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Can I practice yoga if I have a bad back?

Jason Brown (New York, NY) on Sep 21, 2011
There are many possible issues that could constitute a "bad back." If you have a recently herniated disc, you should consult your doctor or PT to determine the direction of the herniation. Generally speaking, be mindful to not overly flex your lower spine during any kind of forward bending. Try to come into forward bending postures by tilting your pelvis, keeping your lower back as neutral as possible. For backbends and twisting, engage your pelvic floor and transverse abdominal muscles (the ones that contract when you cough) to add stability to the spine. Another possible cause of back pain are trigger points that can develop in the lower back muscles (due to overstretching) or upper back muscles (due to chronic tension and stress). Generally speaking, a program that includes back strengthening, glute and hamstring stretching, and periodic massage would help improve things considerably. Other causes of back pain include degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and stenosis (narrowing of the vertebral canal). With these issues, the approach is very individual. Let pain be your guide. Move slowly and pay attention to what you're feeling. Some movement is better than no movement at all, but be mindful in ALL yoga postures so you don't overdo it. My feeling is that most postures in yoga can be practiced safely, even if you have back issues. Work with an instructor well versed in anatomy who can help you to safely explore your limitations and appropriate range of motion.
Stephanie Culen (New York, NY) on Sep 21, 2011
Yes, yoga postures can be extremely beneficial for hurting backs and bad backs. It is always good to work with a certified yoga instructor to assist you with the correct positioning of the postures so you don't exacerbate an existing condition. Some of the best strengtheners for back issues are simple lunges, standing poses and gentle back bends. Forward folding is often not helpful for bad backs and should be moderate and gentle. Always use soft, bent knees when practicing yoga and the back will slowly begin to feel better.
Kim-Lien Kendall (New York, NY) on Sep 21, 2011
There is no such thing as a "bad" back, and that kind of thinking can lead one to resent and limit their own bodies. There are certainly physical limitations and pain that we can have that cause us to feel as if our back is not as healthy as we want it to be, but ultimately our backs are good and our bodies are good. As far as having a physical injury, pain or instability and doing yoga goes, there are some modifications you must consider. Despite what some yoga teachers may tell you, there is no one pose that fixes it all and certainly not just a few poses to avoid with a "bad" back. There are also other factors to consider, such as whether or not you have had surgery, how severe your injury is and how long you have had it. Generally, any position where your spine is too flexed (rounded) is not great for disk herniations where the bulge is in the rear of the vertebrae. Extreme side bends should be skipped by those with side herniations. Also, backbends may not be great for those with a spinal stenosis. The general rule of thumb is that if the pose causes pain that is not associated with muscle tissue stretching (anything sharp or shooting, especially), then that particular pose should be avoided for the time being until your body has time to heal, or until the proper strength and stability can be built up. I am not one to ask my students with limitations to limit their movements (as in when you hear "if it hurts just don't do it), but instead to find a safer way for the body to express this type of movement. This is why a private instructor, with a strong familiarity of the way the body works, is the best way to go for people with limitations. That is the only way to properly assess if what you are doing is totally right for your body at that point in time.
Melissa Gutierrez (New York, NY) on Sep 21, 2011
Yes, and you probably should. It has been proven time and again that yoga helps many back problems. The key is to practice under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher that: 1) Has a strong knowledge of anatomy. When you describe your back pain, your teacher will be able to tailor your yoga practice to your needs in a clear and concrete way. 2) Can look at your body as a whole and help you to see how these problems may be the result of other issues that seem unrelated. 3) Can show you how to implement the new healthy movement you're learning into your daily life. It doesn't help to do a pretty yoga sequence if everything you do off the mat is still contributing to your bad back.
Megan Ridge (Bethlehem, PA) on Sep 21, 2011
Absolutely. Seek out a gentle yoga class at first and see how your back feels afterwards. If anything hurts, come out of the pose.
Deborah Caruana (New York, NY) on Sep 21, 2011
If the pain is sharp, get it checked out right away. If its dull and achy, practice restorative yoga. Listen to your body. If it hurts ease up. Gently stretch your hamstrings. Do gentle cobras with breath. Work your core for support (gently). If the pain lasts more than a few days, get it checked out with a sports medicine specialist.
Archarya Girish Jha (Marlboro, NJ) on Oct 8, 2011
why not but it all depends on the teacher what and how he helps you in introducing groups of practices . yoga is much more than the practices of poses alone if you ask Buddha - how many poses he practiced. he will smile and keep silent as yoga is consciousness based approach that applies different groups of practices in managing any issue be in peace and keep smiling Acharya Girish Jha