day to increase one’s heart rate, utilize strength, and fast-twitch muscle recruitment.

Have a good think about what resources you have access to. Make a conscious effort to utilize your resources. And have a good go! Of course. Always consult with your GP and Exercise Physiologist when increasing your level of physical activity.

James

About the Author

  1. Stamatakis, E., Johnson, N., Powell, L., Hamer, M., Rangul, V. and Holtermann, A. (2019). Short and sporadic bouts in the 2018 US physical activity guidelines: is high-intensity incidental physical activity the new HIIT?. British Journal of Sports Medicine, pp.bjsports-2018-100397.
HIIT Your Way to Health

HIIT Your Way to Health

Everybody on the planet knows full well that exercise is damn good for them. But for some reason, they consistently fail to do enough of it.

Now don’t get me wrong – I certainly appreciate that life can get in the way. Things get busy, time becomes limited, and exercise is often (and unfortunately) the first thing to go.

But to be completely honest, this isn’t really good enough.

You owe it to yourself to keep active.

Exercising on the regular staves off disease, improves your cognition and brain health, and helps you manage your weight. It even ensures that you can function at a high level well into your golden years (whenever they may be).

In short, exercise is a must.

So the key question isn’t ‘should I exercise?’ but rather, ‘how can I get the benefits of exercise, with the smallest possible time commitment?’

Enter high intensity interval training (or HIIT, for short)

 

What is HIIT?

HIIT is a type of exercise that revolves around performing short periods of intense exercise, alternating with low intensity recovery periods.

Pretty simple really.

A HIIT session might have you on the rower for 30 seconds at a near maximal intensity, and then 60 seconds at a very low intensity. This protocol would then be repeated for a total of 10 or 20 minutes, giving you a solid workout in the process.

Just to be clear – these higher intensity periods are pretty tough. In fact, they have you working much harder than you would be if you chose to go for a long jog.

But that’s kind of the point.

Because you are working harder than you would under normal circumstances, a single HIIT session requires less time. So much so, that a typical HIIT session will only last about one third of the time of a traditional ‘low-intensity’ training session, and give you as much (if not more) benefit.

HIIT = lots of bang for your buck.

 

What are the benefits of HIIT?

As I have already alluded to above, HIIT offers you a myriad of benefits.

Firstly, it increases your energy expenditure during the session, and after the session is finished. This means it really helps with weight management.

It also helps lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and improve cardiovascular and metabolic health. This is important, as it lowers your chance of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes – two of the most common chronic diseases in modern society.

HIIT also impacts mental health.

A single HIIT session improves mood, and reduces stress and anxiety. Moreover, regular HIIT prevents against the onset of depression and anxiety.

Last but not least, HIIT causes vast improvement in fitness, and in a very short amount of time. It is even more effective than more traditional forms of aerobic exercise . This means that if you want to get as fit as possible as quickly as possible, then this is a good place to start.

So, in summary, heaps of benefit with minimal time commitment.

How can I do HIIT?

You know that HIIT offers a very simple way of getting all the benefits of exercise, and in a very short amount of time. Now I want to touch on how you can implement it.

With this in mind, I have outlined a few of my favorite HIIT protocols  below. You can simply select one of these, pick your favorite mode of exercise (whether it be running, on the bike, or on the rower), and go for barney!

  • Protocol 1: 30 seconds at 75% maximal speed, followed by 30 seconds are 40% maximal speed, for a duration of 8 minutes. Rest for 4 minutes, and then repeat once more.
  • Protocol 2: 15 seconds at 90% maximal speed, followed by 15 seconds completely stationary, for a duration of 8 minutes. Rest for 4 minutes, and then repeat once more.
  • Protocol 3 60 seconds at 75% maximal speed, followed by 120 seconds are 50% maximal speed, for a duration of 24 minutes.
  • Protocol 4: 30 seconds at 85% maximal speed, followed by 60 seconds are 40% maximal speed, for a duration of 24 minutes.

I should also touch on the fact that HIIT is quite demanding. Because of this, it really only needs to be completed 1-2 times per week.

Obviously you are more than welcome to perform other types of exercise around this (in fact, I would encourage it). As such, it makes the perfect supplement to your weight training sessions, and any longer duration aerobic activity that you might choose to do.

 

Take Home Message

HIIT offers a really simple way you can get some effective exercise into your routine, in the shortest amount of time possible. With this comes a number of potent health and fitness benefits, that may even outweigh those seen with traditional endurance training.

So give some of the protocols listed in this article a go and get back to us – we would love to hear how you went!

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New year new me? Why your resolutions failed (and what you can do about It)

New year new me? Why your resolutions failed (and what you can do about It)

Did you know that 99.9% of all new years resolutions fail within the first 9 days?

OK, so I made that up.

I don’t know the exact statistic, and I really couldn’t be bothered trawling through the ABS website trying to find it, but I don’t doubt that this number is too far from the truth.

An incredible number of people make new years resolutions come the turn of January, every single year.

They swear they will finally start eating better, finally lose those 10kgs, and finally get ready to run that marathon – and they start like a bull out of a gate.

Until it simply just peters out.

They run out of steam.

Their five runs a week quickly turn into three, and then one, and then they just stop completely.

All that healthy meal prep becomes too much of a hassle, and boy oh boy does that Zambrero’s look damn good right now.

But there is always next year, right?

Cant wait to fail all over again…

 

Why your resolutions fail?

So, why do most new years resolutions fail?

In my humble opinion, those people who fail simply bite off more than they can chew.

They essentially try and turn their entire life around the space of a few days.

Really, is it any wonder that it all falls apart?

Building healthy habits take a unique combination of time and willpower – both of which are, in my personal opinion, finite resources.

As soon as you exhaust your supply of either one, well, you can say adios to your resolution.

 

What can you do about it?

The key to making your new years resolution actually stick comes down to making simple lifestyle changes that are not only easy to implement (and therefore require minimal willpower), but also offer a whole lot of bang for your buck.

Target the low hanging fruit, if you will.

For example, if your goal does happen to be something weight loss related, then its probably not in your best interest to try and completely overhaul your entire diet.

Because, ultimately, you will fail.

A much better approach would be to focus on those areas where you constantly fall down, and then aim to correct them.

If you often snack on sweets after dinner, throw out your sweets (willpower is no longer an issue).

If you struggle eat enough protein, have a protein shake before dinner (easy and effective).

And if you find yourself without the time required to prepare your food during the week? Prepare your meals in advance (zero effort during the week).

Each of these with have a very large impact on your diet, and honestly do not require all that much effort or willpower.

From an exercise perspective, what if you find that you want to actually start an exercise program and work towards a training goal? Then make sure to start small.

Don’t try and go for a run every day, because again, you will fail.

Try commencing you new routine with one session per week. Adhere to this for a month, and then slowly add in a second.

Make it habitual, and make it easy.

One run per week for an entire year is going to have much more impact than getting in five runs in a single week once per year.

Makes sense, right?

Of course, if you are after any help (or even some simple ideas) drop us a comment and we will endeavor to get back to you as quickly as possible so that we can give you hand.

Stuff your resolution, and decide to make some real change.

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Diet Damage Control: Stop the Christmas Blowout

Diet Damage Control: Stop the Christmas Blowout

With Christmas around the corner, we are entering a period of overwhelming enjoyment.

Days off work, weekends that are filled with staff shows and family functions, and of course lunches and dinners with friends.

How good is it?

But, as always, there is a small negative associated.

Namely the fact that we have a tendency to go absolutely crazy across the entire Christmas period, throwing caution to the wind, and eating our weight in goodies.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am a firm believer that a bad meal isn’t going to derail your progress.

A single piece of fruit isn’t going to make you skinny, and a single donut isn’t going to make you fat. As we all know, it is the accumulation of good habits that keeps us healthy, while alternatively, its the accumulation of not so good habits that makes us unhealthy.

However, despite knowing this full well, we as humans seem to love a good blowout.

I’ll use myself as an example.

 

The Cadbury Effect

I am a sucker for chocolate.

I have a ridiculous sweet tooth, and to be completely honest, chocolate is my proverbial kryptonite.

Interestingly, my wife and I could have an unopened block of chocolate in the fridge for the better part of a year, and I wont touch the thing. However, if we were to open it, I can guarantee that it will be gone within the hour.

Now, I realize that this doesn’t really make sense, but the reason I do this is to get rid of it.

Somewhere in the depth of my subconscious, I think to myself: ‘stuff it, I’ve already blown it, I might as well eat the whole thing‘.

Clever?

Nope.

Logical?

Still nope.

Common?

Unfortunately, yes.

We know it doesn’t make sense, but we still do it every damn time.

Not just for chocolate either (which is still not great) – we as humans have a tendency to do it for absolutely everything.

Even things that last for days or weeks at a time…

The Christmas Blowout

When it comes to Christmas, things can go downhill pretty fast.

A bad afternoon can easily turn into a very bad weekend. And that weekend can very easily roll into an extremely bad week.

All of which comes down to that same mindset.

“Welp, Ive blown it – ill get back on track after new years…”

Extremely common, and extremely stupid.

All in all I completely understand where we are coming from, but that doesn’t make this mindset any less flawed.

We know that one single afternoon of eating and drinking isn’t going to derail a years worth of progress.

Hell, outside of a little bit of bloating and a potential stomach ache, the likelihood of this single night doing any lasting damage is pretty slim.

But two weeks of eating, drinking, and being merry?

That’s when the damage starts to accumulate.

 

Diet Damage Control

So in my mind, diet damage control over Christmas comes down to mindset.

Take a step back and realize that a single meal isn’t going to derail all of your hard work and progress.

Enjoy that meal as much as humanly possible. Be social, drink, and be happy.

But don’t let it become a two week binge.

Keep physically active (as normal) over the Christmas period.

Eat as you normally would outside of those key social situations.

And enjoy the time off!

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