Over the last few decades, the ancient practice of yoga has become an increasingly popular form of exercise in the Western world. Whether you prefer a vigorous physical practice or something more relaxing and meditative, the various styles of yoga offer something for everyone.
Yoga has become a preferred form of exercise for many patients suffering from back pain or recovering from an injury; its attraction often lies in the individual nature of the practice and the opportunity for modifications. Besides helping to alleviate pain, a regular yoga practice can also help restore mobility and work to prevent future injury.
Though they vary in method and practice, each style of yoga is grounded in three main components: body posture, breathing, and meditation. When it comes to back pain or injury, finding poses that don’t cause any excess pain is essential to developing a safe and effective practice. Once the fundamental movements have been established, the physical benefits abound. Some of these benefits include:
- Strengthening of targeted muscle groups. Yoga challenges you to hold certain poses anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or more. Holding is what increases strength in the muscle. Especially important for the spine are poses that require the use of the core muscles, which help with spinal movement and stability and help to reduce the risk of injury.
- Stretching and relaxation. While you are holding a pose, certain muscles flex, allowing the antagonistic muscles to stretch and relax. An example of this is the hamstring and hip muscles, which can be the culprit in many instances of low back pain. Stretching the hamstring and hip muscles expands motion in the pelvis, helping to reduce stress on the low back. In addition, stretching improves circulation and brings much needed healing nutrients to damaged tissues.
- Posture and balance. Yoga poses focus on proper alignment, and you may even hear, “Stack bones on bones.” In order to accomplish this stacking, it is necessary to bring head, shoulders, and pelvis into alignment. With consistent practice, this stacking will become natural and you will notice an overall improvement in your posture. Allowing the weight of the bones to support each other will reduce tension in the muscles and help avoid lower back pain.
- Body awareness. After you have been practicing yoga for a while, you may start to notice an increase in flexibility and also an awareness of your body’s limitations. This awareness is important in preventing future injury, as you will know which motions should be avoided.
Many of our readers have expressed interest in incorporating yoga into their exercise and rehabilitation routines but are unsure of how it will affect their pain. Fellow readers who have tried yoga shared some advice in our forums:
- Before beginning a yoga practice, it is essential that you consult with your doctor, especially if you have had spine surgery. Depending on your specific condition, yoga may not be an advisable exercise.
- Often back pain can make forward bending and spinal twisting very uncomfortable, at the least. Make modifications when necessary. Forcing a painful posture will only make things worse.
- Try a slower, gentler style of yoga, such as Iyengar. Iyengar yoga focuses on proper body alignment and precise movements, and uses props like blocks or straps to make poses more comfortable. This type of yoga is very conducive to modification.
- Find an instructor who has experience with back patients. A well-trained, knowledgeable instructor will be able to guide you in which poses you should and shouldn’t do, and can offer modifications whenever necessary. If possible, schedule some private lessons with an instructor for more individualized help in creating the right yoga practice for you.