The New York Times is on another yoga binge, putting out stories on Ana Forrest’s niche appeal and former Cornell basketball players doing yoga during off-season, to mention the most recent ones. Jane Brody has a column about Ancient Moves for Orthopedic Problems mentioning the work of Loren Fishman, a physiatrist — a specialist in physical and rehabilitative medicine affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital. I’ve already used the modified triangle headstand posture to get my shoulders aligned. His longer referenced article is available (PDF, 1.76 mb) from a special issue of Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation (April/June 2011 – Volume 27 – Issue 2, pp. 93-166) on yoga as therapy.
I was even more struck by what Fishman writes in the Foreword of the special issue:
There are few therapies that boast about their side effects. Both medicine and surgery are undertaken because there is a favorable cost-benefit or risk-benefit ratio. The 2 (sic) are placed on opposite sides of the balance of good judgment. In yoga, the side-effects, irrelevant to the actual reasons for its initial adoption, may turn out to be more to the practitioner’s advantage than the primary therapeutic effect! Almost any style of yoga brings with it reduced blood pressure, less obesity, and less back pain, improved range of motion, safe strengthening, reduced asthma and reduced anxiety, better recovery after surgery and chemotherapy and almost stunningly low cost.
Fishman is no stranger to yoga: he practiced in India for three years before going to medical school and has co-authored books on Yoga Therapy. He has a website on sciatica and has several audios of conversations and courses on YogaU.com.
I came across two articles:
- If you’re having difficulty with forward bends, don’t assume it’s your hamstrings. Inflexible rotator muscles may be to blame. Judith Hanson Lasater, January/February 2000 The original Yoga Journal article or Astanga Dancer, with pix
I’d like to clarify some points about the Back Rx book mentioned a few entries ago. It should really not be considered a yoga book. The routines are closer to physical therapy than yoga. They are obviously designed for people who have had a serious back injury, have probably avoided physical activity for some time and need a lot of remedial work. Vijay Vad, the author, suggests four weeks on Series A before gradually switching over to the more demanding Series B. The criteria for graduating to the next level is to complete a full set without pain. I did the Series A exercises for a week and found them very easy. I then moved up to Series B for two weeks. This past weekend I switched to Series C, which is more Pilates in inspiration.
Vad says that each routine should take 15-20 minutes, but I found that prescription an underestimate, closer to 30-40 minutes, perhaps because I took longer, deeper breaths or I held the positions longer.
Again, the routines are focused exclusively on treating a back problem.
After my Sunday yoga session, I noticed that my lower back was tightening up. It seemed to suffer a kind of nerve overload or lockdown. I decided that I had to focus on getting over it. I no longer think of the back pain as an injury, but the symptom of a deeper issue. The lower back seems to concentrate all the subconscious resistance to my yogic renewal.
My review of the literature, much of which I had read a couple of months ago but did not fully understand, pointed to two trouble spots — tight hamstrings and rotators. There may be other muscles involved, but two are enough for right now. As a first measure, I have to keep backbends and sitting poses to a minimum. The idea is to get my body back in balance.
I’ve found that a supported bridge pose, using a foam block to support my hips, can offer substantial relief from the stress. I don’t push my hips too high, just enough to arch my back a little. I move the block up and down my spin to vary the inflex point of my spin.