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How Does Yoga Help Back Pain?

Updated on December 16, 2015
Supta padangusthasana
Supta padangusthasana

Practicing Yoga Can Help Relieve Back Pain

I've had many people come to my yoga classes with the hopes that they'll find back pain relief through the practice of yoga.

Some have been referred by friends who've had good experiences in my classes, and others come because their doctors recommended that they try yoga. Still others have read online that yoga can help relieve mild to moderate chronic back pain.

And does yoga help them? Yes! I'm happy to say that In many cases it does! When the yoga students regularly attend an appropriate level yoga class, they have reported back to me that their back pain has greatly improved. When they practice a few easy poses in between classes, they feel even better.

Some of these yoga students used to have bouts of back pain that lasted for days, if not weeks. Now these bouts occur less frequently and for shorter duration, and the pain is less severe.

This is anecdotal evidence, which is all fine and good, but there are also studies that back up what many of us yoga teachers have observed in our classes -- that the practice of yoga improve the overall health of our backs.

Photo is my own

"Yoga improves functional disability, pain intensity, and depression in adults with chronic low-back pain."

~ Dr. Kimberly Williams, Iyengar Yoga Therapy for Lower Back Pain

Iyengar yoga relieves back pain
Iyengar yoga relieves back pain

Iyengar Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain

Scientific study

One of the most significant and rigorous studies of Yoga and Lower Back Pain is from a recent clinical trial conducted by Dr. Kimberly Williams of the Department of Community Medicine at Virginia University. Dr. Williams is also an Iyengar yoga teacher (same style of yoga that I teach).

This study showed that people who did Iyengar Yoga were more successful in reducing their chronic low back pain (CLBP) and they suffered less depression than people who received standard medical therapy for low back pain.

In this trial 90 participants who had suffered from mild to moderate disability from chronic lower back pain for a number of years were randomly assigned to either the yoga group or the conventional back treatment group.

The yoga group participants attended two 90-minute Iyengar yoga classes each week, and were given a 30 minute practice sequence to do on days they didn't have a yoga class. They were taught yoga postures that focused on alleviating low back pain.

The non-yoga group continued to receive standard medical care for chronic low back pain (they were offered yoga instruction after the trial was finished).

At the end of the study, Williams and her colleagues concluded that "Yoga improves functional disability, pain intensity, and depression in adults with CLBP [chronic low-back pain]."

Image purchased from

Iyengar Yoga can relieve back pain
Iyengar Yoga can relieve back pain

How Can You Relieve Back Pain With Yoga?

Take a yoga class to improve back health!

Yoga poses, when practiced mindfully and with attention to good alignment, stretch and strengthen muscles in the back, and ease stiffness in the spine.

For best results, take a yoga class from a well-trained, knowledgeable teacher who can instruct you how to do yoga postures with good alignment to achieve optimal health benefits with less likelihood of injury.

You might find "Yoga for Healthy Backs" classes in your area, but a regular Beginning Level yoga class or a Gentle Yoga class will often work just as well.

My background is in Iyengar Yoga, and I know from experience that it is very effective in reducing back pain as long as you take a class that suits your experience and fitness level. Iyengar yoga has a strong focus on learning to do yoga postures with attention to good alignment. Props such as blankets, straps, blocks, and even chairs or the wall, are used to help people move more easily into yoga postures with good alignment. Poor alignment can lead to more injury.

Image from Harvard Health Publications: Lower back pain? Yoga therapy can help showing how yoga props can be used to make poses easier, for better effects. "A" is revolved triangle pose, with and without support. "B" is half-forward bend, with and without support.

Find a Well-Trained Yoga Teacher

Heal Your Back Under the Guidance of a Good Yoga Teacher

If you want to take a yoga class to help your low back pain, find a good teacher in your area.

My training is as a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher, and I highly recommend this method. "Certified Iyengar Yoga instructors are held to an unusually rigorous standard of knowledge and training. They can work effectively with students of all ages and physical abilities, modifying the yoga asanas (postures) so that all students may practice yoga safely. " (from Find an Iyengar Yoga Teacher)

To find a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher in your area search the:

Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers Listings

There are many other good yoga teachers too, of course, who will be able to help you.

Another yoga teacher listing is at:

Yoga Alliance

If you try a class, and don't like the teacher or the method, or the class just isn't working for you, try another one.

Yoga for back pain relief
Yoga for back pain relief

Online Guides

I strongly recommend that you take a class from a well-trained yoga teacher to learn how to do yoga postures to help relieve your chronic back pain. You'll get a much better results under the guidance of a good yoga teacher.

However, if taking a yoga class isn't feasible for you right now, check out the following online guides for suggestions.

The following two guides show very simple yoga poses that are safe and effective for most people. Still, if you have concerns, please talk to your doctor or physical therapist first. Many of these yoga postures are similar to exercises prescribed by physical therapists for low back pain.

Yoga for Healthy Backs -- Books and DVDs

If you can't find an appropriate yoga class, there are a number of books and DVDs that can help you safely learn basic poses to help with your back problems. I've included some suggestions below. I've only included products with very high consumer ratings (over 4 out of 5 stars on the average).

But please, if your back pain is moderate to severe, discuss this with your health care professional first before trying these programs!

Back Care Basics - A Doctor's Gentle Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief

Author and doctor, Mary Schatz, uses therapeutic techniques from Iyengar Yoga to help heal their backs. This is the first book that I recommend to my students who ask for supplementary material for working with their back pain.

Back Care Basics: A Doctor's Gentle Yoga Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief
Back Care Basics: A Doctor's Gentle Yoga Program for Back and Neck Pain Relief
From the Product Description: Back Care Basics offers the low-cost solution for back care....Dr. Schatz's approach to back rehabilitation is gentle, effective, and without drugs or surgery. Her program encourages both positive health practices and a positive outlook; the important tools needed for prevention and healing. Dr. Schatz has designed this program to help those with pain from chronic musculoskeletal back and neck strain, spinal arthritis, osteoporosis, premenstrual syndrome, pregnancy, and scoliosis. Simple and practical ways to heal the back, restructure the body, and cope with stress are taught so that one becomes more sensitive to early warning signs of an impending "back attack" and what to do to ward it off.

Viniyoga Therapy for the Low Back, Sacrum & Hips - with Gary Kraftsow

Gary Kraftsow is one of the leading yoga therapists, and founder of the American Viniyoga Association. Viniyoga an approach to yoga that is adapted to the needs of the individual.

Viniyoga Therapy for the Low Back, Sacrum & Hips with Gary Kraftsow
Viniyoga Therapy for the Low Back, Sacrum & Hips with Gary Kraftsow
From the Product Description: Viniyoga Therapy for the Low Back, Sacrum and Hips features short, simple therapeutic yoga practices carefully designed to alleviate pain and promote health in the low back, sacrum and hips.

Yoga for the Rest of Us - Back Care Basics - with Peggy Cappy

You may have seen some of Peggy Cappy's Yoga for the Rest of Us programs on your local PBS station. Her DVDs are easily accessible for most people.

Yoga for the Rest of Us - Back Care Basics
Yoga for the Rest of Us - Back Care Basics
These simple but powerful exercises stretch and strengthen your back muscles, alleviate back pain caused by muscular tension, and with regular practice, keep back pain from returning!

Do You Suffer From Back Pain?

Have you tried yoga to help with your back problems? You can also leave a more detailed comment after you vote.

Do you have back problems? Have you tried yoga to help your back?

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Do you practice yoga? Has it helped you with back problems or other issues? Did you learn something new here?


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