Yoga is a widespread practice renowned for its ability to heal the body and mind. Those that participate in this holistic form of exercise swear by the apparent benefits. From improved mental health to increased flexibility and strength, there are many claimed advantages to incorporating yoga into one’s routine. One claim in particular states that yoga is good for the spine. From a chiropractor’s perspective, is this true? Let’s take a look at the facts.
What is Yoga?
Founded in India around 2700 B.C., yoga is a gentle mind-body practice meant to maintain back strength and flexibility. Originally, it was meant to deepen the practitioner’s meditation practice as well as help them to marry their individual consciousness with that of a “Universal Consciousness”.
While many individuals still rely on yoga for spiritual fulfillment, there are plenty of yogis that use the practice strictly for the physical benefits. Each posture, or pose, is meant to strengthen and stretch the muscles. In combination with breath work, yoga can not only help relieve muscle tension, but can also reduce stress, improve balance, and strengthen bones.
There are eight different styles of yoga. Hatha yoga is the most common form practiced in the west. As mentioned, yoga finds its roots in a spiritual background. Hatha yoga is the physical piece of the practice focusing on a series of poses called Asanas. The breathing technique associated with the practice is called Pranayama. The poses range from basic to complex but regardless of the difficulty level, Hatha yoga aims to provide an array of physical and mental benefits.
So, Is It Actually Good for Spinal Health?
Yoga is noted as one of the most effective methods for reducing lower back pain. Part of the reason yoga was invented was to help the participant sit in meditation for longer. Many of the poses were designed to strengthen and stretch the back muscles. These benefits are still useful today even for those who don’t meditate. A regular yoga practice can improve back mobility and posture over time.
Muscles such as the paraspinal muscles, the multifidus muscles, and the transverse abdominis all help to stabilize the spine. Yoga helps to strengthen and loosen all of these muscles. In turn, yoga can help to reduce lower back pain as well as promote a healthy spine.
Back and spine pain may also take a heavy emotional toll on the sufferer as well. The mindful breathing and slow movements of yoga may also help to reduce stress as well as combat anxiety and depression.
Benefits of Yoga for the Spine
Yoga can offer a range of health advantages for the body and mind. Those who maintain a regular yoga practice, roughly 2 – 5 times a week, can enjoy benefits for the spine such as…
Improved Range of Motion
Each yoga pose works to encourage flexibility and strength. While isolated stretching does have its benefits, yoga helps to stretch more muscles across the body. This can encourage functional flexibility and a better range of motion. When you focus on holistic stretching, you’ll see increased pain reduction in problem areas. So say you have lower back pain; not only will yoga stretch that area, but it will also encourage flexibility in other areas associated with back pain such as the hamstrings.
One of the most notable benefits of yoga is the effect it can have on mental health. Stress can be a huge factor in muscle tightness throughout the body. This is especially prominent in the back and neck. Yoga is known to reduce stress, anxiety, and even depression. The breathe work and slow motions of the practice encourage mindfulness which is known to help the mental state. With a more balanced mind, you can ease tension in the spine and even speed up the healing and recovery process.
Poor posture can be a telltale sign of a weak core. When the core is weak, we tend to contort our spine into harmful positions that can lead to discomfort and injury. Yoga helps to strengthen the core and encourages proper posture. As you learn to sit up straight both on and off the mat, you can reverse unhealthy spinal curvature and eliminate chronic back pain.
Yoga can help your body navigate day-to-day life with more comfort and agility. As you teach your muscles to stabilize while in different postures, it can lead to a more connected body and mind. Better daily agility and body awareness may help you avoid spinal injuries, joint and muscle stiffness, nerve impingements, poor posture, and more.
Moving from pose to pose can be a fantastic way to gently build muscle. A traditional workout routine isn’t going to be cohesive with all lifestyles – especially if you experience frequent spine and back pain. Yoga is a great alternative to achieving stronger muscles and maintaining a healthy physique.
How Can I Safely Do Yoga With Back Pain?
If you suffer from chronic back pain, yoga may be a good option for you. But there are certain protocols you should follow in order to reap the highest benefits while also avoiding injury.
Before starting a yoga routine, you may want to talk to your chiropractor about whether or not you should pursue this activity. Certain back problems such as spinal fractures or a slipped disc won’t be cohesive with the poses and movements of yoga.
If you are cleared to start a yoga program, it’s important to follow safety standards while in class. Never push yourself past your body’s limits. There’s no need to stretch or contort your body in ways it’s not ready to move in yet.
Before class, be sure to inform your instructor of your back pain and limitations. They can help you move into protective modifications for certain poses to support your back. You may even be able to find yoga classes specifically designed for back relief and spine support.
Safety Tips for Yoga
Just like with any type of exercise, injuries can occur while doing yoga if you’re not careful – especially when it comes to the back. Here are some safety standards to keep in mind when doing yoga:
- Don’t quickly “drop” into a pose. Ease into each movement gradually to maintain the proper form and speed. Think lengthening rather than jerking.
- Use your muscles to create a solid foundation for movement. You don’t want to put too much emphasis on stretching and balancing without activating the proper muscles.
- Try not to twist and extend at the same time as this can put undue pressure on the intervertebral joints.
- Don’t be afraid to use props such as blocks or bolsters as this additional support will help stabilize you as you create more flexibility and strength.
- Master easy poses and then move on to harder poses. These foundational postures will help you build your practice over time.
- If a move feels uncomfortable, back off. No need to push yourself too hard. This can result in discomfort and possible injury.
- Lean on your instructor for added support. If you can’t move into a certain pose, ask for modification options.
Poses for Back Pain
- Child’s pose
- Sphinx pose
- Downward-facing dog
- Extended triangle
- Bridge pose
- Pigeon pose
- Forward bend
Explore these and other yoga poses at the Yoga Journal A-Z Directory of Yoga Poses