When you know something is right, you don’t require mountains of proof, but validation sure is nice every once in a while. So, when the news blasted through the popular media that yoga has a positive effect on chronic lower back pain, the validation train arrived.
Sometimes it seems monotonous to continue to respond to the multitude of reports that tout all the ways that yoga is of benefit to our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. It can feel if you are responding to the same things over and over again. But, when it’s right, it’s right. Yoga, in particular Hatha Yoga, when practiced correctly does help heal our physical bodies in a profound way. It also eases our minds lifting us out of the secondary effects of our physical ailments. The more studies that are done the more we find that yoga truly is a panacea for so many physical, mental and emotional ailments.
Hundreds if not thousands of dedicated yoga practitioners stepped on this path through an effort to address physical pain, often low back pain. Chronic low back pain currently plagues our Western society. In this country, we are spending $50 billion each year on low back pain related treatments. Low back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability, and is the one of the most common neurological ailment in the United States, second only to headaches.
The experience of chronic low back pain can be so uncomfortable and debilitating that it often has mental and emotional side effects, leading to depression and sometimes drug abuse. Low back injury and pain is one of the most common causes for missed work, which can snowball into a lot of other difficult life situations. The study that followed 90 people for six months concluded that the participants who were practicing yoga twice a week experienced both a significant reduction in discomfort and increased functionality at both the three and six month marks. The participants who were practicing yoga also reported decreased symptoms of depression.
It is sigmificant to note that the style of yoga that was practiced by participants in the study was Iyengar yoga. Iyengar yoga is a style of hatha yoga that concentrates heavily on principles of alignment and safety. It incorporates the use of props and modifications to create safety and comfort in a wide variety of asanas that may have seemed inaccessible to people with low back pain otherwise. For the asanas to have a sustainable effect on the source and effect of pain, it is important that they be practiced correctly. Iyengar yoga teaches correct alignment and safety within asana which can be of great benefit therapeutically.
Conversely, when done incorrectly or without awareness, the effect of asana practice can either help or exacerbate existing low back pain. Depending on the individual and the source of the pain, some yoga asanas might be counterindicated. So, it is important to find a knowledgeable and well-trained yoga teacher to guide you if you are embarking on a yoga practice specifically to address low back issues. All styles of yoga can be beneficial, if the instructor is has a strong understanding of the principles of safety and alignment. Has the practice of yoga had an effect on your low back pain? We would love to hear your story.