How yoga can help to relieve chronic back pain
Yoga is an ancient practice deeply rooted in the Indian culture and philosophy. Since over 5000 years people practice yoga asanas for health purpose. Yoga poses are combined with breathing techniques, meditation and relaxation, providing people numerous benefits on both the body and the mind. However, even though yoga has been practiced since such a long time, people are not fully aware of its possibilities and benefits. Up until recently there was very little research done on the subject and yoga was simply classified as a mystical practice. But lately the benefits of yoga have also caught the eye of scientists and more and more scientific research is done on the physical and mental benefits of yoga.
Why yoga practice relieves back pain
Recent studies have suggested that a carefully adapted yoga sequence can reduce chronic lower back pain and improve a person’s ability to walk and move. NCCIH (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health) funded a study of 90 people with chronic lower back pain which showed that the people who practiced Iyengar Yoga had significantly less pain, disability and depression after 6 months.
Dr. Padmini Tekur and co. conducted a 7 day trial at the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation with 80 patients suffering from chronic lower back pain. The patients were divided into 2 groups, one group following yoga therapy and the other following physical therapy. The results showed that yoga practice is more effective than physical therapy in improving spinal mobility and reducing pain, anxiety and depression.
There are various elements which can explain the statements above:
- First of all, yoga exercises strengthen the back muscles and the abdominal muscles. Both of those muscle groups are essential for keeping a proper and straight body posture and for movement of the body. By strengthening those muscles and increasing their control and awareness, back pain can be significantly reduced or avoided.
- Secondly, besides strengthening, yoga exercises also stretch the muscles and allow them to relax. People with lower back pain can benefit a lot from stretching not only the back muscles, but the entire body. By stretching the hamstring muscles for example, the motion of the pelvis expands and tension and stress in the lower back is reduced.
- Yoga exercises stimulate blood flow throughout the body, allowing nutrients to be carried through the body and toxins to be removed from the body. As a result, overall nourishment of the lumbar muscles and soft tissues is improved.
- Regular yoga practice helps to improve body posture. Poor posture is a common cause of back pain. Improving posture will preserve the natural curve of the spine, reduce pressure and tension of the back and therefore relieve back pain.
3 gentle yoga exercises for the back
- Bridge Pose – Setubandhasana
Bridge Pose gives a stretch to the spine and neck and opens the chest. It is a very beneficial pose to relieve anxiety, stress, fatigue and back pain.
How to come into the pose:
- Lie down on your back, bend your legs and place your feet as close to your hips as possible. Place your arms by your side, palms facing down
- On an inhalation push your palms into the floor and lift your pelvis up as high as you can
- Reach with your fingertips to your ankles and bring your chest to your chin
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds
- Classical Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana
Classical Cobra Pose strengthens the back muscles and stimulates the abdominal organs. Lower back pain is often due to lack of back strength. Depending on the level of back pain, hold this pose for 10-30 seconds.
Coming into Bhujangasana:
- Lie on your belly, forehead on the floor, hands next to your chest, feet together
- Breathe in, push your belly into the floor and lift your chest off the floor as high as possible
- Lift your hands off the floor and look diagonally up
- Half Spinal Twist – Ardha Matseyandrasana
Half Spinal Twist gives a gentle twist and stretch to the spine and therefore relieves lower back pain and neck pain.
Half Spinal Twist step by step:
- Sit on your knees in Diamond Pose (Vajra asana)
- Shift your weight to the right and make sure you sit on both your sitting bones, your right foot is next to your left hip
- Place your left foot on the outside of your right knee
- Place your left hand behind your spine
- Place your right elbow on the outside of your left knee
- Look over your left shoulder and twist
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds and repeat the same on the other side