Living with back pain can often leave us feeling hopeless. Pain research experts estimate that more than 80% of the United States population will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. When it comes to seeking cost-effective and holistic options, many turn to yoga for back pain. In fact, this age-old practice’s effects on managing and relieving back pain are among the most studied of its health benefits.
Recent pain research shows the ability of yoga to ease back pain. These studies have explored how yoga practice can impact chronic low back pain as well as conditions affecting the back such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, kyphosis and fibromyalgia. They have consistently concluded that yoga:
- is an acceptable and safe pain intervention
- can be recommended as a therapy for patients with chronic low back pain
- can be an effective pain management tool for a wide variety of health concerns
And why not? It can help to:
- loosen your stiff muscles
- increase your oxygen flow
- release stress
- align your spine
- lower your blood pressure
- improve your posture and balance
- increase your overall strength
Combine that package of benefits with the mental clarity it can bring and its ability to help you lose weight, and you see that yoga packs a valuable punch.
If you’re one of those who lives the struggle of back pain, you’re more than likely aware that there are many treatments available to provide you with pain relief. You’re also likely aware that many of them can be invasive, addictive or downright expensive. But that’s not case with yoga. With a wide range of online videos at your fingertips and a focus on shifting your body and mind away from pain, yoga can stretch and soothe your body and spirit.
“At the most basic level, yoga allows people to connect more deeply with their body and develop a sense of the underlying cause of what’s going wrong,” said Dr. Loren Fishman, pioneer in the use of yoga therapy in physical medicine and rehabilitation and author of several books on the therapeutic use of yoga for healthy aging. “Once you quiet down enough to sense whatever it is that you’re doing wrong, be it bad biomechanics, poor lifestyle habits, chronic stress or whatever, you can undo those habits, and things tend to clear up.”
Over time, yoga may even help reduce the need for pain medication. It can help you to stretch and strengthen your body, increasing your strength and flexibility and effectively counteracting the tightness and weak muscles that cause many types of back pain.
“Back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions often result from unconscious habits,” Fishman said. “We may sit in a chair at work every day that makes us slump. Or we may be carrying things with bad biomechanics, which is often the cause of musculoskeletal difficulties and even herniated discs. So, once you learn to undo those and unwind the soft tissues, you can see great results.”
Preparing to practice
While an effective program of yoga for back pain can indeed be a valuable therapeutic tool, consult with your healthcare team before beginning your practice. If you’re given the green light, search for a certified yoga instructor or school in your area. When choosing an instructor, consider these factors:
- Certification: Be sure your instructor has completed a course of study at an accredited yoga center or institution.
- Training: Training as a yoga teacher takes time and effort. Find out how and where your instructor was trained. Ask about the schools or program completed.
- Specialties: If you have particular needs or specific health conditions, you want an instructor who knows how to work with them. Specialized instruction can include prenatal yoga, seniors or children’s yoga or yoga for persons with disabilities.
- Practice: A committed instructor practices regularly, if not daily.
- Continuing study: It’s important that instructors deepen their knowledge with training, workshops and classes.
Strike a pose
In this yoga pose, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place your hands on the ground. Lift your heels off the ground to create a square angle between your feet and legs. Your body should be in the shape of a V. Keep your back and legs extended and straight. If you’re a beginner, it’s fine to bend your knees a bit. Push your toes into the floor, and lengthen your spine and neck rather than try to hold them up awkwardly. Breathe deeply and continue to lengthen your spine as neck as well as your legs. Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths or longer if you are comfortable enough.
In this yoga pose, lie on your stomach with your forehead resting on floor. Place your hands on either side at the middle of your ribcage. Draw legs together, pressing tops of feet into floor. Reach back through toes, lengthen your legs and press evenly through your hands as you draw your elbows close to ribcage. Using the strength of your back, lift your chest and head, sliding your shoulder blades down back. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths before gently releasing to floor and lifting your head to turn it to one side.
This yoga pose is best done after the Cobra pose, as you are already close in formation. Kneel on the floor with your knees together. Exhale and lean forward into your thighs, placing your arms out in front of you. Reach forward with your back and lengthen your spine. Let your forehead rest on the floor if you can. You can rest your head on a yoga block to allow for full relaxation. Hold this pose for a minimum of one minute. Another variation is to move your arms behind you with your palms face up and with your hands and feet close to each other. Tuck tightly but comfortably. Allow your back to curve slightly and naturally. Hold for a minimum of 1 minute.
In this yoga pose, being by standing straight. Spread your feet out wider than your shoulders. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees and your left foot in by 15 degrees. Now align your center of right heel with the center of the arch of your left foot. Ensure that your feet are flat on the ground and your body weight is equally balanced on both the feet. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, bend your body to the right downward from the hips. Keep the waist straight and allow your left hand to come up in the air while your right hand comes down towards floor.
Keep both of your arms in a straight line. Rest your right hand on your shin, ankle or the floor outside of your right foot. Avoid distorting the sides of your waist. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling in line with the tops of your shoulders. Keep your head in a neutral position or turn it to the left, eyes gazing softly at the left palm. Be sure that your body is bent sideways and not backward or forward. Your pelvis and chest should be wide open. Stretch maximum and hold steady. Keep taking in long deep breaths. With each exhale, relax the body more and more. As you inhale, come up, bring your arms down to your sides, and straighten your feet. Repeat the same on the other side.
Have you practiced yoga for back pain? What’s your favorite yoga program?
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