Can practicing yoga help relieve your back pain?  An interesting study was published this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine (for more information, see

It showed that Iyengar style yoga was helpful for chronic lower back pain – more helpful than only conventional medical treatment.  The study was done in the UK and lasted 12 weeks.  Participants who did yoga in addition to conventional medical care experienced improved back function and more confidence in performing daily movements, compared with those who did not do yoga.

More than half of the participants in the study kept up their yoga practice after 9 months, and the benefits continued for 9 months.  It’s really important to continue to practice, because you can lose gains you’ve made if you stop moving your body in healthy ways.  As the familiar saying goes, “Use it or lose it!”

The Yoga of Daily Life

If you blend Iyengar-style yoga with the postural alignments of the Balance Method, you can have even more impact on your pain and discomfort.  If you are changing your daily posture (how you sit, stand, bend, and sleep) as well as practicing yoga with healthy alignment, you can make a powerful difference in your comfort level.  Bringing healthy postural guidelines into daily movements gives you the leverage of many more hours per day to relieve and heal your back.

Not every style of yoga may help.  Be careful which classes you attend if you have back pain.  You can see previous posts on my blog for more information.  Just go to and search for yoga under the Categories index.  In those posts I’ve given you tips for practicing yoga without hurting your back.  Here are a few more tips.

3 Tips for a Safe Yoga Practice

1) Don’t push past your limits.  Yoga is not a competition, though in our American culture it’s easy to get competitive about everything.  One of the “yamas” or ethical disciplines in traditional yoga is called “ahimsa”, which means “non-violence.”  This can be applied to how you treat your own body.  Do you treat it like an object which you try to force into whatever position you want it to do?  Or do you treat it lovingly, and create a partnership with it, working with both its strengths and weaknesses?

2) Be very cautious with rounding of the lumbar spine.  While deep forward bends may be impossible without some rounding of the lumbar (lower) spine, people with Balanced posture keep the spine elongated even while in forward bends.  They also have a “universal curve” in the spine where the curve is evenly distributed throughout the spine rather than having a sharp apex in one spot.  Rounding of the lumbar spine, especially when lifting or twisting, is a very easy way to hurt your back!

3) Feel your stretch in the “belly” of the muscle, not in your joints.  It’s fine to feel a stretch in your thigh or calf, but if you feel pain in a joint, it’s best to come out of the pose.  Pain in your knee, in your hip joint, in your shoulder joint, or in your spine signals a potentially dangerous situation.  Back off until you feel the stretch in your muscles rather than pain or pulling at these joints.

If you don’t do yoga, you can practice some simple stretches to maintain or increase flexibility, and bending in “Balance” (at the hip joints) will help to keep your hamstrings flexible over the years.  So remember to use your body wisely, keep it moving, and include your daily movements as part of your practice.  Bringing this awareness to your body movement will really pay off for years to come.

© Dana K. Davis, 2011