People start yoga for lots of different reasons, including wanting help with a specific need – improving posture, reducing stress, developing flexibility and so on- and very often they find yoga really helps and, as a result, become yoga devotees.
Many people turn to yoga as a way of improving their lower back. Often they find yoga invaluable and stick with it as they find their back is much improved, but sometimes people sadly give up on yoga because they think it makes their back pain worse.
So who is right?
As research by York University shows, yoga is very helpful for developing and maintaining a strong healthy back. The combination of strength, flexibility, healthy breathing and relaxation usually works well. However not all postures are appropriate for people who suffer from a bad back -at least to start with -and all practices need to be developed gradually.
Sometimes people believe that they have to do strong postures to benefit from yoga but this certainly isn’t true, particularly if someone has a weakness in part of the body.
It is much more effective to start off slowly and at the outset avoid postures that aren’t appropriate such as strong forward bends and back bends and approach with caution asymmetrical postures such as side bends.
Some people think it is ‘cheating’ to use a prop such as a cushion or the support of a wall to make seated postures comfortable. However everyone is different and to practise yoga intelligently it is important to listen to the body. Be prepared to do something different to the person next to you if it isn’t right for you-for example to lie down or sit on a chair for a breathing practice, if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable.
It is very helpful to learn to identify the difference between a healthy stretch and a stretch which is too intense at this moment in time.
If you suffer from chronic back pain ideally join a class where the yoga is gentle such as a beginners hatha yoga class or start off with one to one sessions so you get used to the yoga way of doing things-gently without pushing things to the limit.
If your only option is to go to a mixed ability class be prepared to let your body be your guide, err on the side of caution and don’t feel embarrassed about adapting or missing out postures, using the time to relax which is as invaluable as movement. Mention your back to your teacher as any qualified teacher should be able to advise you about which postures are helpful and any to avoid or approach with caution and suggest useful modifications and alternatives.
And remember your back condition has developed over time -so improvement will be noticeable but gradual.
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