If you feel as if your back is consistently tense and sore throughout the school week, we feel your pain. But as college women, do we ever stop to think about where the pain is coming from? Better yet, do we ever take the time to relieve it? Valley sat down with Erica Kaufman, founder of Lila Yoga Studios, who provided her expertise when it comes to identifying – and relieving – this back discomfort.
“For college-age women, back pain is often caused by the backpack or posture while working at the computer,” Kaufman says.
A quick change of habit is a start to alleviating the pain. Kaufman suggests beginning by lightening your load. Consider switching it up with a tote bag, or only carry your absolute essentials.
For the girls who can’t live without their backpack, Kaufman advises that you strengthen your abdominals.
“The stronger your abdominals are, the less the back has to work in isolation,” says Kaufman. “Having strong abs when you have a lot of weight on your back is very useful.”
What about that back tension that we just can’t seem to kick? For this, Kaufman prescribes what she knows best: yoga.
But before we hit the mat, it’s important to us to understand where all of this tension in our muscles is coming from.
“Yoga postures don’t cause the discomforts in the stretch,” she says. “They reveal the tension that is already within the muscle. If you fight the tension, it will get worse. Breath through the tension, and it will disarm. Once we understand tension, we are able to deal with it more intelligently.”
For the upper-back tension we feel, Kaufman suggests the “Heel Press,” a pose that she developed specifically for people with tension at the top of their shoulder, or the trapezius muscle.
“This is a really important muscle to tend to,” says Kaufman. “It is responsible for a large amount of tension caused from using a backpack.”
To do this pose, extend your arm out, and reach the top of your head and the heel of your hand in opposite directions while dropping your shoulder down. While doing so, take at least five, slow concentrated breaths to release tension. Stretch for at least thirty seconds.
For entire back relief, Kaufman demonstrates the “Rabbit Posture”. For this posture, kneel down, pressing your thighs and heels together. Reach your hands back to hold on to your heels and round your back, placing your chin into your chest. Curl your spine in a rounded position with you abdomens and inner thighs strong, and then lift your hips up as high as you can. This will stretch all of the muscles of the back.
“Be actively engaged in this,” says Kaufman. “This is not a passive posture – don’t mistaken strength for tension. If while doing this you get tension in your jaw, neck or shoulders, you are just displacing that tension, not alleviating it.”
Another pose that targets tension in the back is the “Seated Forward Bend.” Sit on the floor with your legs extended forward. Relax your elbows, relax your head, relax your shoulders and drop them down.
“The seated forward bend is an incredibly powerful and revealing yoga posture,” says Kaufman. “Notice what you feel, and you will be given inventory of the muscles that need attention in the back of the body.”
An alternative version of the “Seated Forward Bend” is the “Extended Spine.” Slowly extend forward over your legs and let your body naturally round. If you are able, take your hands to the outside your feet and use the strength of your arms to help you draw yourself in. Do this for approximately a minute and a half.
“Place your hands comfortably on your thighs and relax your breathing, taking long, belly breathes,” she says. “Becoming aware of your breathing is almost like a reset.”
Next, Kaufman attempts suggesting the “Seated Chair Spiral” pose to work the muscles in the back and the spine. Round your back and drop the full weight of your head, tucking your chin into your chest. Cross one arm over the opposite thigh to target a specific side of your back, and then repeat on the opposite side.
“The best time to do these stretches is when you have a lot of blood circulation in the muscle,” she says. “An excellent time to do it is after you have just walked with your backpack. It will be shocking how alleviating it is to you.”
Photos by Audrey Cillo
Erica Kaufman has been teaching yoga since she was 19 years old. She holds the highest level of registry within the International Yoga Alliance, having just returned last week from teaching Lila Yoga in India. For more information on Erica or for a schedule of classes, visit www.LilaYoga.com.