“How I recovered from a back injury – with a little help from yoga”

Five minutes of yoga per day is all you need to benefit mind and body, according to this yoga teacher.

Vicky Fox is a yoga teacher who learnt to enjoy yoga in a whole new light as it helped her to cope with and recover from a back injury.

Unable to do the physical movements associated with her typical yoga routine, Fox found relief in focusing on  yogic breathing and the stress reduction and meditative benefits this can provide.

She found bitesize sessions of yoga were especially helpful during this time, and this led her to write a book to encourage more people to give it a try. Time to Repair – how yoga can restore body and mind, includes breathing and meditation practices, as well as seated, standing, energising and restorative five-minute yoga options.

Older lady practising yogic breathing outdoorsCredit: Shutterstock/Halfpoint
Practising yoga breathing can help to reduce stress

Adapting your yoga practice after injury

Fox initially thought her injury had been caused by doing back bends in her garden when she hadn’t properly warmed up – while coming out of a pose, her back had suddenly seized up.

But as she encountered months of limited range of motion and ongoing pain after the initial flare-up, further tests diagnosed an underlying spinal condition known as Bertolotti’s syndrome, which may have contributed to her injury. It causes curvature of the lower spine, and Fox occasionally still experiences painful flareups.

“For a while I was unable to practise yoga at all as I was in constant pain,” she recalls. “I was really quite immobile for a while, and I also lost sensation in my right foot and shin for three months. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the movements I enjoyed before, but I realised I could still do yoga as it’s not just a physical practice. I could instead focus on my breathing, and try out and practise mantras, and I could also meditate.

“Eventually, I was able to practise very gentle yoga movements while lying down, and I’ve included a lot of these types of practices in my book as they do help to make yoga more accessible. Adapting my practice was certainly different as up until that point, I very much felt my yoga practices had to always be physical. But the breathing and meditation side of yoga is so important when you’re helping your mind and body to repair and recover.”

Learning the hard way not to overdo it

Her injury was also a lesson in not trying to do too much. As a yoga teacher, it’s easy to get carried away thinking you should be able to do every pose – even the more challenging ones, such as backbends. Fox has learned the hard way that this isn’t necessary.

“As I recovered from my back injury, I made a promise to myself that I would be kinder and more compassionate when I could exercise again,” she says. “Now, I always keep in mind that I’m doing things that are safe for me that will help to keep my spine mobile and keep me pain-free, as this is much more important. I think for a lot of us, we just want to be able to move independently and be pain-free.”

“For a lot of us, we just want to be able to move independently and be pain-free”

Group of mixed race older ladies practising yoga together indoorsCredit: Shutterstock/SeventyFour
Focusing on your breathing during yoga is a great way to slow down

Can you benefit from just five minutes a day?

No matter how hectic your lifestyle, everyone can find five minutes in their day to practise yoga and they’ll still take away benefits from doing a short routine, says Fox.

“What’s key is the slowing down aspect of taking time out to practise yoga,” she explains. “What’s central to this is breathing, as this allows us to calm and soothe the nervous system. It’s the quickest way to change how we feel, and when you add in movement along with the breathing, it’s especially beneficial. When we’re in rest and digest mode during yoga, the body can really get to work with unwinding and repairing.”

Fox’s book features many different five-minute practice options so you can choose one based on what you need from yoga on a particular day. You could opt for a more energising routine in the morning or for a relaxing one in the evening, for example.

Yoga “snacking” can be helpful, says Fox. You might like to do 15 or 20 minutes of yoga some days, but you could also select a few short yoga sessions and spread them out across the day so you do more overall, rather than in one taxing burst. “When we make yoga feel as accessible to us as possible, that’s when we’re more likely to keep it up as a daily habit,” she adds.

Getting started with yoga breathing

Finding a focus is key to getting the most from yoga breathing practices, and Fox offers various options in her book. These can include tuning into your inhales and exhales, counting your breaths, and repeating words that resonate with you.

After five minutes of breathing and using a technique that helps you be present, she’s certain you will feel different – including more relaxed within minutes.

“I hear from a lot of people who use the breathing techniques they’ve learned through yoga to help them deal with something they feel nervous about, such as having an MRI or another scan or medical appointment,” she adds. “That’s when I think yoga can be a great self-care tool, when you can take it off the mat and use it whenever you need to in your day-to-day life.”

Middle-aged black lady doing bridge poseCredit: Shutterstock/Krakenimages.com
Bridge pose helps to strengthen your glute muscles

Yoga movements for back injury recovery

Each injury needs careful assessment to work out what might help, but in Fox’s case she found that gradually working on increasing the strength in her back was important. She did this only when she felt her body was able to cope with doing physical yoga movements again.

Especially helpful was the ‘bridge’ pose – where you lie flat on your back with your knees bent as you push up and hold for a few seconds before lowering again. “It gives a nice stretch in the front of your body and really engages the muscles at the back of the body, such as the glutes,” she explains.

Other poses for strengthening her back included a Pilates pose called ‘swimming’, where you lift your legs and arms away from the mat and briefly hold them out, before lowering back down. Another popular yoga movement, ‘child’s pose’, was great for stretching her back.

“When I started timing sequences for my book, I was amazed at how much you can fit into five minutes of yoga,” Fox says. “It’s simply a matter of finding out what you enjoy and what works best for you.”

Julie Penfold

Written by Julie Penfold she/her

Updated:

Julie Penfold has been a specialist health and wellbeing journalist for more than 15 years and has been a finalist in three prestigious health and medical journalism awards during that time. She has written for a wide variety of health, medical, wellbeing and fitness magazines and websites. These have included Running, TechRadar, Outdoor Fitness, Be Healthy, Top Sante, Doctors.net.uk and The Guardian’s Social Care network.

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