Chair Yoga Relieves Pain

Here is an interesting story. Practice this yourself, without pain, too. At a recent class, a new student arrived with moderate to severe pain in his neck and back. He suffered from a recent injury that resulted in pressure on the discs that support his spine. His movement was slow, his posture rigid, and he had limited ability to sit on a chair with comfort. The student was about 6’2” tall, in his 40’s, good physical shape and familiar with breathing and martial arts. He had not practiced these disciplines recently nor was he familiar with yoga.

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Following guidelines for chair yoga, I set him up on three stackable chairs to create the proper height of the seat relative to the length of his legs. This positioning reduced pressure on his lower back by having his knees just a bit lower than his thighs. Find a way for your feet to be flat on the floor and your hips a bit higher than your knees. Use a pillow or foot support. I placed a small rolled up towel in his lumbar area to re-establish the proper curve in his lower spine. This was touchy for him and took some adjustment to create the proper positioning without causing him to wince. Sitting Mountain Pose is essential for aligning the spine by positioning the hips under the spine and allowing the re-development of lumbar and cervical spine curves (they compliment each other). Place a small rolled up towel behind your lower back. Play Lumbar Limbo by drawing your tail a bit under the towel as you inhale. Positioning the elbows under the shoulders and head over the shoulder area allows for less tension in the neck and upper back. Now the muscle that is often tense across the upper back can begin to relax.

We proceeded to develop a breathing practice where the exhales were slightly longer in length than the inhales. Inhale for a count of 4, pause a moment, exhale for a count of 6. Repeat. With permission, I guided his upper back muscles diagonally toward his spine and helped to settle the shoulder blades on to the back ribs with the exhale. The muscles were in such spasm that they spontaneously twitched. The breathing practice proceeded for several minutes. Eventually the tension in his face and whole body significantly diminished and the twitching ceased.

The next part of the practice was to develop gentle extension and flexion of the spine. This was accomplished with gentle Cat/Cow poses over several minutes and within his range of motion comfort zone. Once the hips were loose, we moved toward shoulder relaxation. The rolling the shoulders up from front to back and reversing this path, combined with a basic 6 pose flow, allowed for even more comfort. We finished the active phase by raising and lowering the shoulders while keeping the buns engaged during the exhale. He became taller, looser and relaxed.

We finished with a counting meditation to further calm his mind. By counting backward, one number at a time with each exhale, he was able to separate from the physical trauma and reduce pain.