How yoga can help to relieve chronic back pain

Aug 18

Arhanta Yoga Teacher TrainingYoga 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 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.
Yoga pose bridge setubandha asana

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.

Bhujangasana cobra yoga exercise
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 Matsyendra Asana

Half Spinal Twist gives a gentle twist and stretch to the spine and therefore relieves lower back pain and neck pain.

yoga backpain half spinal twist ardha matsyendra asana

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

Even though yoga can be very helpful and pain relieving for people struggling with back pain, it is very important to keep listening to your own body during your practice and to use modifications and props when required. You can also adjust the duration of the poses according to your own situation.

If you want to learn more about different yoga asanas, their benefits, how to practice them and which modifications to use in which situation, follow a Yoga teacher training course with Arhanta Yoga in India or in the Netherlands.