As research studies continue to validate claims of the many benefits of yoga, there are still skeptics out there who try to dispute them. A recent article in the online journal Independent Woman, Chrissie Russell posed the question “Is Yoga Actually Bad for You?” citing two studies which she states didn’t show yoga as effective relief for back pain. Closer examination shows that both studies actually showed that yoga is an effective way to treat lower back pain. While one study’s results showed that that yoga wasn’t more effective than a simple stretching class, the primary researcher stated that she may have confounded her own results by making the stretching class too much like a yoga class, rather than like the typical stretch classes found at most gyms.
Citing the University of York’s study on yoga and back pain, Russell states that “several people…actually claimed to be in more back pain after the [yoga] classes.” However, she fails to accurately represent the findings of the study which in fact state that the the majority of the participants “experienced greater improvements in back function and more confidence in performing everyday tasks than those offered conventional forms” of treatment. This study actually showed clear short and long-term benefits, and the effects of yoga on easing lower back pain were statistically significant. The margin of error wasn’t incredibly impressive, but when researchers checked in with participants after nine months, more than half were still practicing yoga at least twice a week. As the lead instructor in the study pointed out, this is really the point. Practicing yoga isn’t a one-time cure all, but a lifestyle change that can show significant results when done regularly.
Despite the title, Russell’s article doesn’t completely dismiss the benefits of yoga. She interviews a physical therapist who makes the point that any exercise program can be picked apart, and that not all yoga is created equal, nor are all yoga teachers. Finding a style and instructor that suit your needs can make all the difference. If you are coming to yoga to ease back pain, you won’t be very well served starting with power yoga style classes.
The popularity of yoga has changed the practice, with many styles having no resemblance to their Indian roots. While chanting and complicated breathing exercises may not be necessary to achieve positive results, listening to your own body’s cues is still an important part of the practice to avoid injury. Yoga is not meant to be a competitive sport, so if you begin to look around the room rather than within, you are more likely to miss the signals your own body is giving you to back off a pose, or slightly alter your alignment.
Antidotal evidence of yoga injuries can serve to be a reminder to us to remain aware during practice, to listen and learn from our mistakes.
Have you ever felt worse after practicing yoga? If so, tell us what happened.