h_yoga_healthy_spine(Photo Courtesy of http://www.tathaastumag.com/index.php?hid=1819)

Over the years, I’ve had many students tell me they came to yoga because of back issues. Some were told by their doctors to give yoga a try, and some read about it in their own research and decided to come check it out. Whatever the reason, yoga can most definitely be a huge help to those who are suffering from back pain.

In general, yoga is safe for everyone. However, certain medical conditions (i.e., certain forms of scoliosis, advanced spinal stenosis, cervical spine disease) may mean that you need to modify or avoid certain poses. Make sure that if you’ve got any sort of spinal injury or disease, you speak with your yoga teacher about it to make sure the class is appropriate for you, and so that the teacher can provide the appropriate modifications you may need.

When I began practicing yoga, I didn’t know I had mild scoliosis. I’d been practicing for about 8 years when I started noticing that poses I’d been able to do suddenly started causing me pain along my mid and lower back. Then my hips eventually started hurting in certain poses as well. It was my massage therapist who called it…on my first visit with him, after I told him about all my pain, he took a look and said, “I’m not a doctor, but it looks to me like you’ve got scoliosis, and it’s thrown not just your back, but your hips out of whack.” He was able to do a lot for me with his deep tissue techniques, but it wasn’t until I started seeing a chiropractor last February that the serious work began. It’s been just over a year that I’ve been working with him, and I’ve made a lot of progress…my scoliosis is almost 100% gone at this point. And over this past year, I had to make some serious adjustments to my yoga practice in order to get to where I am now.

Much of the training I’ve taken since I began teaching yoga has covered spinal issues and modifications. But I must admit that going through my own journey with spinal issues has been the best teacher of all. Through my own journey, I’ve learned the following:

  • For me, it is extremely important that before I really get in to my yoga practice, I’ve got to warm my spine up in each of the 6 directions it moves (laterally right and left, twisting right and left, extension and flexion). Especially if I’m practicing first thing in the morning, because that’s when I am usually the stiffest.
  • When I am warming up my spine, I make sure to hold each pose for several breaths at first, so I can figure out if I’m tighter on one side or in one direction more than another. Wherever I notice more tightness, I stay on that side or in that direction a little longer, to bring more balance into my spine.
  • I practice the style of yoga that suits my spine best. On some days, my spine feels amazing and I can get in a more vigorous Power or Vinyasa practice. But on other days, my body tells me I need to take it easy. When that happens, I gravitate towards a more restorative or Yin practice. Listening to the body’s messages is critical…if I were to engage in a vigorous practice on a day when my back is not ready for it, I could really set myself back in a big way. My ability to practice yoga in any way is too important to me, so I don’t take any chances. I listen to my body ALWAYS. That wasn’t always the case in my yoga journey, but it is now.
  • I use props ALL THE TIME. They are my best friend when my back or hips start acting up.
  • When I attend another teacher’s yoga class, I let him or her know what’s going on with me, especially if I am experiencing any kind of tweaks or pain. Yoga teachers, no matter how enlightened we may think they are, are NOT mind readers. Many of us love to adjust students or provide assists that help deepen the pose for the student. But if you’re working through an injury or are in some kind of pain, an assist or adjustment may be the worst thing for you, especially if the teacher is not even aware there is an issue at all. So let them know, and give them as much information as you can. A good teacher will let you know about any modifications you’ll need. A good teacher will also let you know what they DON’T know…there are SO many issues that can crop up with the spine, and some require very specific modifications. Teachers can’t possibly know every modification for every condition, after all, so don’t be surprised if they tell you they have no idea how to work with your condition.

So how many of you out there in blog land are dealing with spine issues? I’d love to know how you deal with them in your yoga practice. I am always looking for new tips and tricks, so share your favorites with me by adding a comment to to this post.

Namaste,

Melanie

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