For anyone who doesn’t know my story, the entire reason I got into yoga is because I started seeing numerous patients in my outpatient physical therapy practice who were injuring themselves in yoga. I couldn’t understand what people could possibly be doing in these classes to strain their backs, so I decided to check it out for myself. It only took one class to see the positions people were putting themselves into during a traditional yoga class for me to understand why I was having an influx of patients. The bottom line is that traditional yoga places most people at risk for injury. The extreme end range poses coupled with either too much or too little flexibility/mobility makes for the perfect mechanism of injury, especially to the low back. But even I have to admit that the challenge of yoga appealed to me, so I kept dabbling in it. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the LYT Yoga Method that I realized there was a safe and strong way to do yoga.
When performed safely, yoga can be great for back pain. In fact, I started adding the principles of LYT Yoga to my outpatient practice and recruited many of my patients to the yoga mat. The keys to safely doing yoga for back pain include finding a neutral pelvis, mobilizing and strengthening the hips, and strengthening the core. Many people who suffer from low back pain present with poor movement patterns that originate from the pelvis. If you observe people in their day-to-day activities, many times you’ll see them dipping into their low back or sinking into one side. So why would we want to ask someone to do the same thing over and over on the yoga mat? A traditional Low Lunge puts the pelvis into a deep anterior tilt while dumping into the lower back and sinking into the hips. The same is often true of other poses, such as Crescent Lunge, Cobra, Plank, and Upward Facing Dog. By finding a neutral pelvis, we eliminate the hyperextension that occurs in the low back and hips, which greatly decreases compression on the discs and lumbosacral joints. In upright poses, the pelvis should be basically perpendicular to the floor. In prone or supine poses, the pubic bow should draw up towards the sternum, creating length and space in the low back. By minimizing compression and actively lengthening by way of a neutral pelvis, we will decrease low back pain.
My patients with low back pain are often surprised when we work largely on hip mobility and strength. They feel confused because they came for treatment of their backs, but end up thrilled when in relatively no time at all, they feel so much better. Our hips are our second most mobile joints in the body. If we don’t move through them or stabilize around them, the stress and strain of daily life will go to the next closest areas…the low back, pelvis, and knees. Utilizing your yoga practice in such a way that you create mobility and stability around the hips will allow your yoga to become your low back therapy. Many traditional poses sink into the hips passively as opposed to moving with strength and intention. For example, a traditional Standing Split or Three Legged Down Dog tilts the pelvis to one side and sinks into the standing hip. In LYT Yoga, by leveling out the pelvis, we allow for more active hip engagement and a longer lumbar spine, which is safer and more sustainable. A traditional yoga Forward Fold flexes at the low back and tips forward in the pelvis, neither of which are conducive to a healthy lumbar spine over time. Sitting back and flexing in the hips and knees again keeps the spine long and puts the demand on the larger gluteal muscles as opposed to the low back muscles.
Finally, strengthening the core is paramount to practicing yoga that is safe for low back pain. In LYT Yoga, we begin every class with The Reset for a reason. Yes, we want to establish a neutral pelvis, but we also want to awaken the core, which includes the deep abdominals plus the shoulder and hip girdles. These areas are weak in many people who suffer from low back pain. The Reset warms us up from the inside out and lets the brain know that the core will be a major player in the rest of our practice. Just the act of maintaining a neutral pelvis and scapula during your practice is enough to strengthen the core against future back injuries. Moving from the core container to lift up out of the pelvis decreases compression in the low back and unweights the vertebral discs. This is why one of our mantras is “More Core” after all!
I have yet to come across a patient suffering from low back pain who wouldn’t benefit from a neutral pelvis, better hip mobility/stability, and increased core strength. I can’t think of a better time to do it than with LYT Yoga. We strive to educate you on the mat so you can be a better and stronger version of yourself off the mat. The type of yoga matters. The way we move matters. And yes…posture freakin’ matters. Until next time, I’ll see you on the mat!