Monday, August 1, 2016
Exercises that could greatly relieve your back pain
Back-ache sufferer Arlene Harris tries out a series of gentle exercises developed by Australian Steve Timm and finds them extraordinarily successful
Arlene Harris with Steve Timm of The Mind Your Own Back Programme. Picture: Eamonn Keogh
SIX years ago I was a bit of a wreck. Writing in this paper, I told how a childhood injury had left me with long term back problems which had intensified with age often hindering my ability to move around and enjoy life to the full.
Having tried every manner of treatment, I went to visit Steve Timm – an Australian native who was on a flying visit to Ireland. A retired IBM engineer, Timm (now 76) had been a fellow sufferer until, after years of agony, he devised a series of gentle yogic exercises which revolutionised his mobility and gave him a new lease of life.
The exercise programme, which he named Mind your own Back (MYOB) was the result of his determination not to use the disabled badge which he had been given for his car on account of the severity of his back pain.
A combination of research, engineering know-how and the study of yoga and the ancient Vedic sciences, this short exercise plan cured him of all his ails.
When I last wrote on this topic, I had just been to visit him in Killarney and after explaining how the spine works, enquiring about the nature and source of my pain, Timm taught me how to do the exercise regime.
At first, I was very sceptical as, unlike the professionals I had sought help from in the past, he didn’t lay a finger on me but just talked me through each exercise, encouraging me to stretch further in one direction, roll up tighter or make certain movements faster than others.
It seemed like an easy-to-follow yoga routine, of which I didn’t have very high hopes. After all I had been going to yoga classes for months and while they were undoubtedly relaxing and beneficial, whenever my back was ‘playing up’, the pain restricted movement.
However, after an hour with this gentle man, I stood up feeling taller, straighter and extraordinarily pain-free. And I can happily report, that now, six years later, his simple routine has revolutionised my approach to back pain.
For much of my adult life, regular visits to professionals regarding my herniated disc were commonplace and I even spent the best part of a year unable to bend over to tie my shoelaces as the pain was so intense. But since meeting Timm in 2010, I haven’t seen a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath since.
Sure, my back plays up from time to time and there are days in which I feel stiffer than others, but now I know that all I have to do is my ten minute MYOB routine and before long I will be back on my feet again.
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Timm will be visiting Ireland again in August and has also just released a revised edition of his book of the same name – Mind your own Back. He says lack of knowledge caused his own physical problems.
“My back injuries started from the common ignorance of abusing my body and back as a very strongly built young man,” he explains. “Being a big guy I was always asked to lift the heavy things which of course abused the capacity of my spine.
“My back began to fall apart in 1974 when an accident at work, while carrying a heavy piece of equipment, left me frozen with pain and flat on my back in bed, unable to move for a whole month. The agony was so immediate and overwhelming I had no choice but to give myself over to medical practitioners to perform their expected miracles and take away my pain. For the first time I was no longer in charge of my life but dependent on others and it was a huge blow to my ego. In matters of strength and health, I had always prided myself on my self-sufficiency and suddenly it was gone.” Eventually recovering somewhat from this injury, the Chilean-born Timm resumed his life but continued to neglect his back.
“I had no idea of the real damage done to my back and did none of the things necessary to keep it strong and healthy,” he admits. “Over the next fifteen years I suffered all kinds of damage and by 1991 X-ray examinations and MRI scans revealed that I seriously sprained my back and the years of physical abuse had resulted in serious degeneration of the vertebrae. My spine, the foundation of my bodily strength, was literally crumbling away. After numerous treatments by osteopaths, chiropractors and physical therapists, I was told nothing more could be done. I was disabled, cast out by the medical system - I’d hit my lowest point of misery and suffering.” But refusing to take this diagnosis lying down, Timm decided to take matters into his own hands – initially through meditation.
“In retrospect being told there was no cure was a blessing as I was forced onto my own resources,” he says. “If I wanted to be pain free, strong and flexible again, it was up to me, and only me. It was a turning point both physically and spiritually.
“I had attended a number of personal development courses in IBM which had been used by NASA to prepare astronauts for the first landings on the Moon. There I came across the work of pioneering psychologist Abraham Maslow and found his insights into the workings of the mind extremely enlightening and from them developed a keen interest in reaching what Maslow called Peak Experience.
“Inspired by this goal, I developed my own system of meditation which led me to deep levels of peace and gave me the response I was looking for. There were no clear verbal messages or ideas, just faint impulses to try different things.” Timm says while his new-found spiritualism and healing didn’t happen overnight, the time came when he was pain free and it was only then he allowed himself to look into the movements and exercises he had instinctively been doing to get him to this point.
“I knew I was on the right track (with meditation and yoga) when I began to experience some bliss and happiness beneath the pain and suffering,” he says. “A little at a time, I began to be stronger until eventually all the pain was gone. After the healing I retraced my steps of recovery and began to understand the mechanics of the process which healed me.
“In the western world, many find it difficult to understand or trust instinctive or intuitive knowledge as the rationale of science and proof by objective experiment is the golden rule. But the truth is that human beings have an infinite potential of knowledge deep within if only we can learn how to access it.
“We lose sight of how much power we have within us. All that is required is the ability to trust our own intelligence and listen to the quiet voice that whispers to us in our deepest moments of inner peace and silence.” Often dubbed ‘The Miracle Man’ Timm explains that learning how to balance properly is crucial to eliminating back pain and each person has individual needs so while his exercises can work for everyone, they must be tailored to suit.
“After nine months in a foetal position we get born and for the first time the spine opens up and stretches out like a flower on the spring sun,” he says. “The proper opening and balance of the base of the spine is fundamental to the whole structure as we are the only creature that uses the spine vertically as in a balancing act.
“MYOB aims at creating balance at the very base which when properly set makes many stretches and exercises really beneficial. It’s a form of therapy so not suitable to be taught in a group but needs to be adjusted to the individual needs of each person. Giving everyone a fixed version of MYOB would be ignorant and could be damaging in some cases.” I was fortunate enough to meet Steve in 2010 and learn the sequence of exercises which would enable me to get a handle on my back injury.
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The yoga-style exercises range from re-aligning the pelvis through sharp leg drops to the floor, rolling from side to side with my body curled up into a ball, a specific body twist in which legs lie to one side while the torso is turned the opposite way and various other gentle but effective stretches which done together have the extraordinary ability to release tension and ease painful muscles.
Since learning the 10 minute daily routine, I have told anyone who would listen about Timm’s almost miraculous programme. He, of course, maintains that the ‘miracles’ are created by ourselves.
But having found a solution after years of agony, I beg to differ and would encourage anyone with an interest in alleviating back pain, to visit his website, buy his book, go and see the man himself (when he visits Dublin on August 6th) or better still do all three.
He may humbly deflect any praise lobbed in his direction, but he has well and truly taught me to mind my own back.
Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org www.mindyourownback.com