By Emily Lark
At 12 years old, I was in a debilitating accident that left me in pain that spanned for years into adulthood.
When I discovered yoga, it was a life-changer for me. It erased back pain I had thought was incurable, it transformed my body and it even changed my entire outlook on life.
But as much as yoga has healed my back… there have been times when it has hurt me just as much.
And because of this healing/hurting dynamic in yoga, I have gone through phases when I praised it as the best thing that ever happened to me…
…and then avoided it for months – as if betrayed by a friend.
It took working as a yoga teacher for over a decade for me to discover the precise balance needed for yoga to provide the kind of safe and effective results some would call miraculous.
You see, when done correctly, yoga really can reverse symptoms of aging, regenerate strength and flexibility, and prove that pain does not have to be an inevitable part of getting older.
In fact, sometimes finding the right yoga stretch can be all you need to eliminate back pain and even sciatica.
I have found many precise yoga techniques that can help your back without risking injury. Here are two of my favorites, as well as a red flag that signals you may need to modify your routine to protect your back.
Two Surprising Ways Yoga Helps Back Pain
1. Yoga Creates Core Strength While Maintaining Mobility
When most people think about yoga, they picture super bendy people sweating and stretching in a hot room. But while yoga is great for increasing flexibility, it also does a fantastic job of creating core strength and stabilizing your pelvis and spine.
And it isn’t just the common ab-strengthening exercises, like boat pose or plank, that build a strong core. ANY yoga posture or sequence can create core strength if you are mindful about contracting your core while you do them.
Not sure how to engage your core? Here are my three favorite tips for engaging your core:
- Draw your belly button back toward your spine.
- As you draw your belly in, lift it up toward your ribcage like an elevator.
- Imagine you can use your low belly muscles (below your belly button) to draw your hip bones inward toward each other and pull them in.
2. Yoga Facilitates Healing From the Inside Out
When we fixate on pain, not only does our perceived pain increase, our actual physical injuries can fail to heal or even get worse.
That is because feelings of pain lead us to become more sedentary and increase tension. Stress and tension lead to tighter muscles that not only feel achy and tender, they restrict healthy blood flow to the areas that need it to heal and repair. Feelings of pain and stress also lead to decreased activity, which has been shown to cause longer recovery time.
This stress/pain cycle can be very hard to break.
Yoga has been proven to reduce internal and external stress while developing greater body awareness. Relaxation aids in healing by increasing blood flow and decreasing the pain related to body tension.
Try this simple Body Scan Exercise that helps release stress and facilitate healing in just minutes:
Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying on your back, and allow your eyes to close.
Take notice of your breath and see if you can deepen your inhales and slow your exhales.
Now bring your attention to your body and scan through your body from the tips of your toes up to the top of your head – noticing any areas that feel tense and tight.
When you notice a tight muscle or area, take a deep breath in and imagine that your breath can fill into the area of tightness. As you exhale, feel the tight muscles releasing with your breath, like a deflating balloon. Continue to “breathe into” tight muscles and use your exhales to release tension.
One Way Yoga Can Make Your Back Pain Worse
There is one major red flag that I see all the time when it comes to yoga and back pain: many yoga practices have not been adapted to fit the needs of our modern bodies.
Yoga teachers are trained extensively to maintain the precise traditions of this ancient practice. But many yoga postures need to be updated and adapted to give the most anatomical benefit and decrease the risk of injury. In fact, many yoga postures need to be just plain kicked to the curb.
With everything we have learned from modern exercise science, it’s time for yoga teachers to admit there are some postures that just shouldn’t be taught anymore. Take headstand for example: why would we expect our cervical spine (the neck) to hold the weight of our entire body? And even if it can, what is the benefit from placing that much strain on your head and neck?
Thankfully, there are many wonderful yoga postures that can help fix back pain without harmful risk. But it’s important to seek out a program that is designed intelligently for back health.
After surviving a near-fatal accident as a child, and living much of my life in excruciating pain, I spent years spinning my wheels looking for relief. I tried almost every kind of medical treatment available and nothing worked.
That’s why I feel so fortunate and amazed to have found the precise yet simple yoga moves that healed my back and have kept me pain-free for over a decade now. I’d love to share what I’ve learned with you.
Start by clicking the link below to see a stretch you can try right now that often relieves back pain and sciatica extremely fast.