Active holiday in the South of France
Post date: Apr 19, 2019 8:59:34 PM
We have just spent a wonderful week at Chez Boileau, in the South of France. The house is just a short walk from the town of Bergerac and overlooks the beautiful river Dordogne.
With a purpose built yoga studio at the top, a fleet of bicycles and a flotilla of sleek, top end racing sculling boats, Chez Boileau is the perfect destination for those wishing to enjoy an active holiday.
Every morning we had a yoga session with Ali Boileau who is a fully qualified yoga instructor as well as a rowing coach. A wonderful way to start the day and ease my chronic lower back pain. Last summer, I suffered a consecutive lumbar spine disc prolapse leading to grade 1 spondylolisthesis, sometimes causing shooting pain and numbness in my legs when I lean backwards. I genuinely found doing specific yoga poses with Ali every day for a week very helpful for my condition.
According to Ali’s knowledge and expertise, low back pain that results from stiff joints in the spine can be considerably reduced by stretching the muscles on the back of the legs and strengthening the back and abdominal musculature. He carefully chooses postures that focus on good spinal alignment and he builds the forward bending asanas from basic to more advanced ones by using the “half lifts” where he encourages the elongation of the spine with inhalation and gentle stretching with exhalation.
As someone who suffers back pain, I would like to add some thoughts that might be helpful to others.
First of all, it is worth noticing that lower back pain may have many causes. Even if two people are diagnosed with the same condition they might experience different symptoms. This is quite normal as our bodies differ from each other and therefore we move differently.
This is why I do not believe in “one size fits all” preventative lower back pain exercises commonly prescribed by our NHS services. Please do not get me wrong and if you are a physiotherapist don’t take this as a criticism. I am not against prescriptive exercises. I just feel that the emphasis should be mainly on the quality of the physical therapy not only on the variation of exercises offered. The question is not simply what kind of exercises one should do, but how to bring awareness to every movement performed. The intervention needs to be relevant to the current symptoms of the person suffering at the moment not necessarily to the diagnosed condition itself.
According to the human anatomy, the spine can move in several directions. Flexion is when the spine goes forward, extension is when it goes backwards. Rotation, twists the spine, side bending (lateral flexion) bends the spine sideways.
Axial extension, decompresses (elongates) the spine, whereas compression does exactly the opposite to the spine.
All these movements can vary enormously depending on which point of the vertebrae column they are performed but most importantly they can differ from person to person based on age, gender, ethnicity, activity, morphology, etc.
Therefore some movements can be symptomatic or asymptomatic to people diagnosed with the same condition. The clinical management of such variables can be very frustrating for allopathic medicine as it is almost impossible to predict how people will react to the same form of treatment. It is absolutely nightmare for doctors and surgeons to deal with this phenomenon and they call it "non-specific lower back pain", although there might be a detectable cause for the pain in some cases but it could also be asymptomatic.
This is why I believe that holistic manual practitioners such as osteopaths are well equipped to deal with these challenges on individual basis. I strongly feel that one needs to maintain as much movement as possible in order not to reduce the mobility of the spine. After all, “movement is medicine” as someone said.
One might very well argue that perhaps some back-bending movements are contraindicative to spondylolisthesis. This might be true for some cases but not for all. Surgical intervention might be necessary for some but not for others. It all depends on the individual case.
We know that backward bending movements help maintain the strength of the deep intrinsic muscles. These together with the transverse abdominal muscles and the thoracolumbar fascia are vital for the support for the spine.
Therefore it is essential to know which backward bends one can safely perform and how to practice them.
I felt that there were several beneficial asanas for my condition that we did with Ali last week.
Here is an example of two of them:
Lie down supine on the mat. Bring your awareness to the feet and legs and begin to activate them. Gently press your heels into the mat, activate the hamstrings, tag in your tail bone and press your lower back down into the mat, lengthen the spine. Put your hands under your hips and lie onto your forearms. Lift the torso off the
mat, squeezing in the shoulder blades together, then expand the chest slowly away from the mat, extend the thoracic spine and feel the activation of the deep intrinsic muscles in the mid and lower back as you gently extend the head backwards (Ali uses this as a counter pose to the forward flexing asanas).
Lie down prone on the mat. Bring your awareness to the feet and legs and begin to activate them. Gently press the toes into the mat, activate the quadriceps, gently press the pubic bone down into the mat to lengthen your lower back. Hands are bent under your shoulders but do not push yet. First slowly lift the shoulders and the hands off the mat, squeezing in the shoulder blades together, then lift the chest slowly away from the mat and feel the activation of the deep intrinsic
muscles in the mid and lower back (Ali calls this mini cobra). Then let your feet rest on the mat feel the connection through the thighs. Press through your hands and lift up your torso off the mat, keep the hips connected on the mat (cobra) finally lift the head and gently extend the neck. Alternate these two positions a few times until you
feel the aliveness of the spine.
The key thing is to work slowly and gently with awareness, let your body guide you.
I was amazed by the progress I made by the end of the week.
The yoga studio at the top of the house is incredibly peaceful with views of the garden and the river.
Meals were delicious, cooked to an extremely high standard by in house chefs.
The river is at the end of the garden so boating is incredibly easy.
With fantastic coaching from Ali, there was a marked improvement in my sculling by the end of the week. Video footage meant detailed feedback on my technique and how to improve.
The last morning culminated in a race “The Silver Balls” to demonstrate our improved sculling and unfortunately swimming skills for some of us!
There were plenty of places to cycle to around Bergerac. The Chateau de Montbazillac is only 5 km away with a very steep hill for those brave enough to venture up there. The view from the top was definitely worth the climb!
Bergerac itself is a beautiful medieval town with a market every week and plenty of cafes from which to watch the world go by.
Many thanks to our charming host, Ali Boileau, we look forward to visiting again and enjoying the best of what Chez Boileau has to offer. A marvellous stay for third consecutive year!
Kosta & family