Ohhh back pain is such a bummer. Based on the way we live our lives – hunched forward, at the computer, driving, looking down at the Smartphone – our backs take a beating from that constant forward motion. It’s not uncommon at all for new students to walk into a yoga studio and tell the instructor that they have “back pain.” Not even anything specific necessarily, just a bad back. The good thing is that yoga, especially Bikram Yoga, has an incredibly therapeutic effect on that “bad back.” I could write 10,000 words on this subject, but I think I will take a more broad, general approach to this blog post and then write some follow-ups if that would be helpful. (So don’t hesitate to let me know!)
If you have back pain and you’re thinking about practicing Bikram Yoga, good! You are making such an awesome, life-changing decision for yourself. Understand that chronic back pain has been settling into your body for some time, often years or even decades, so be patient with yourself in yoga class. Healing something entirely can take time. Fortunately, you will probably start to feel better immediately, even if the injury is still there. You’ll feel relief. You won’t be as achey. You’ll be able to move. So many people feel that relief after one single class; however, taking that first class while you have pain is, without a doubt, scary.
The very basic, general rule of thumb when you come to Bikram Yoga with back pain is:
Do the backward bends, but go easy on the forward bends.
I want that to be the take-away from this post because you can use that advice to guide you through the 26 postures. Obviously, talk to your yoga teachers about what you have going on so they can give you more detailed corrections and tips.
So why the backward bends anyway, what’s the reasoning behind that? Here’s the thing: when you backward bend, you create temporary compression to a specific area of your spine, or the entire spine depending on the posture. This compression doesn’t last long, 20 seconds or so, and then as soon as you come out of the posture your circulation has absolutely no choice but to come flushing back to the area you just targeted. Which is awesome! More circulation to a weak, injured, painful area is a good thing. If you have a bulging disc, doing a backward bend encourages the disc to move back into its correct position.
Bikram Yoga is unique in that you spend about an entire hour “warming up” before getting to the Spine Strengthening Series. Each posture in this series (Cobra, Locust, Full Locust, and Bow) does exactly what I described above with the compression and then flush of circulation, first in your lower spine, then upper, then middle, and then the entire spine.
Below are pictures of these four postures so you can see the back bending in action:
I’m highlighting these four postures specifically out of the 26 that we do in every Bikram Yoga class because if you’re coming to Bikram Yoga with back pain, it’s important that you attempt them. Don’t worry about being flexible or feel like you have to do the full expression of the pose, but I would hate for you to burn up all your energy in the first hour of class and be too gassed to at least try the Spine Strengthening Series. So, go easy at the beginning of class. Take breaks. Pace yourself. Know that the Spine Strengthening Series acts as the cure for your back pain. It’s like medicine.
More often than not, less is more in Bikram Yoga when you’re dealing with back pain. The style of yoga was created to be healing and therapeutic so rest assured that you will get benefit even without maximum exertion.
I know I have barely scratched the surface and there is so much more to say on this subject, but to re-cap keep these three pieces of information in mind:
- Work the back bends, easy on the forward bends
- Do the Spine Strengthening Series
- Talk to your yoga teachers about what you have going on so they know going into class
Do you have questions? Do you have back pain? Do you want to read something more? Let me know!