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We see a lot of patients who have been recommended yoga as an aid to back pain, but is yoga actually good for your spine? In theory, yoga should be used as a strengthening tool which is where its benefits can lie in helping your core and back muscles to support your spine. This again should lead to an increased amount of strength around your spine that can help to stabilise areas that can be the most susceptible to injury. While certain yoga poses may well be beneficial to back pain, the temptation lies in that if something is good for you and feels good at the same time, to do it everyday or multiple times per week. If you’re doing yoga regularly it can also be easy to become too confident in your practice and risk potentially neglecting form which could have a huge impact on the health of your spine while practicing yoga.

Why is Yoga Not Good For Back Pain?

Form plays an important role in most forms of physical exercise, and when this form relies on your back and core muscles it can mean a greater chance of injury if it’s neglected. In the same way you can injure yourself easily when you overlook form when lifting weights, yoga movements need to be slow and controlled. Some positions will also need to be avoided because they can be particularly compressive, which if you have structural issues in your spine, a disc bulge or any nerve impingement, you should be aware of what poses can be problematic. These poses tend to generally be ones that require you to perform a certain twist in the body, or have some kind of forward or backwards bend. Camel pose requires an overextension backwards, a wheel (also known as a bridge) requires a huge amount of strength while also has a significant backward bend, forward folds, shoulder stands and lunge twists that can be a part of many a chaturanga, should all be avoided in order to not exacerbate this kind of back problem. More focused advice on what to avoid when you have back pain is better sought from a qualified, knowledgeable yoga instructor, and ideally in a smaller class setting or even purely 1 on 1 training. When taking part in a yoga class there is a great deal of trust placed in the instructor to perform the class in a safe way, but realistically it can be difficult to keep an eye on every single participant in the room to make sure they’re performing a move in a safe, controlled way that is not going to result in injury.

Combining Yoga with Other Exercise

The main issue at The Mayfair Clinic we have with yoga, is that a lot of people tend to stick to just one thing for exercise. Whether that’s gym workouts, running, cycling or yoga, there is very often a lack of variety in an exercise routine. Yoga can be a fantastic form of exercise that can help support your posture and increase your flexibility, but it works even better when paired with other exercises such as those mentioned before. The flexibility that yoga brings, without the muscular strength can mean that you have overly flexible joints and no supportive structure around them to protect against injury. Being flexible can be beneficial, but there is a point when you simply become too loose in your joints. The tension in muscles and ligaments needed to support a body that is hyper-mobile can be far greater than you would necessarily think is required for a yoga class.

Can Yoga Improve Your Posture?

Another problem can well be, if you have bad standing or sitting posture going into a yoga class, you’re probably only going to be reinforcing the bad posture unless you have an instructor who will correct you when you’re performing something incorrectly. Again, unless you’re in a 1 on 1 yoga class, awareness of your form by the instructor is most likely going to be loose. In a larger class, the ability level can be wide – from a complete beginner who has never been in a yoga class before, to a more experienced person who goes every week. The most common places to experience misalignments are in the neck or lower back, if you regularly spend time with your head bent forwards – perhaps while slouching at work, on the sofa or in bed, and attempt a headstand in yoga imagine what putting your entire body weight is going to do for you.

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Yoga for Building Core Strength

Going to yoga might be a way for you to strengthen your core and back muscles, but everyone has to start from somewhere. Attempting poses that are beyond your capabilities can seem beneficial because eventually you’ll be able to do the pose, right? But, take a pose like the wheel which requires a huge amount of core muscle strength, if you don’t possess the appropriate strength you might end up doing some damage to your lower back or sacroiliac region. If you’re not able to perform the pose without making certain adjustments, such as turning the feet or tucking the pelvis, you most likely shouldn’t be attempting it.

Stretching your body during a yoga class can also be one of the main benefits of attending a class. If you have regularly tight or sore muscles, the gentle stretches yoga brings can feel soothing to the body. But if you do have certain sides of the body that are tighter than others, this may mean that you tend to be able to stretch deeper on the opposite side. Over time, rather than stretching them equally, leaning deep into a stretch on a side that isn’t tight could mean that you develop more imbalances in your muscle strength, something that definitely isn’t helpful when it comes to dealing with back pain or helping to prevent an injury.

Finally, back to the issue of trust in an instructor. While you may place your trust in a yoga teacher, it’s worth bearing in mind that it can be easier nowadays to get a yoga teaching qualification. Not all teachers are created equally, although it would be ideal if they were! Look for an instructor who comes highly recommended and performs a well-informed class, and ideally combine yoga with another form of exercise. With back pain, gentle exercise can be beneficial in providing blood circulation into your spine.