BodyLift Headstander: A Cure for Back Pain

BodyLift Headstander Lotus Headstand
The BodyLift Headstander makes it easy to
 do your favorite headstand variations while
 letting your neck and head relax.
The BodyLift Headstander is great for doing headstands with no neck strain and can really free you up to have fun with variations.  That's why most people like this prop. It is a unique and wonderful tool for making stress free inversions possible.  However, I love this apparatus for an entirely different reason.  I make money selling it.

Ha Ha!  I bet you weren't expecting that.  True though it is,  it is not what I truly love about my own personal model. I value my Headstander for the many non-headstand variations that are comfortable to do on it.  With the insert firmly velcroed in place, rather than removed, this versatile prop is a low bench with a thickly cushioned top that lends itself to all sorts of creative and deeply restorative practices.  One in particular is a real life saver for me.
The Headstander with the insert
firmly in place to make a low bench.

The Headstander in bench mode is similar to a backless Iyengar yoga chair but I usually prefer the former because of its warm, durable and comfortable padding and its complete lack of a back.  The pleather covered foam cushion makes it comfortable to use for all kinds of supported variations.
In the next series of posts to this blog, I will share some of the restorative Headstander poses and special uses that I like best.  For anyone who already has one, I hope this will broaden your appreciation and use of it.  For those of you who have yet to experience this prop, I hope these posts will help you to understand the unique contribution it can make to your health and well being.

About 5 years ago, during a period when I was pitching for a softball team and not practicing yoga regularly beyond teaching my once weekly class, my back went out really badly. The first night with this injury, when  I tried to sleep, my left leg felt like a swarm of hornets were stinging it for hours on end.  It was awful.  For days my left leg hurt so much I could not walk.  For a couple of weeks more,  I could not remain sitting or standing for longer than a few minutes before the pain would start to grow.   An MRI discovered that I have 4 herniated discs.  For those who love details they are L2, L4, L5 and T11.  I'm not that technical of a yogi but I did realize that I had an opportunity to pursue some serious self healing.  My journey of return to back health was informed by a wonderful Australian physical therapist, Raymond Wong-Pan, supportive friends, family and local yoga teachers, and my brilliant and encouraging Continuum Body Movement teacher, Elaine Colandrea.  After years of trial and error and steadily growing strength and flexibility I can now do everything I used to do, including sports and heavy lifting.   So where does the Headstander fit in?

It turns out that during these years of experimentation, the quickest remedy I have found for my back pain is the Side Lying Pose on my Headstander.  When I suffer from either direct tightness, spasms and pain in my lower and middle back or radiating pain that most often appears in my left ankle and shin, doing this posture for a few minutes on each side brings immediate and generally, long lasting relief.   I don't know if others will be so lucky as I am but I do know it works for me and I'm eager to share this method so that I might learn if others will be helped by my discovery.  This pose can also be done on a folding chair.  I prefer the Headstander for a couple of reasons which I will explain later, but if you are eager to try this deep and potentially curative stretch, do not wait for a Headstander to appear in your life, try it using a regular metal folding chair.  If it works for you then you may want to consider obtaining a Headstander to enhance your experience.

 A few words of caution are necessary here.  I am not a Doctor.  My stories are informed only by my own experience.  If you have a medical condition seek medical advice.  I only share about my situation to add to your knowledge, not to direct you.

Interestingly, some of the things I could not do for the longest time as I recovered seem related to this pose.  For instance, deep side stretches like half moon or triangle pose would aggravate my discomfort during my acute phase.  Once my symptoms subsided these side stretches seemed to keep them from coming back.  My only guess as to why this is is that when my nerves were inflamed and enlarged, pressure on them  pinched them and created pain.  Once they returned to a healthy state they were not as sensitive nor as fat, so the same bends that bothered them before now gives them a chance to settle where they need to be, stretch and receive needed circulation of blood and other fluids.  Of course I don't really know but it seems to be working.

Triangle Pose
This position bothered my back when it was in an
acute phase and in early recovery.
Half Moon Pose
This one too!

This brings up a good point and one that I have been reminded of again and again by both health professionals and my own body.  When something is in an acute chronic phase, when it hurts a lot and is continually uncomfortable, rest may be the best and perhaps only medicine.  Doing things may only aggravate the condition.  Once the symptoms have subsided or become intermittent, experimenting with helpful exercises to maintain and encourage healthfulness is appropriate.  This exercise in particular would only have worsened my problem if I did it when my back was in full distress.  Once it was on the mend the side lying pose became soothing and preventative of dramatic recurrence.  Now if I notice small twinges in my back or legs, I can safely do this exercise and obtain relief.  That was not true when my back was truly "out".

Take care when doing any stretching to go slowly and listen to your body.  This deep listening is perhaps the most important practice. Take it slow and if you find your mind wandering away from your body gently bring it back.  You can do this posture "cold" with no warm up or as part of a larger routine.  If doing it cold be sure to slooow down as much as possible.

Here's How:
Sit on the edge of your Headstander so one hip is resting on the end of the apparatus and one is hovering over the air.
getting on the Headstander for side lying pose
Getting on the Headstander for Side Lying Pose.

 Lie down in the direction of the hip on the Headstander so you are laying across the width of the cushion.  As you lay down, extend your legs so they are in line with your torso suspended above the floor.   Now comes the fun part.  Let your legs relax and arc down toward the floor.  Similarly let your upper body and head and neck arc toward the floor.  Use your hands and arms.  The hand  on the high side can go above your head on the floor and the lower upper-arm can go on the floor below your shoulder.  You can regulate the degree of stretch you experience by pressing into the floor or relaxing into it.
Hand Position for Side Lying Pose
Hand and arm positions for Side Lying Pose

You will likely feel an intense pulling along your thighs, hips, buttocks and lower back.  Keep this sensation in a pleasurable zone and relax into it.  After a minute or two you may notice that the stretch no longer feels intense as your body accommodates to it.  You may like to tilt your body forward or backward to elongate slightly different areas of your torso and legs.  Find a new position and relax into it.

Once you have done this for a few minutes on each side and feel complete, bend your knees to bring your feet to the floor and press into your hands gently to come back up.
Side Lying Pose on Body Lift Headsander
Full position, Side Lying Pose on Body Lift Headstander.

Here are a few more tips.  Sometimes when you first lay down the pressure of the cushion on an upper rib might be uncomfortable.  It is easy to adjust that by moving your body toward your head or feet.  Usually moving the body toward the feet will lessen the pressure.  The angle you achieve by moving toward your head may also create comfort for you.  Experiment and you will find your sweet spot.  If you discover you need more support  because you have a long torso you can angle your self on the cushion diagonally to create more contact with the Headstander.

While working on a folding chair is a good way to experience this deep side stretch without exertion using a Headstander has some strong advantages.  The thick cushion of the Headstander makes discomfort from pressure on the body less likely than if you were working on a folding chair.  Also the Headstander is made for this kind of activity with feet that lay flat on the floor providing a more stable base than most folding chairs.  Finally, the Headstander is a couple of inches closer to the floor than a folding chair, making control of this stretch easier to maintain.

Over the years I have found various exercises that have worked to prevent and relieve minor back discomfort.  Having these tools has helped me to no longer fear a recurrence of major back pain.  This exercise is the one that has most consistently helped me and it is still my go to "curative exercise".  It is my fervent hope that it will help you too.

When you try this and have some positive results I'd love to hear about it.  Plus, if you have any questions, please let me know.

Five Minutes of Bliss: Meditation on the Virtues: How to Become a Better Person

Even though change is the only thing in life that is constant most of us are stuck making the same mistakes over and over again.  Ironic huh?  So what can you to do to escape endless repetition of preprogrammed habits?  Change the routines in your head by installing a new operating system.  Though it sounds very ambitious, perhaps impossible, it is not really hard.  Your brain can be  reprogrammed through a few simple concentration exercises.  I call the new program you will be installing, "Meditation on the Virtues".

Source: Shannon Messenger

     This practice requires that you have some spiritual muscle you want to strengthen.  Perhaps you want to be kinder, more thoughtful, braver or enhance any other positive attribute, which could include whatever is good for you, even going from a size 8 to a size 4, or finally reading  that novel you’ve been meaning to get to.   What you do is identify the attribute and then sit with it in mind.  You may say it over and over to yourself for a minute or two and then imagine a scenario where you embody that attribute.  Really live in that moment in your mind.  Imagine what you would be doing and saying and what others with you would be doing and saying.   Feel what it is like to be kinder, more thoughtful, a size 4 or whatever you are working on.  Do this for a minimum of five minutes each day for seven days, more if you like.  You will find it is now easier to embody this virtue in real life.
Here is an example of the process.  Say during your reflections on last year you noticed you were feeling lonely and isolated a lot even though you were in contact with many people most days, so you decide you want to deepen your connection to those around you. "What are the elements of deep connection?", you ask yourself.  Really knowing and being known by others.  For this to happen you need to share more of what is really happening in your life with your acquaintances and to take an interest in what is happening with them.  You need to be open about yourself and open to hearing from others.  So openness in sharing personal information is the virtue you want to develop.  Immediately you hear all these voices saying, " No one cares about what is happening with me", and, "I have no time for this. This was a stupid idea in the first place", and so on.  Breath slowly and realize this is why change is so hard.  Whenever, we want to do something differently there are voices in our heads that seek to hold us in place.  Let them know you understand their fear and anxiety and that it is important to you to try something new.  Now repeat the virtue you want to manifest to yourself for a few minutes.  I am open about my life and open to hearing from others. I am open about my life and open to hearing from others.  I am open about my life and open to hearing from others.  and so on.   Then when that feels well planted let it grow into a scenario where you can use your openness.

    Flickr: play4smee

Say, last night your kitten chased her tail in a really cute way triggered happy feelings for you and you know someone in your office is a big cat lover.  It is a perfect chance to share about something.  Normally you would keep this sort of thing to yourself because you would be afraid to bother someone and keep them from their work and you would fear they would just be impatient with you.  Imagine a scenario where you go over and say hi and explain you had this really fun experience that you felt this person would appreciate.  Imagine them being delighted to see you and attentive and enjoying your story and your thoughtfulness in deciding to share it with them.  Then they confide in you how hard it is with their old cat suffering from aging and vomiting all the time and you are sympathetic.  You feel closer and more connected before heading back to your cubicle.
     A few suggestions before you begin your Meditation on the Virtues.  Make your virtue an affirmation.  Not I wish I were brave but I am brave, not I hope to be generous but I am generous and so on.  And imagine positive outcomes to your behavior.  Do not succumb to your fears but imagine how you would like things to go.  Little by little your mind will let go of its habitual patterns and become more and more comfortable traveling the new nerve pathways you are creating and you will be manifesting your dreams.  Do this everyday at least once for five minutes or more (up to half an hour).  Use the same virtue for at least a week.  The longer your use the same virtue the deeper you will plant the seed.  When you feel like you are doing well with that virtue you are ready to move on to another.  Doing one major change at a time is as much as most of us can handle.
Here is a quick checklist for when you sit down to do this:
1)  Pick a virtue you want to manifest in your life.
2)  Create an affirmation about that virtue being present in your life.
3)  Take 5 minutes or more to repeat the affirmation to your self and imagine a scenario where you manifest the change you are making.
4)  Do this at least once per day for a week.  See the progress you are making.

This can be done with lots of things that we might not normally think of as virtues.

Say you put on extra weight at the holidays and you want to take it off.
Say to yourself, " I am comfortable in my body because I make healthy food choices and get regular exercise. "  Then imagine yourself feeling that way and doing just that.

Say you get behind on cleaning and laundry.
Say to yourself, " I embody cleanliness by making time each day to tidy up and I take care of myself by setting time aside to get my laundry done before I have no choice."  Then imagine it.

Say you live in a world where people don't take care of each other and are at war and want to do something to change that.
Say to yourself, " I am doing my part to create peace and harmony by caring for those around me and being gentle with everyone I meet. "  Then create a scenario where you manifest these ideals.

Pretty soon you will be living the change you want to make, breaking the cycle of pain you've been stuck in and being a vibrant example that important change is within everyone's reach .  Congratulations!

When you try this and have some positive results I'd love to hear about it.  Plus, if you have any questions, please let me know.