Q: My back pain has become increasingly worse and some days is chronic. I take general pain killers as there is no movement of my spinal discs. I’ve had x-rays done and been to a few medical check-ups. I’ve also changed my lifestyle and practise yoga as well as walking more which has helped me build up good stamina. What kind of yoga is good for me? P. Singh – Walsall
A: If you are otherwise healthy aside from the back pains then I advise hatha yoga. Join a yoga class as it will be helpful to get live tuition and also for your teacher to observe your development as you progress with poses that work with the spinal region. Of the many yoga poses available one of the best to use to strengthen the stomach and tone it is the shalabhasana (the locust). However it is also a great asana to practise for spine flexibility. When we go into locust pose, we connect with the earth. When you come into locust you are primarily working with the lower chakras, the seats of your passions, sexual desires, hunger, the need for shelter and safety.
Locust works with the spinal region and increases its flexibility helping the body to remain agile and youthful. When the spine is stiff or damaged it affects not only the movements of other parts of the body but will psychologically affect you also. As we grow older, we lose flexibility of the spine. There are many yoga exercises that specifically massage and work with the spine, helping it retain its elasticity. Regular and correct performance of locust will also revitalise the bowel, liver and pancreas. It is also excellent for people who experience back pain and sciatica.
There are several variations of the classical locust posture. You can vary the position of the arms, legs and head. The locust exercise also helps to tone and firm the hamstrings and buttocks. Your stamina and strength will also increase through regularity of performance. Don’t be shy of the posture. We don’t normally lie down on our stomach and turn over except perhaps when we are sleeping and that’s normally on a bed or sofa. Go over and feel the difference as you stretch onto your yoga mat.
Students can also try the challenging variations of shalabahasana including lifting the arms off the floor when holding the pose. Another variation of locust is Ardha Shalabhasana meaning half locust. This is performed by using one leg only. This asana complements bhujangasana (cobra) which works with the upper half of the body. The locust exercise works more with the lower helping also to relieve conditions including constipation and back pain. To help you come into locust you can start by practising bhujangasana (cobra). You can also practise other yoga asanas to help flex up the hips and the lower waist region. These include dhaunrasana (bow) and halasana (plough).
How to Perform
Lie down on the floor onto stomach with arms to side of body with palms open facing upwards. Stretch legs out behind you and together. Toes should be stretched and pointed out. Rest either left or right side of face on floor. Now lift head slightly and rest it on the chin. Keep neck straight.
Tuck the right arm under the right side of body and left one under left side. Bring palms of hands together into fist or you can bring them together with fingers pointing downwards to toes still keeping them underneath the body. (The way you hold your hands depends on what you feel comfortable with and which position will help you lift those legs up.) Keep arms straight. Tighten your buttocks.
Breathe in and raise both legs off the floor and take them up backwards as high as they can go, at least a few inches. New student may find it difficult to achieve this pose. In this case you can use props to help you lift the legs, such as a rolled-up blanket tucked under the lower hip area. When legs are raised keep them straight and together. To help achieve this try and visualise a piece of rope pushing through the hips and out down the legs. Hold the pose for at least 2-3 seconds.
Exhale and lower the legs slowly to the floor.
Don’t bend the legs when lifting and bringing the legs down to the floor.
You can hold the final pose for as long as your stamina allows. Try and hold for at least 60 seconds and up to 3 minutes. Remember not to push or hold legs up longer than you can cope with. You may strain your back. People with spinal and back injuries should be careful as this asana could exacerbate the condition. If you have strained your neck, be careful when coming into and out of this pose as you may experience pain.