Olivia NYC

PT Corner with Kristin Williams

The Safe Way To Do Yoga For Back Pain

By Kristin Williams

Aug 2, 2022

For anyone who doesn’t know my story, the reason I got into yoga is that numerous patients in my physical therapy practice were coming having injured themselves in yoga, particularly in online yoga classes. I couldn’t understand what people could be doing in these classes to strain their backs, so I decided to check it out for myself. It only took one class for me to realize why I was having an influx of patients. 


The bottom line is that traditional yoga puts most participants at risk for injury. The extreme end-range poses, coupled with either too much or too little flexibility/mobility, is the perfect recipe for painful results—especially low back injuries. Still, 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, correct way to do yoga. When performed safely, yoga can be great for back pain. I started adding the principles of LYT Yoga to my outpatient practice, recruiting many of my patients to join me on their yoga mats. 


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 exhibit poor movement patterns that originate from the pelvis. If you observe people in their day-to-day activities, you’ll often 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 low 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. This greatly decreases compression on the discs and lumbosacral joints. In upright poses, the pelvis should be 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 your body with a neutral pelvis, we can 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 the 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 shift to the next closest areas: The low back, pelvis, and knees. Utilizing your yoga practice to develop mobility and stability around the hips allows your yoga to become your low back therapy. 

Many traditional poses sink into the hips passively rather than 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 we level the pelvis, allowing for more active hip engagement and a longer lumbar spine. This makes the exercise safe and sustainable. 

A traditional yoga Forward Fold flexes at the low back, tipping forward in the pelvis. Neither of these movements is conducive to a healthy lumbar spine over time. Sitting back and flexing the hips and knees keeps the spine long and puts the demand on the larger gluteal muscles instead of the low back muscles.

Finally, strengthening the core is paramount to practicing yoga, especially yoga that is safe for low back pain. In LYT Yoga, we begin every class with The Reset. 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. It lets the brain know that the core will be a major player throughout the rest of our practice. Just the act of maintaining a neutral pelvis and scapula during your practice is enough to strengthen your core against future back injuries. Moving from the core container to lift out of the pelvis decreases compression in the low back and alleviates unnecessary weight from the vertebral discs. This is why one of our mantras is “More Core”!

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 way to do it than with LYT Yoga. Through our online yoga classes, 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 matters. Until next time, I’ll see you on the mat!

Title tag: Safe Online Yoga Classes for Back Pain

Meta Description: Online yoga classes are a great way to stay in shape, but they can be dangerous. Learn how to safely do yoga poses to reduce injury and back pain.

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