Living with back pain? Here’s how yoga can help you

spinal column
The spine is a graceful yet powerful thing of beauty

Does your back hurt?

Do you often feel an ache, tension or stiffness in your back?

Maybe you wriggle around trying to find a comfortable way to sit.  And it’s made worse by sitting all day.

It’s never far from your mind. You often find yourself bracing in expectation of pain or avoiding certain movements so as not to aggravate your back.

Back pain is virtually an epidemic in the UK!  We seem to accept it as a fact of life – most of us (myself included) experience it as some point in our lives.

Good to know

However, it’s good to know, that the vast majority of back pain isn’t structural – i.e. there’s no damage to the spine. A combination of years of poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, bending or lifting awkwardly, and years of tension can lead to a sudden episode of back pain or that niggly, ongoing feeling of stiffness and tension.

And it’s also reassuring to remember that the human back is strong.  Your spine is a wonderful piece of engineering. It performs amazing feats of agility and balance – every day. Think about a forward  bend and the weight of your head and brain moving forward and over and then back up again – your back is strong to allow that forward bend to happen in a controlled and graceful way.

You don’t have to worry about damaging your back. It heals, it balances itself.  Most back pain is due to tension and simple muscle sprains.

Be reassured there’s so much you can do to help yourself if you experience back discomfort.

The #1 most important aspect of back care

So, whether it’s prevention or cure you’re looking for, the #1 most important thing to do to look after your back is …. to keep moving!

Doctors used to recommend bed rest for any type of back pain but now the NHS recommends “If you have back pain, you should try to remain as active as possible and continue with your daily activities.”

…because if you don’t, the muscles of the back get even weaker and exacerbate the problem.

Most cases of back pain get better on their own and there’s no need to see your doctor* (although you may like to consider osteopathic or chiropractic treatment).

The role of yoga

Yoga plays an important role in helping you to a healthier back.    And Dru Yoga is is particularly effective for bad backs as it targets the muscles which may be weak or tight, and gently stretches and strengthens them, relieving pain, and improving flexibility and tone.

Here’s how:

Good posture – essential for a happy, healthy back. Yoga brings our awareness onto our posture and good posture slowly starts to develop and it becomes natural to attend to it each and every day.

Movement  – the spine and back is made up of many and diverse moving parts. Your back is designed to move. So move it!  And think of the elements connecting to your back – your hips and shoulders. If they’re tight it has a knock-on effect, forcing too much mobility into your spine and spinal muscles. Yoga stretches tight areas and strengthens weak ones, helping to develop and maintain physical flexibility.

Strength – if your core muscles are weak (lower abs, lower back muscles and pelvic floor) your spine quickly goes out of optimal alignment.  Yoga focuses on a strong and healthy core set of muscles.

Relaxation – if you’re constantly stressed or anxious then muscle tension will be an issue.  The deep, mindful breathing of yoga activates the body’s relaxation response. It helps you to let go of muscle tension and enables your body to heal and renew itself.

Living in the here and now – Yoga encourages us to ‘Be Here. Now’.  To appreciate and live in the present moment and not to linger in the past or worry about the future. Maintaining  a positive outlook and daily taking steps to improve your back’s health will lead to quicker recovery.

As the NHS website points out “Your state of mind can also play an important role. Although it can be difficult to be cheerful if you are in pain, research has shown that people who remain positive tend to recover quicker than those who get depressed.”

I know how you feel

{Written in October 2014}

OK, so this isn’t just me talking the talk here!

For the last two weeks I’ve been experiencing back problems. A gradual onset of muscle spasms (which became quite acute for a few days) followed by stiffness and tension where my lower spine meets the middle of my back.

I’ve been seeing an osteopath which has helped.

Also, throughout this time I’ve continued with my yoga practice (and teaching).

Yes, I’ve experienced the temptation not to move in case the pain is set off again.

Yes, I’ve felt low and fed-up at times (compounded by my mind telling me the “this shouldn’t happen to me I’m a yoga teacher” story).

Yes, I’ve sometimes lacked energy and felt drained.

But I’ve kept moving. I’ve focused on breathing deeply and relaxation.

I’m daily paying gentle attention to slowly move and stand in a way which helps my back and have altered my yoga practice accordingly (more forward bends and I’m giving Cobra a rest for a while!).

So I know how you feel.

And I know and have experienced – first hand – how yoga can help.  By being gentle with myself but disciplined. By accepting how I feel in this moment without struggling to change it.  By adapting my physical practice to help my body rather than to serve my ego and mind.

By breathing. By softening and relaxing to allow my back to release the tension.

And I know that this experience will help me to better serve others with back pain and discomfort.


* If your back pain is accompanied by any of these ‘red flag’ symptoms then seek medical assistance immediately.

  • fever of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above
  • unexplained weight loss
  • swelling in the back
  • constant back pain that doesn’t ease after lying down
  • pain in your chest or high up in your back
  • pain down your legs and below the knees
  • loss of bladder or bowel control
  • inability to pass urine
  • numbness around your genitals, buttocks or back passage
  • pain that is worse at night

Let me help you to help yourself

Weekly yoga classes:  press pause in your busy week with tension-relieving, anxiety-easing mindful movement, breathing and relaxation with weekly Dru Yoga classes in Southampton, and Bishopstoke (near Eastleigh).

Monthly Friday night Restorative Yoga Class: Rest & Restore  in Eastleigh. Treat yourself to blissfully relaxing experiences; make time just for you to nourish your mind, body and soul. Rest.

Yoga workshops & events: Reconnect body, mind and soul with inspiring, calming and empowering yoga workshops & events. Expect to move, breathe, relax, open and look within. Create space, allow new perspectives.

If you would like to receive my Calm, Clear & Relaxed Tool Kit as well as regular tips, insights and wisdom delivered to your inbox, then please leave your name and email address.

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Photo credit: harinaivoteza / Foter / CC BY-SA

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