Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My Achin' Back

I can't think of anything more boring than backaches unless it's somebody talking about it but I gotta tell you because I think I learned something that others might find useful. So if you've never had a backache and are sure you're never gonna have one- read no more.

Last August, I spent three weeks in retreat in a monastery in Nepal. The daily routine included 10-12 hours a day seated crossed legged on the floor. Anticipating some objection from my back to this kind of treatment, I started my own daily routine with a half-hour of yoga in the morning before breakfast. I have been doing yoga for more than 30 years after breaking five vertebrates in a climbing accident in '68. The yoga excercise I do are specifically aimed at strengthening and stretching my back muscles and other related tendons, ligaments etc. Normally I do my yoga practice 2-3 times a week but I upped it to seven in view of the special circumstances. After a week of sitting and yoga , I was experencing a lot of pain - so much that I had to sit with my back against the wall. Getting up was a real chore. When I returned from Nepal, the pain lessend somewhat. I was still doing my yoga but I wasn't sitting for ten hours a day. Then I consulted a Yoga teacher to try to find out if I was doing something wrong in my yoga practice. He corrected a few of my postures and suggested some supplements to my routine. In my sessions with the teacher, I experienced occasional moments of excruciating pain which passed quickly

Two weeks ago I went to Washington, D.C. and from there to North Carolina. I was gone for about a week and during the trip there was no opportunity to practice yoga. By the end of the trip, I noticed that my chronic back pain had virtually subsided. It didn't take me long to realize that element missing from the equation was yoga.
So I did not return to my yoga routine and I've been practically pain free now for almost a month.

I practiced yoga for over thirty years without any painful side effects but somehow, I did something in Nepal that injured something in my back and the yoga aggrivated the condition. I do swim, cycle and play tennis on a regular basis now as before and these activities seem to make a positive contribution to my overall health and well-being.

Surfing the 'net for back pain etc. I came accross a report on a recent study where seniors (like me) who suffered from back pain were divided into two groups. Half did specific excercise to strentghen their backs and relieve the pain the other half did no specific excercises but walked a mile or so every day. At the end of the study the "walkers"" back conditions were considerably better that the group who had been speciific back excercises.

I am quite sure that yoga served me well for more than 30 years and that it was how I recovered so well after a very serious accident that left me with 80% disability but I don't think I should do it anymore.


Huitzil said...

There's a lot to be said for intensive meditation sessions, but they are not particularly good for you physically. I don't normally have back pain, but sitting many hours a day for multiple days causes me to have excruciating back pain, but in the upper back between the shoulder blades, I'd guess due to some slight spinal misalignment not otherwise a problem. If you start out with a known back problem, as you did, it's all the more likely the result will be back pain. Once the tissues are inflamed, I can see how yoga might make it worse. You might try waiting a year or so, and easing back into yoga again.
I don't know about Nepalese monasteries, but both Theravada and Zen meditation use the inevitable pain of meditation retreats for instructive purposes. It gets interesting.

1000myths said...

Thanks for your input huitzil, it helps when I know that someoone else had a similar experience. It's not the "Misery likes company" bs it's more about empathy I guess.
No more yoga for now- I e-mailed my teacher the thing I posted and he said "I respect your decison"