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Spinal Health

Spinal Health Through Yoga

Aloha everybody,

Welcome to spinal strengthening. Eight years ago I suffered an injury to my spine in a car accident. Since then, a lot of my yoga practice has been working with my injury. I feel I've made some pretty important discoveries in working with my back injury, and I want to pass on that information to you.

First of all, I want to state that to the best of my knowledge there is no specific remedy to back problems. Most injuries need to be handled uniquely to be effective. I've also noticed that back injuries quickly become lifestyle barometer. In other words, back injuries can be aggravated or inflamed by attitudes and activities. So, maybe in conjunction with this physical yoga routine, you can experiment with some practical advice that was derived from much trial and error.

First, I'd like to explain how to use the spinal audio routine, then I will get into some other corresponding topics.

This hatha yoga routine is an attempt to strengthen the spinal region specifically, while at the same time promoting balance, strength and suppleness throughout the whole body (which makes this routine a great well rounded workout for everybody), while also trying to minimize the movements that might in a general sense irritate the spine. Let us please understand something very important right from the start: there is no safe movement for your spine done insensitively or irresponsibly, and there is no dangerous movement for your spine done sensitively and responsibly. So, what this means is because this routine focuses so much on the spine, you could actually irritate your spine if not gentle and sensitive. There are some movements meant to warm, mobilize and activate your spine like extended cat flow that could easily be harmful if done aggressively or forceful.

You can not begin to care for your spine without approaching it, so we will approach it. But let the keys to this routine be GENTLENESS AND SENSITIVITY. The physical workout is pretty much built into the routine. The effort will need to be placed on gentleness and sensitivity. There will need to be lots of experimenting. If some movements tend to aggravate your condition, you will need to modify them or maybe even skip them. Take out of this routine what works for you and leave the rest behind. For me, this routine is a good one, but I must be sensitive because if I push too deep and irritate my spine, the area will inflame and debilitate me. Remember, we are emphasizing the spine to a certain degree. Let's try and activate the area without aggravating the area. Remember at all times, gentleness.

You know there is pretty much an all prevailing fact that the harder and more aggressive you are with anything, the faster you wear that thing out and break it down. Your body is no different. The one most amazing gift I have received from my injury, the one that has made this injury a positive and important part of my life, is learning to be more kind, sensitive and gentle towards myself. To step out of the mindless, unconscious way I had been treating my body through exercise and in general, and to really start treating myself with care, instead of just simply trying to jam my body somewhere.

In yoga the goal is wellness, not flexibility or strength or aesthetics. In this western culture I've been raised in, I've always been taught I need to get somewhere. You know, get thin, get young looking, get pretty, get strong, get shapely, get flexible, get rich, get respected, etc…. Of course, I brought that attitude into my exercise habits, always trying to meet goals and force my body here and there. Rarely ever honoring what my body was telling me in its succinct language of sensation until it was too late and I irritated or injured something. Remember, there is no healing if you are not honoring what you are feeling.

In order to honor what I am feeling, I really needed to start listening. This listening becomes the absolute most important thing.

The body is constantly trying to maintain homeostasis (balance and harmony). If I'm listening, I can assist it and achieve it. If I'm not listening, there is little if any chance. I have noticed that as I work on focusing on what I'm feeling, my yoga practice takes on more of a meditation. Clearing my mind and letting go of all other thoughts, agendas and issues helps the stress of every day life melt away. Stress tends to be a huge factor with back problems. Also, the gentleness and sensitivity I'm cultivating towards my body starts to spread to every aspect of my life. The healthier my relationship with myself becomes, believe it or not, the healthier my relationships with the people in my life becomes. I'm finally learning at my ripe age to "Hear" what people are saying and to be gentle and sensitive toward their issues.

I feel the difficulty and challenges that life presents (of which my spine injury is most certainly one) are opportunities to learn and grow and become stronger and more insightful. I believe that on a deeper level, I created this injury to shake me out of the unconscious way I had been living. Now, I don't want to get too heavy or philosophical here, but I must say that since my injury, my entire philosophy toward exercise and wellness has changed dramatically. Even if my back never bothered me again, I would never go back to the aggressive, competitive, aesthetic and result oriented exercise programs of the past. I also believe that most of my knowledge as a yoga instructor has come from my back injury.

Having an injured area on your body (like a spine injury) can create a unique barometer situation. That is, if something is not healthy for you it will let you know: like playing certain sports, eating certain foods, sitting for extended periods with poor posture, even certain social situations that could be stressful like arguments, overworking, too much sex, etc...

Let's start listening, let's stop beating ourselves up and start being more gentle. Let's create a situation that promotes and maintains wellness. Let's be less dominated by how we look and more dominated by how we feel. Let's be less dominated by our ego and more dominated by our wisdom. I hope this routine and the gift of yoga in general is a positive factor on your journey toward wellness.


Bryan Kest