I was recently asked the following two questions:
I was wondering if you could answer two questions that I was asked today from two female students? One has a bulging disc in her lower back and was wondering which poses she shouldn't be doing? The other (older) suffers from Prolapse and wondered which poses could help. I realize that Mula Bandha will help and inversions but can you suggest anything else and what should be avoided? I'm guessing strong abdominal work where she is pushing or forcing down should be avoided. If you have the time, I would appreciate your opinion but I realize that you are busy and I certainly will understand if you don't have the time to respond. Thanks
I will answer the first question, about the disc, now and return to comment on the second one later. First, it is nice to have a picture in mind when we talk about back problems. Click to this image so we can talk about it.
http://www.laserspineinstitute.com/imag ... itions.jpg
In the picture you can see that the bulging and herniated discs are generally in the back side of the spine (the front of the body in this picture is to the right). Most back problems occur when we do forward bends, which tend to compress the front of the disc, causing the fluid to bulge out backwards. So, the question your student raised was, which poses should she NOT do - answer: forward bending!
Of course she should be talking to her health care professional to determine just how bad her condition is. The causes of this condition are many: it could be caused by overly straining the back while bending forward, perhaps by trying to lift up something heavy. It could be caused by repetitive forward movements such as lots of sun salutations. Repetitive movements are, of course, yang in nature and yang exercise of yin tissues is not a good idea.
Your student may be okay with some forward bends as long as she relaxes the hamstrings. The hamstrings on many people are so tight that they pull on the sitting bones, causing the pelvis to tilt backwards, which is turns tends to straighten the lumbar spine. When the lumbar is straight and a forward bend attempted, even more compression occurs in the disc. If she bends her knees and allows her pelvis to tilt forward, she can reduce the risk of this compression.
In the Yin Yoga style we do not use yang exercises on the yin tissues, however in many of the forward folds we use in Yin, we do deliberately try to round the back to address the ligaments along the spine. This is not a good idea for your student right now. She needs to rebuild her lumber arch (assuming that she has some straightening of her lumbar that contributed to her condition) and to strengthen the muscles along the spine and lower back. Again, she needs to check all this out with a professional, but some suggested poses could be sphinx or even a gentle seal, to rebuild the lumbar curve and some yang back strengtheners like plank (hold the push up position), crocodile (push up on elbows) and later baby-cobras.
If her hamstrings are tight and contributing to the problem, she should be avoiding any seated forward bends but she may be okay with lying forward bends (supta padangustasana) or dangling with her knees bent and elbows resting on her thighs. As long as her back is fine, she can gradually start to straighten her legs more and more, stretching the hamstrings. Standing wide leg forward fold (prasarita padotasana) may also work, or utthita hasta padangusthasana may work.
For more yang ideas for this condition check out Julie Gudmestad's article in Yoga Journal at http://www.yogajournal.com/health/125
As always, perhaps other teachers out there can contribute their thoughts on this topic.