For the last 10 days, I’ve been dealing with some pain in my low back, on either my right or left (keeps switching around) hip and glute, with a zap of pain often traveling down my leg. That “traveling” pain is called sciatica as it is due to an irritation of the sciatic nerve in the spine. This irritation can be caused by compression in one of the spinal discs or a strain/spasm of any of the surrounding muscles, such as the psoas or piriformis. That strained muscle can also pull on your sciatic nerve; this is a more indirect or “secondary” form of sciatica as opposed to sciatica that’s a direct result of compression in the spine. Finally, sacroiliac joint strain also closely resembles sciatica as the symptoms include:
Pain located either to the left or right of the lower back. The pain can range from an ache to a sharp pain which can restrict movement, and may radiate out into the buttocks, low back and the groin in the front. Since the pain can travel into the lower limb, it can be mistaken for sciatica as well.
Countless people suffer from back pain every day. If you have DNA like mine, you might also have spinal stenosis, which makes any aggravation to the sciatic nerve that much more, well, aggravating. I’ve met people of all ages, professions and athletic abilities. I’ll never forget the sweet girl who used to come to my yoga studio saying “I’m too young to be hurting like this.” As I recall, she waited tables all day in cheap shoes and I’m sure that would wear anyone down quickly.
Anyway, for a while I was annoyed I couldn’t take more advanced classes, or that in Keirin’s class last week I couldn’t do a spectacular (meaning: “show off”) execution of Bird of Paradise. I actually felt like a jack in the box scrunched down, ready but unable to spring up long, open and free.
But I’ve started realizing the opportunity in this challenge. It gives me a chance to let go of the competition and feel true compassion for my students battling injuries, or those of more advanced age. Sometimes when I see a student barely able to do a forward bend, I can sometimes wonder if they “couldn’t try a little harder?”…but dealing with the pain and immobility I have right now, I have more empathy. I appreciate even more that the student came to class, perhaps sitting in the back row and hoping nobody will notice them.
I also am re-appreciating the many mysteries of the body on a much more subtle level. Pain gives you time to slow down and become conscious of all the “little parts n pieces” in your body that are critically involved in helping you properly move, sit or stand. The glutes and quads get so much attention, but what about the noble psoas? even a “boring” asana such as cat/cow takes on new rehabilitational and mechanical meaning as I experiment with new variations to relieve pain (such as: sitting back on the heels in child’s pose as the counter to arching the back on all fours. A gentle and very therapeutic flow; thank you Gary Kraftstow!)
Finally, thinking more about how I can create some more yoga classes specifically designed for back pain. Around town, I see plenty of gentle or restorative yoga, but can’t recall much of any “yoga for back pain” classes that get right down to business.
As Seane Corn once said “Find your pain” and that’s the wavelength on which you can connect with people as a teacher.