Living with chronic upper back pain - or any pain for that matter - can be debilitating. Upper back pain can occur as a result of trauma or sudden injury, or over time, through strain or poor posture. As many all-day computer users can attest, upper back pain has become a familiar complaint.
So what do we do when our pain has been with us so long that we don't remember life without it? First, know that for most people, body unawareness can be making matters worse. Be mindful of how you sit at your desk, how you stand, what position you're in as you snuggle into your couch and watch TV, and while driving: notice if your shoulders, neck, and face are relaxed or tense.
Here are 5 back-saving tips (and a heart meditation!) to help you relieve and eliminate the discomfort of upper back pain.
1. Take the strain out of your yoga practice. If you find a particular pose uncomfortable, try a different variation or practice a different pose. To work through any type of pain in your body, bring a positive yoga spirit into your healing: be diligent, patient, and persistent in your practice. Always practice ahimsa--non-harming.
2. Breathe mindfully through your postures. As you breathe, watch your breath circle through the affected pain areas. This intense consciousness of breath will help you identify where the pain originates so you can focus on the pain's root cause.
3. Try Massage and Acupuncture If you have an area that's extremely tender to the touch, the source of the upper back pain may be an active trigger point. Trigger points are usually located in a skeletal muscle and can be released by using massage therapy and/or acupuncture. Both of these modalities will help move stuck energy out of your lymphatic system. Massage increases blood flow, oxygenates the muscles, and removes any acids and waste products that build up and cause pain. Acupuncture works to unblock chi or prana. When these forces are blocked, it often manifests as physical pain. Both modalities restore a healthy, energetic flow of lifeforce to the body.
4. Include these postures in your daily routine.
· Eagle Arms. Place the right elbow inside the crook of the left elbow while bringing the palms together. Inhale arms up pressing through the fingers, leading with the elbows.
Exhale elbows down to the chest. Repeat 3-5 times, leading with each arm. Feel the expansion between the shoulder blades.
· Shoulder Squeeze. From Tadasana, interlace the hands behind the back, exhale chin down, extend the arms back and up, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 5 breaths, release the hands and allow the arms to float back to your sides.
· Seated Cat Stretch. From a seated position, raise your arms to shoulder height and interlace your hands, pressing your palms away from your chest. Exhale round the spine, squeezing the navel center towards the back and breathing through the shoulder blades, and at the same time, dropping the chin to the chest. Hold the position for 3-5 complete breaths.
5. Emotional Check-In When it comes to unresolved pain, sometimes emotional issues can be the culprit. Since the area between the scapula is often referred to as the "heart's back door", upper back issues can be generated from a stuck or "broken" heart. This includes childhood trauma, unhealed heartbreaks, and old negative stories that we're still holding onto. Subconsciously our minds work to literally put pain "behind" us, and there it remains.
If you're carrying negative heart chakra issues, practice asana from the heart, rather than through the brain's anatomical alignment instructions. Include a variety of upper backbends such as cobra, bow, and updog in your practice. Then add this Yam (the seed sound of the heart chakra) Heart Center meditation to help balance the body with the mind.
Bring the hands together in anjali mudra (prayer) and experience the sensation of your hands touching. This gesture completes the energy circuit between the hands and the heart and harmonizes the two hemispheres of the brain. Focus your awareness on the heart chakra. With each exhale, chant "Yam" (pronounced YUM) the seed sound of the heart. Feel the strong vibration stirring in the chest as you exhale negative feelings and stuck issues through and between the shoulder blades. Allow the vibration to cleanse your heart, the sacred temple of your soul, visualizing worry, guilt, sadness, and old shadow stories releasing through your breath.
There are so many different roads to discover when we're exploring our own wellness. Hence, what may work for you today, may not work next week. Stay open to changing your healing journey often, even daily if needed. This open-minded practice will lead you to the yoga niyama of Svadhyaya--self-study, which will introduce you to your very own healer within.