Yesterday morning I woke up in the accustomed 4:30 a.m. time frame, yawned with catlike pleasure, rolled over to get out of bed — and felt a hot, stabbing pain in my lower back.
It’s weird when you go abruptly from pain-free to painful. It’s almost like being in a dream that suddenly turns into a nightmare. You wonder what you did to suddenly make your spine and back muscles so uncooperative. Was it a sudden twist as you rolled over to put your feet on the floor? Was it some kind of unusual physical exertion the day before?
Whatever the reason, it’s your fault somehow, and you’ve just got to deal with it. I’ve had back problems before, so the coping patterns are familiar. You move gingerly hoping not to experience that crippling flash, and you walk in a slightly hunched over, zombie-like way, and you pray that whatever happened goes away without too much time or trouble.
It’s an incident that also is a helpful reminder. Those of us who are lucky enough to have moderately good health can’t really appreciate what it is like to live with constant pain. I’m grateful that this happens only once in a great while.
Most of us tend to think of Yoga as a New Wave, gentle, and physically safe form of exercise. The New York Times magazine has an article that reminds us that isn’t always the case. In fact, yoga can cause serious injury.
The article notes that yoga has been associated with lower back, shoulder, knee, and neck injuries and even more serious problems such as stroke, ruptured Achilles tendons, and nerve and brain damage. It appears that many of the injuries come from overdoing it, by trying to achieve even more contorted positions, or holding poses for extreme lengths of time, or maintaining a neck-based position on a hardwood floor. Some of the more extreme forms of “yoga” that are offered these days — like the “hot yoga” classes that one of our good friends takes — are an example of how Americans often try to push the envelope with exercise regimens. Sometimes, unfortunately, we push through the envelope and cause serious injury and long-term physical damage.
The lessons of yoga injuries are especially pertinent now, with New Year’s Day just behind us and many of us having resolved to lose the weight we gained over the holidays and a bit more, besides. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but easy does it is a good rule of thumb — particularly for those of us who are older and have been desk-bound for years. Rather than trying to immediately run five miles, or to achieve yoga positions that master yogis can only dream of, why not focus instead on eating and drinking less, cutting back on fatty or calorie-laden foods, and lengthening that morning walk and adding a short evening walk, too?