Poses for back-pain re­lief & bet­ter flex­i­bil­ity

There’s a tool at your lo­cal hard­ware store that can be the per­fect yoga prop to sup­port a strong and healthy back— es­pe­cially if you suf­fer from pain or other is­sues.

Yoga Journal - - CONTENTS - By Ali­son West // Pho­tog­ra­phy by Zev Starr-Tam­bor

DECADES AGO, KEVIN GAR­DINER, one of my Iyen­gar teach­ers, brought out short wooden dow­els as props for Salamba Sir­sasana (Sup­ported Headstand). That im­me­di­ately sparked my in­ter­est in this tool and how it might be used in other ways in class. I bought a dozen five-foot wooden broom han­dles—and later bought shorter and longer ver­sions—to ex­per­i­ment with.

Dow­els, small-di­am­e­ter rods of any length— made of wood, metal, or plas­tic—have be­come some of my fa­vorite props be­cause they’re so ver­sa­tile. They pro­vide align­ment feed­back, gen­tle lever­age, and trac­tion (stretch­ing your spine) to re­lieve pres­sure and help you lengthen mus­cles and re­lease joints. And they can be a point of re­sis­tance, a tool for core work, an aid to bal­ance, and more. Dow­els can sup­port sound pos­ture and be used cre­atively to al­low you to ex­pe­ri­ence poses in novel ways.

If you ex­pe­ri­ence back pain, a dowel is par­tic­u­larly use­ful be­cause it can help you dis­cover safer move­ment pat­terns to pro­tect your back. These new pat­terns can pre­vent com­pres­sion of your spine dur­ing core work, for­ward bends, and side bends (lat­eral flex­ions)—al­low­ing you to lengthen and strengthen your mus­cles with­out caus­ing ad­di­tional strain.

You can think of a dowel as an ex­ter­nal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your mid­line to help you find strong ax­ial ex­ten­sion, which is a full length­en­ing of your spine. For ex­am­ple, if you place the dowel in front of you and close to your body in Tadasana (Moun­tain Pose) and pull down on it, your chest will lift and your spine will lengthen. For those with back pain due to disc prob­lems, this ac­tion lessens pres­sure on in­ter­ver­te­bral discs and nerve roots. A dowel can also of­fer sta­ble sup­port on the floor at one end while al­low­ing safe move­ment and trac­tion at the other end in poses such as Utthita Trikonasana (Ex­tended Tri­an­gle Pose) or Paschi­mot­tanasana (Seated For­ward Bend). And it can of­fer ease in poses such as Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Re­volved Side An­gle Pose), since not as much range of mo­tion is re­quired when you use a dowel.

I now teach with a six-foot dowel with a 1.25-inch di­am­e­ter, but you can use a shorter dowel—such as a five-foot paint-roller pole or broom han­dle—for most poses. A six-foot dowel is best for Re­volved Side An­gle Pose or Utkatasana (Chair Pose).

To ex­pe­ri­ence the sooth­ing, sta­bi­liz­ing ben­e­fits of yoga with a dowel, make a trip to the hard­ware store, then try this se­quence. (If you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing back pain, make sure to check in with your doc­tor be­fore try­ing any­thing new.)

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