When you suffer from back pain, beginning a new exercise routine is the last thing on your mind. But did you know that yoga is a great alternative exercise to relieve back pain? Think about it, calming yet strenuous yoga to help you relax your mind and your body. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
For centuries holistic healers have relied on yoga to treat patients with both physical and emotional problems. The essential part of treating all types of pain is to treat the source, which is what makes yoga an ideal treatment for back pain.
Developed in India several centuries ago, yoga is now practiced worldwide and is one of the most sought-after exercises classes around. Many people simplify yoga by calling it a “bunch of stretches and meditating” but that really is an oversimplification of the magic of yoga. Yoga relies on a variety of physical movements and poses through deep breathing to provide internal and external relaxation.
Each position in yoga must be held for an extended period of time–determined by the yoga instructor–to give the body time to stretch and strengthen the muscle being worked. Whole groups of muscles are targeted in some positions, with the goal being to reduce tension in the muscles and increase focus and relaxation. The deep and rhythmic breathing that is encouraged throughout each movement is intended to increase your intake of oxygen to maximize healing and, you guessed it, relaxation.
So how exactly does yoga help with pain other than by ‘relaxing’ you? Simple, here are just a few ways:
- Relaxation decreases pain related to muscle and body tension
- Strong core muscles improves back support, removing the tension in the back muscles
- Increases flexibility and strength in the back
- Reduces internal and external stress
- Improves posture
- Enhances your awareness of your body’s mechanics
3 Yoga Styles To Try
If you’ve ever looked at the roster of yoga classes available at your local gym, you’ve probably realized there is more than one style of yoga. Not all forms of yoga are right for those with back pain, but I’ve come up with a few styles that will relieve your pain.
Hatha is probably the style of yoga most westerners have witnessed or tried. It is slower and less intense than other styles, making it a great starting point when first becoming acquainted with yoga.
Gentle stretching and concentration allows you to improve overall flexibility while you work to strengthen the muscles in your back and abdomen. Back pain often dissipates right along with the tension of overly tight muscles after a few session of Hatha.
Vinyasa yoga is an ideal style for yoga newbies because of the simple poses used. The name Vinyasa means “breath synchronized movement” which about sums up this type of yoga as it incorporates breathing techniques with more active movements.
Vinyasa is a dynamic form of yoga because it requires participants to enter and exit poses rapidly. After each movement there is a period of relaxation so that you can focus on eliminating the tension in muscles that aren’t required for each movement.
This yoga style may be too intense if you’re out of shape or have severe back pain.
Iyengar yoga is an extension of Hatha. The focus on this style is body alignment, which I think makes it the perfect style of yoga for back pain. Why? Here’s why:
- Iyengar yoga focuses on appropriate body alignment
- The use of props such as blocks, benches, and straps help beginners into complicated poses they might not be able to support on their own
- Instructors are “hands-on,” correcting improper poses with verbal instruction
- Iyengar yoga was developed to address conditions such as chronic back pain
Back pain causes can be as plentiful as they are complex and sometimes the causes aren’t strictly physical. Because yoga focuses equally on physical and mental well-being through deep breathing and relaxation, you can physically relieve pain and mentally relieve tension aggravating your back pain.
Chronic back pain is commonly associated with anxiety and depression. Yoga allows you to release the negativity while giving you a positive way to address your pain.
Make yoga work for you by seeking out a qualified yoga instructor with specific experience in chronic back pain. Sign up for a yoga class and let us know how yoga works for your back pain in the comment section below.
Written By: Updated: February 3,2011