Bad Backs has long been an advocate of surgery alternatives to manage and reduce back pain, and over time, we’ve come across a number of simple breathing exercises to reduce back pain.

Regular readers of the Bad Backs’ Health e-News will remember the astounding studies of Esther Gokhale. Somewhat renowned in the field of back pain, Gokhale’s research points blame on back pain to our culture and lifestyle.

Gokhale compared postures and load bearing techniques in indigenous communities across the continents and found that these people naturally stand taller and straighter than their desk bound cousins living in high-rises. Respect for her work is growing and we would like to ensure you’re a beneficiary.

The core of Gokhale’s treatise is the J-shaped spine is natural for humans instead of the S-shaped spine we are accustomed too. Look at children, ancient statues, and indigenous communities who do physically hard labour and heavy lifting without the consequences we feel. To achieve this J-spinal posture a breathing technique practiced throughout the day will get you there.

Stand up, breath in and grow tall. Watch the air rise in your chest instead of your abdomen. Resist the temptation to arch your back. Let the breath carry your vertebrae up. Slowly exhale but keep your spine in place. Breathe in again and grow even taller. It is not a difficult exercise to do, but it is easy to slide back into old habits. Whenever it comes to mind repeat the exercise until the posture is natural to you. Search for Gokhale on youtube for the many instructional videos, or get to know her as she talks about her book in this interview.

You might be familiar with the Alexander technique, familiar to actors and performers the world over. Breath is given the same respect here as it is in yoga, where you work with it to make the body perform instead of the other way round. It is not a demanding or excruciating exercise. The key is to trust in its simplicity and trust your body will do what exactly what it was designed for.

In the Alexander technique breathing is broken down into four parts: exhale, pause, inhale, transition. Forcing the breath is frowned upon because that immediately tightens up the ribcage, locking the air inside your lungs. Concentrate on the exhalation to expel all the air – the most important phase of breathing – pause, before letting the lungs expand again. As the ribs move gently with the flowing breath they attach to the spine and gently massage the back. This gentle internal movement can really relieve a stiff or sore back. You may not believe this but all the great actors will spend hours each day in body exercises like this learning to feel minute sensations in the body and tune into them.

These techniques are perfect preventative measures, and encourage you take the time and space to really listen to your body which admittedly is a challenge in our fast paced world. Remember the words of Esther Gokhale: “never give up on your body. It doesn’t matter if a whole bunch of things have failed; there may still be that one thing that won’t fail.”