If you have back pain, yoga may be the last thing you feel like doing. But after 12 weeks of a gentle, beginner-level yoga program, people in a recent study had as much pain relief as those who did physical therapy sessions. And either type of exercise worked better than doing nothing at all.
Photo by A Healthier Michigan
If you'd like to try the moves yourself, here is the guidebook they handed out to participants. The poses start out really basic, and don't take any special amount of flexibility or strength. In many, you're steadying yourself against a wall, or doing a simplified "baby" version of the kind of thing lululemon models do. The participants weren't experienced yogis, either: They were 320 people with back pain who lived in the Boston area, racially diverse and mostly low-income. They didn't have back injuries, just a nagging pain that doctors couldn't explain, possibly related to a lack of strength and flexibility.
They went to an hour-long yoga class every week, and were assigned to practise for 30 minutes on their own every day they didn't have class. The guidebook explains how to practise at home, but if you want more details, check out the teacher's manual. Before the yoga program, 70 per cent of participants were using pain medication. Afterwards, only 50 per cent were. (People who hadn't done the yoga or physical therapy programs had no change in their pain meds.) This yoga program doesn't work miracles, but it does seem to help.
I tried the routine (I jumped straight to the more advanced moves, since I've done yoga before) and they're simple, gentle, and totally not intimidating. If you have back pain, get it checked out, but it's good to know that yoga might be able to help.