Yoga & The Real World: How Yoga Helps Back Pain
Updated: Apr 5
One of the popular reasons people start yoga is because they suffer with back pain.
I know, I know, you are most likely thinking: but won’t moving my back more make it worse? And I totally get that!
When you’re in pain the last thing you want to do is exercise, and yes this is true in cases of physically exerting yourself, say in a game of rugby.
However, yoga is in fact a good way to stretch your body, and strengthen your muscles at a slow, mindful pace (that is if you do slower paced yoga, like we do here at Unwind Yoga Studio).
So how does all this really help relieve back pain?
What is yoga?
Yoga is a mind-body practice, which combines, breathing and meditation with poses that aim to stretch and strengthen the body (Pandey, 2021).
Now, there are MANY types of yoga, varying from intense and fast-moving yoga, to relaxing and gentle yoga.
Here at Unwind Yoga Studio our classes edge more towards the gentle side of the spectrum. We believe being more mindful and attentive towards our mind and body is a kinder way of treating ourselves when we are in a heavy place mentally or are in discomfort physically. Slowing our day down helps us take the moment in for what it is!
So, in the case of doing yoga to relieve back pain, it is VITAL that you listen to your body and do not over exert it.
Yoga is a practice that emphasises the need to take each yoga session at your own pace, there is no need to perfect the poses or stretches from the get go. Don’t get me wrong, you can strive to do that over time, but you must ease your body into it without hurting yourself.
Alternative ways of holding a pose will be shown by your instructor, as their aim is to make sure you feel good in each pose.
How does yoga help back pain?
Back pain can be caused by bad posture. Yoga can help improve your posture and make you more aware of how you are sitting or walking in your day-to-day life, due to the practice teaching you how to pay more attention to the presence of your body (Ackerman et al., 2022). Providing you with the opportunity to consciously change your posture for the better.
Your back and spine are also supported by muscles, when these muscles are strengthened and stretched, you guessed it: back pain can be soothed (Harvard Health Publishing, 2018).
You see, the yoga poses that help strengthen and stretch your muscles, also target your spine, back, and abdominal muscles (Harvard Health Publishing, 2018). Respectively known for helping your spine bend, stabilising the vertebrae that make up your spine, and stabilising your spine. Overall, improving the function of these 3 types of muscles helps soothe the pain your back is enduring.
You are probably thinking, well it’s all good and well telling me this information, but where is the up-to-date evidence to support this?
Let's dive in, shall we?
Research has shown that people’s quality of life is massively reduced due to chronic low back pain: mentally, physically, socially, financially, and in functionality (Poojari et al., 2022).
For example, it was found that 25% of patients with chronic back pain were depressed (Asrar et al., 2021).
So, it has been and is evident that there is a need for an intervention to improve these people’s lives.
Many researchers agreed, which resulted in numerous studies being conducted on yoga and its effects on patients with back pain. All studies showed that yoga could be used as another helping hand for these people, and there are many relevant studies: Cherkin et al., 2016; Saper et al., 2017; Tilbrook et al., 2011; Wieland et al., 2017; Qaseem et al., 2017.
An example, of a yoga intervention is: Integrated Approach of Yoga Therapy, which comprises the 3 levels within yoga:
Body level, also known as Annamaya Kosa, refers to loosening stretches and postures
Energy level, known as Pranamaya Kosa, refers to the life force within living organisms
Mind level, known as Manomaya Kosa, which refers to relaxation techniques and meditation used in yoga (Goyal & Haythornthwaite, 2016)
Yoga has been shown to help people improve the physical and mental effects of back pain and chronic back pain (e.g. improved pain and mobility). Attending yoga classes will also help you connect with likeminded people, if your back pain otherwise stops you from going out to socialise (Hampton & Bartz, 2021).
Overall, what does yoga do to help people with back pain?
Reduce hypertension, and back pain intensity (Hampton & Bartz, 2021; Wieland et al., 2017)
Betters posture (Kumari, 2022)
Improves well-being (Hampton & Bartz, 2021)
Improves mental health (Hampton & Bartz, 2021; Kumari, 2022)
Tips on how to do yoga safely to reduce likelihood of further back pain
Yoga is a safe intervention and practice for people with back pain, as long as it is done in a safe way.
But, wait! Before you panic that yoga is not safe enough for you if you are a beginner, I am going to take you through some practical tips that you can do straight away to help avoid injury:
Slowly lengthen into poses: Take the time to do this, and decrease the likelihood of injury. Dropping straight into a pose is equivalent to doing fast reps when lifting a dumbbell.
Create a solid foundation for your movement: Engage your core muscles, so that you can gradually stretch and lengthen your body in proper form. For example, a spinal twist can be done to alleviate back pain, but it's better to start with an elongated spine in a slow motion until resistance is met and held there as long as it feels comfortable. Every body is different, see where you can take yours.
Use additional support (e.g. bolsters and blocks) to help your practice. Your teachers will guide you.
Use and loop a yoga belt around your feet and hold it in your hands, if you cannot reach your toes, for instance in forward folds. There is never a need or expectation for you to flop down your chest to your thighs in a forward fold. You may get there, or maybe your body will never allow you to do so, and that's okay. Part of yoga is accepting the body we have!
Try sitting down for forward folds instead of standing up, and contract your abdominal muscles when you return to sitting upright.
Stop a movement if it causes pain. No discussion. Pain is your one way ticket out of any pose!
Always ask for a modification of a pose if you find during a pose that you want or need it. We teach functional yoga at Unwind and will offer you lots of options to explore poses that work for your body (and mind!) and we want you to be comfortable in that exploration when taking you through your practice. We will also invite you to see if your body can be challenged into deeper, stronger poses - see what goes on, and follow your inner voice.
(Harvard Health Publishing, 2021)
Yoga poses that help relieve back pain
Now that we have taken you through some tips, you may be interested to know which poses are known for helping reduce back pain, and can also help you find (if you wish to) the best yoga class for you.
Here are a few:
Downward facing dog
All of the above helps stretch, move, and strengthen aching, tight back muscles (Johnson, 2020). Great class styles that will incorporate several of these poses are our Slow Flows, Hatha and Beginner classes. Ask us for more information and guidance for your back pain.
So, now that you know what yoga can offer for you and your back pain, you may want to try it out? A slower yoga style may be the right start for you.
Most importantly, be sure to consult with your healthcare professional before attending a class, and inform your teacher of your back pain before the class.
This way they can guide you through a safer practice tailored towards your needs. But if they forget (it could happen, because we are all human) be sure to ask them for a modification when you want it!
Remember to be gentle with yourself, now, tomorrow and always!
Take care & have a lovely day! 😊
P.S. If you would like to see what classes are on offer here at Unwind, please have a look at our class descriptions here.
And if you have any question or queries, drop us an email
Ackerman, C. (2022). 60 + benefits of Yoga for Mental and Physical Health. URL: https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-yoga/
Asrar, M. M., Ghai, B., Pushpendra, D., & Bansal, D. (2021). Psychosocial morbidity profile in a community based sample of low back pain patients. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 1-9. URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-82324-y
Cherkin, D. C., Sherman, K. J., Balderson, B. H., Cook, A. J., Anderson, M. L., Hawkes, R. J., ... & Turner, J. A. (2016). Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction vs cognitive behavioral therapy or usual care on back pain and functional limitations in adults with chronic low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. Jama, 315(12), 1240-1249. URL: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2504811
Goyal, M., & Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2016). Is it time to make mind-body approaches available for chronic low back pain?. JAMA, 315(12), 1236-1237. URL: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2504791
Hampton, A., & Bartz, M. (2021). Therapeutic Efficacy of Yoga for Common Primary Care Conditions. WMJ, 120(4), 293-300. URL: https://wmjonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/120/4/293.pdf
Harvard Health Publishing (2018). Yoga for people with back pain. URL: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/yoga-and-back-pain-2018041413652
Harvard Health Publishing (2021). The safe way to do yoga for back pain.
Johnson, J., 2020. URL: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/yoga-for-back-pain
Kumari, S. (2022). Yoga for Working Women: How Yoga Can Help You Achieve Balance in Life. International Journal of Advanced Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, 11(1), 674-677. URL: https://cloudjl.com/index.php/Ayurveda/article/view/43
Pandey, N. (2021). A Study on the Impact of Yoga on Daily Yoga Practitioners. Madhyabindu Journal, 6(1), 67-75. URL: DOI:
Poojari et al. (2022). Effectiveness of Integrated Approach of Yoga Therapy (IAYT) Versus Usual Care in Management on Chronic Low Back Pain Patients: a Randomised Controlled Pilot Study. Research Square. 1-23. URL: https://assets.researchsquare.com/files/rs-1123520/v1/bd89d23e-0475-42cb-8c65-463c5c89ce76.pdf?c=1643658565
Saper, R. B., Lemaster, C., Delitto, A., Sherman, K. J., Herman, P. M., Sadikova, E., ... & Weinberg, J. (2017). Yoga, physical therapy, or education for chronic low back pain: a randomized noninferiority trial. Annals of internal medicine, 167(2), 85-94. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6392183/
Tilbrook, H. E., Cox, H., Hewitt, C. E., Kang'ombe, A. R., Chuang, L. H., Jayakody, S., ... & Torgerson, D. J. (2011). Yoga for chronic low back pain: a randomized trial. Annals of internal medicine, 155(9), 569-578. URL: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.7326/0003-4819-155-9-201111010-00003
Wieland, L. S., Skoetz, N., Pilkington, K., Vempati, R., D'Adamo, C. R., & Berman, B. M. (2017). Yoga treatment for chronic non‐specific low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1), 1-80. URL: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD010671.pub2/pdf/full
Qaseem, A., Wilt, T. J., McLean, R. M., Forciea, M. A., & Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians*. (2017). Noninvasive treatments for acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Annals of internal medicine, 166(7), 514-530. URL: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/full/10.7326/M16-2367?journalCode=aim