A well-known yoga teacher in Europe (former student of mine) wrote on Facebook recently that he was dropping full backbends from his yoga practice since they were too painful. He openly revealed his love for his past practice of deep backbends which enlivened him with “vitality and passion”. Yet, these days, “even the gentlest lumbar extension has me limping out of class”, he openly admitted. A recent X-ray revealed chronic osteoarthritis in his lower spine. His general response to this situation in his back is to reduce his repertoire of asanas, particularly backbends, and to emotionally let go of a significant part of his long-term yoga practice.
This personal revelation on social media is broadly viewed as reflecting a humble admission by that after many years of regular yoga practice, it appears time to retire from an advanced level asana practice due to what is widely accepted as ‘normal’ physical wearing in an active person over 40 years old. Understanding that it is not easy for the ego of a senior international yoga teacher to admit that they are retiring from backbends because of pain, loyal students post compassionate condolences online.
However, no one, particularly the highly experienced yoga teacher, questions why the arthritis accumulated at that location in his lower back in the first place. And more immediately, no one questions if there is any other possible alignment that could therapeutically improve the situation! Instead of seeking proactive solutions, the cause of the chronic pain is deemed ‘normal’ and just part of life. In turn, there appears no other solution but to quit practicing backbends, and to accept the debilitating physical limitations of middle age (~40 – 60+ years old)!
Overuse is the biggest excuse by modern yogis and dancers for their hip replacements, knee replacements, and for surgeries on their lower back spinal disks. There is little discussion or consideration about how regular postural misalignment led to their joint degeneration. And there is even less mention of how their routine alignment in their yoga practice could have reinforced their daily misalignments which were causal to the accelerated wear of their joints. The status quo view of joint degeneration, particularly for modern postural yoga teachers, is that such damage is typical and to be expected after ‘many’ years of practice. Incapacitating degeneration is accepted as ‘normal’ for active, athletic, yoga practitioners or dancers in their 40’s. In fact, surgical scars are proudly shown to friends and students like war wounds with tales of the toil of years of intense asana practice pushing their bodies to the limit.
The truth is that what is considered normal today for joint degeneration in yogis and the general populace over 40 years old is not a healthy nor natural. Just because osteoarthritis is a common ailment (27+ M Americans), and the medical community doesn’t offer much beyond pain medication, it doesn’t mean that this painful condition is natural or that it must be a necessary experience of life for so many people!
Let us start questioning the standard model alignment for the spine and for the other main joints in the body!
What if a wavy spinal alignment were practiced in yoga poses instead of the uni-curve and the standard linear modeling?
What if we stop ‘melting the heart’ or hollowing the upper back between the shoulderblades?
What if instead, we fill that area of the ribcage in the back of the heart with an expanding radiance?
What if we stop drawing the hips downward and ‘scooping the tailbone’?
What if we stop trying to lengthen the spine by reducing the curvature in the lower back?
What if instead, we use a curvy fascial alignment to create dynamic length in the spine?
What if stop trying to strengthen our ‘core’ by shortening or sucking in our abdominal area?
What if instead, we create a double-S wave on the back of the back and curve the belly forward and up?
Don’t accept your joints wearing down so quickly in your life!
Challenge the standard model of alignment in your yoga practice and in your fitness regime.