Many curious beginners are intimidated by the acrobatic, gravity-defying poses splashed across magazine covers and Facebook pages and rightfully question whether yoga is safe for them. The answer, as with many of life’s great questions, is… sort of. Advanced yoga asanas, especially when performed solely for the purposes of physical fitness involve a great deal of strain on joints, tendons and ligaments which can lead to injury as in any other sport.
In my last article , I introduced some recent studies that suggest that yoga can be helpful in the management of lower back pain. So far so good, but which specific asanas can be beneficial to the back-pain sufferer? And more importantly, can certain asanas actually be dangerous for some people?
Dr. Sinaki, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic, U.S.A. describes how spinal flexion exercises (ie. forward bends) has been associated in rare cases with compression fractures of the vertebrae in patients with osteopenia (low bone density not severe enough to be considered osteoporosis). He singles out Halasana, or Plow Pose, as one asana which may put undue strain on the upper back in patients with osteopenia.
So how can you tell if your body is ready for a particular asana? Remember that the very definition of the word ‘asana’ is ‘stable posture.’ The true benefits of any asana only become apparent when you are able to steadily and comfortably hold the posture while remaining in touch with your body. If your body is telling you that it cannot take the strain, it is probably right.
Which brings us back to our original question: what yoga asanas can be useful in relieving back pain? In her 2009 study comparing an Iyengar yoga program to standard treatment for sufferers of low back pain, Dr. Kimberley Williams of West Virginia University consulted with two senior teachers to design a gentle twice-weekly Iyengar yoga regimen suitable for beginners. The sequence of postures can be found via the following links:
So remember, yoga can indeed be the key to a healthier, happier back… as long you don’t overdo it!
Sinaki, M. Yoga spinal flexion positions and vertebral compression fracture in osteopenia or osteoporosis of spine: case series. Pain Pract. 2013 Jan;13(1):68-75.
Williams, K. et al. Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficacy of Iyengar yoga therapy on chronic low back pain. Spine. 2009 Sep 1;34(19):2066-76
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins