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People with back pain often find some relief with restorative yoga. A mind-body practice, Yoga combines physical poses called asanas, breathing exercises, and guided meditation in a session that is typically 75-minutes long. For many people, yoga is an effective way to reduce inflammation, relieve stress and muscle tension, and change habitual posture patterns that result in back pain.
While there are many styles of Yoga to choose from, Restorative Yoga is especially good for individuals with back pain because of its focus on supported poses rather than physical exertion through a sequence of poses. Restorative Yoga uses props – blocks, chairs, bars, cushions or blankets – to facilitate gentler movement of the body and proper alignment of joints and muscles. A Restorative Class makes yoga accessible to people with a wide range of physical challenges including arthritis, fibromyalgia, cancer and Multiple Sclerosis. When looking for a Restorative Class, ask about the instructor’s certifications, as specialized training is necessary to teach classes for people experiencing chronic pain.
Recent studies conducted in the U.S., India, and the U.K. showed that over a 6-12 month period, practicing yoga reduced pain and enhanced functional ability in people with chronic non-specific lower back pain. Those practicing yoga were compared to groups who did not exercise at all, which is common among people with back pain. In another large study in the U.S., people who practiced yoga in weekly 75-min. classes had better back movement, used less pain medicine, and participants with moderate back pain experienced a reduction in pain symptoms. Also, there is compelling evidence that yoga and similar mind-body practices not only change physical patterns in the body, but also change the brain gray matter patterns associated with chronic pain. The National Institutes of Health recognizes yoga and similar mind-body practices for their protective effects on the mind, brain, and body.
Wieland, L.S., Koetz, N. Pilkington, K. et al., “Yoga treatment for chronic non-specific low back pain.” Cochrane Library (Jan 2017) DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010671.pub2
Sherman, K.J., Cherkin, D.C., et al., “A Randomized Trial Comparing Yoga, Stretching, and a Self-care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain.” Archives of Internal Medicine (2011) DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.524
Brink, S. “Studies Show Yoga has Healing Powers” National Geographic Online. (2014). Accessed on 7 Feb 2017: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140207-yoga-cancer-inflammation-stress/
Carey, T.S., “Comparative Effectiveness Studies in Chronic Low Back Pain: Comment on ‘A Randomized Trial Comparing Yoga, Stretching, and a Self-care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain’.” Archives of Internal Medicine (2011) DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.519
International Association of Yoga Therapists. http://www.iayt.org
American Pain Society. “Yoga and chronic pain have opposite effects on brain gray matter.” (May 2015) Accessed 2 Feb 2017: http://americanpainsociety.org/about-us/press-room/yoga-bushnell
Ambrosini, Diane M., “Restorative Postures” as cited in Chapter 11: Instructing Hatha Yoga: A guide for teachers and students, 2nd ed. (2016). Human Kinetics: IL.