How Yoga Can Help You Recover from Adrenal Fatigue
“Adrenal Fatigue” is a term that pops up more and more frequently these days. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you?
- You feel tired for no reason.
- You are overwhelmed by moderate tasks and more impatient and irritable than usual.
- You have trouble getting up in the morning.
- You feel rundown.
- You frequently get sick and have trouble recovering.
- You crave salty snacks.
- You feel more awake after 6pm.
- You gain weight around the abdomen.
- You suffer from PMS.
If this is the story of your life, you might have a fatigued adrenal system most likely caused by stress.
The adrenals are glands just above your kidneys and their function is to regulate hormones. One part (cortex) secretes hormones vital to life called corticosteroids. There are two corticosteroids: cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol is responsible for responding to stress and is also involved in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism. Aldosterone is responsible for the regulation of the salt/water balance in the body.
The other part (adrenal medulla) secretes non-essential hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones are involved in a response called the “fight or flight” mechanism and help the body deal with stressful situations.
Now, usually these glands are meant to deal with short bursts of stress so they can recover quickly. For example, way back when we were hunted down by wild animals, adrenaline and noradrenaline would kick in to get us away from the dangerous animal and a life-threatening situation. This would usually take a few minutes followed by some recovery time in a safe shelter. However, the body cannot distinguish between the stress of fearing for our life from back then and the stress we encounter in our lives today. Unfortunately, stress these days is more constant and taxing on our adrenals because there is no natural outlet (e.g. running away to put the hormones to use). Most of the time we encounter stress that we can not run away from such as a bad work situation, financial problems, family or health problems. Our adrenals constantly secrete hormones because they think we are in life-threatening situations. These hormones have other functions though, like regulating metabolism and keeping your weight in check, regulating blood pressure so you won’t feel dizzy, and secreting and regulating other hormones that influence PMS. Unfortunately, once the adrenals are fatigued and depleted, they can no longer fulfill these functions and we start feeling tired, rundown and get sick. They simply cannot keep up the supply that is demanded.
In order to restore the adrenals, we need to actively deal with stress. Yoga is a great solution in many ways. Not only is the physical aspect of yoga helpful to cycle out all the excess hormones but the mental aspect is beneficial as well. Meditation and slow movements are great ways to slow down the heart rate and shift the body from the sympathetic “fight or flight” mode to the parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode. To calm the body and mind, restorative yoga poses can work wonders. Check out My Yoga’s library for restorative yoga practices.
Quadratus Lumborum and Mindful Back Health in Yoga
Low back pain is an increasing issue in our society dominated by poor posture, sedentary lifestyles, and chronic sitting patterns. The source of low back pain can vary, but a great deal of these muscular dysfunctions emanate from the quadratus lumborum muscles.
Most of us are quite familiar with the erector spinae muscles that travel from the hip crest/sacrum to various points up the vertebrae and ribs. These muscles function primarily as extensors of the back. Few people (including yoga teachers) are aware of the all-important quadratus lumborum muscles that are located deep toward the erector spinae.
The quadratus lumborum muscles sit on either side of the vertebrae. They originate on the iliac crest (hip bone) and insert on the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae and the 12th (last) rib.
When both sides contract, they extend the spine (and/or depress the ribcage from behind). When only one side contracts, the spine flexes laterally and/or elevates the ilium (hip) on that same side. In forced expiration, the quadratus lumborum will fix the 12 ribs.
When Back Pain Can Occur
Dysfunction and low back pain can settle into the quadratus lumborum under a few conditions:
- If the erector spinae are weak or inhibited (as they often are in chronic seated postures), the quadratus lumborum attempts to take up the slack and loading in back extension and spinal stabilization leading to overall muscle fatigue.
- If muscle imbalances build up across the pelvis (e.g., tight hip flexors), the lower vertebrae can shift into chronic excessive curvature (lordosis), which will shorten and weaken the quadratus lumborum and erector spinae.
- If poor posture and upper body muscle tension forms across the chest and shoulders, rounded-back posture (kyphosis) will pull the rib cage up and away from the hip crest. This places stress and drag on the quadratus lumborum and portions of the erector spinae.
- The deep gluteals (gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) are responsible for hip abduction and pelvic stabilization in walking and other gait patterns. If these deep gluteal muscles are weak and inhibited, the quadratus lumborum and tensor fascia latae have to compensate to stabilize the pelvis.
- Some physical experts have also found that tight hip adductor muscles (groin) can inhibit (through reciprocal inhibition) the gluteus medius muscles. As mentioned above, the quadratus lumborum muscle may compensate for the gluteus medius muscle’s lack of activity and pelvic stabilization.
How to Keep Your Back Healthy with Yoga
Understanding that the dysfunction residing in the quadratus lumborum is often the result of dysfunction and tension imbalances coming from other muscles, here are some initial approaches to maintaining health of the quadratus lumborum:
- Develop a strategy to maintain fluid balance in upper and lower body posture patterns to avoid chronic hip flexor tightness, back extensor tension, and loss of natural vertebral curvature and pelvic placement
- Stretch the chest, front of the shoulders, hip flexors, groin, and lower back frequently
- Strengthen back extensors and overall core stabilizers
- Strengthen and stretch deep gluteals to unload unnecessary engagement of the quadratus lumborum
- Engage in proper therapeutic treatments when discomfort and pain develop
Need help with yoga for back pain? Sign up for our Yoga Foundations Guide with Rodney Yee & Colleen Saidman Yee!
Do These Yoga Poses for Back Pain
Here are some basic, accessible stretches readily prescribed to restore and maintain flexibility in the quadratus lumborum muscles:
When aiming to stretch the quadratus lumborum muscles and other lower back musculature, I would personally recommend avoid using forward bends like Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Paschimottasana (Seated Two Leg Forward Bend) and other similar poses.
Due to the nature of intervertebral disc compression in spinal flexion, these types of forward bends would be better served to actually involve engagement of the back extensors and transverse abdomen in order to extend the spine, shift the ‘flexion’ into the hips, unload the lower vertebrae and protect against disc compression.