How I eliminated lower back pain

This one simple trick reverses years of computer abuse

I’m not sure how old you have to be before you’re allowed to introduce generalized complaints about your health into casual conversation. At a certain age it seems about equal to talking about the weather. Is 36 too young to start?

In my life, I’ve been a lot of different things. But common to all of them has been someone who spends a lot of time in front of a computer. It always comes back to that in one guise or another. I’m not complaining though, as many great things have come into my life as a result of that. It seems though — as all the lifehacking articles point towards — that your life basically is composed of the habits you keep. Life climaxes in extraordinary moments, vistas where you can see the valley below, the ocean far off. But mostly it’s the ordinary moments that we touch and touch us, molding us into what we become, both psychologically and physically.

There are some dull aches we live with so long we forget about. Their companionship is so ever-present that we take them for granted as givens in our lives. We might try to wrest control of them occasionally and are just as often rebuffed when they spring back into being.

Lower back pain has been one of those things for me. By no means tormenting pain, by no means debilitating. Other people go through worse, I know. But still it’s been there for who knows how long, from the slouching, the hunching, the bending over keyboards and squinting at screens.

I’ve tried a lot of things. I tried a “standing desk” only to discover I don’t want to stand up all day any more than I want to sit down all day. It’s a game of shuffling stressors from one configuration to another. I’ve tried yoga, which I like and which works to a certain degree. But it never, I felt, rooted out the problem at the source.

But I’m confident to say I’ve finally found a practice that does. As much as I’m reluctant to out myself as someone who is into things certain persons might consider “woo-woo” here it is:

It’s a 10 day (10 minutes per day) video series that takes you through five simple standing Qigong positions which collectively make up something called Zhan Zhuang, which I won’t pretend to know more about than what I saw in this video series or read about on Wikipedia or other sites around the web.

From what I understand, the practice means something like “stand still like a tree,” (variously translated) and during the first ten days of following the videos above (and since), I saw my lower back pain which I thought was a given melt away and my posture improve. I even had a rash of people randomly commenting for a period, saying that I looked “taller.” Honestly, I wouldn’t doubt it. I feel like something has deeply changed in my body for the better.

The five basic positions (and I know there are others as you get more advanced) look something like this:

I’m at the point where I do 30 minutes per day (5–6 times per week) in the morning, holding each position for five minutes, and returning to the starting one to hold that for another five minutes. The videos explain it better than the drawings, and you’re definitely going to have to work up to being able to go through a 30 minute cycle. I want to say I’ve been doing this for at least two months now, maybe a little longer.

I’m reaching the point where it’s becoming less of a chore to hold my arms up in the requisite positions (I generally set a loop timer and watch X-Files episodes of Netflix while doing this), which I think is partly due to muscle condition, and partly to beginning to more deeply understand how to hold and center my weight.

The guy who does the 10 day video series above does an excellent job of explaining how the positions operate, but you have to do it to really get the feel for it. Suffice it to say, you bend your knees a little and imagine that you’re resting your butt lightly on a sort of big inflatable ball. As I’ve been able to feel that more strongly, I’ve noticed that concentrating my effort down there seems to support and balance more effortlessly the work done by the arms. Which I think must have something to do with this idea of “standing still like a tree” — that you’re drawing power up from the trunk until your “branches” basically can hold themselves up.

Whatever it is, it works. And that’s basically good enough for me.