A healthy spine is important for good health and quality of life. Numerous scientific studies now show that yoga can help alleviate and even stop chronic back pain. Moreover, yoga can often be more effective than other forms of exercise.
Physical inactivity along with our posture, how we stand or sit, as well as our habitual movements can create imbalances in strength and flexibility. These imbalances can compress the spine or put muscles under stress creating pain within the body. Stress can also contribute to back pain. When we are under stress, certain muscles contract, primed for the flight or fight response. This is a good thing when faced with a life or death threat. However, when stress is continual or is not regularly evacuated from the body, muscular tensions can create pain.
In Yoga we work systematically to move the spine in all its directions (backbend, forward bend, twist and side extensions). Yoga gently strengthens and lengthens the muscles, as well as enabling them (and us) to relax. We consciously seek out optimal alignment and good posture, including through reinforcing the abdominal muscles which are key to good spinal support. This helps restore balance in the body. Yoga can also correct certain spinal problems, such as kyphosis, and increase bone density thus lowering risk of osteoporosis.
However, certain postures (and especially certain postures when done incorrectly) can aggravate back pain. Certain postures may need to be modified or avoided especially if you suffer from serious problems like hernia, degenerative disk disease or osteoporosis. Therefore it is important to:
ask your doctor or physiotherapist if certain movements are not appropriate for you;
tell your yoga teacher about any back problems;
listen to your body, practice slowly, breath deeply, use supports and do not force anything;
avoid practicing dynamic yoga during acute pain phases (restorative yoga will then be a better choice).
For good back health, practicing yoga at least 2 to 3 times a week is optimal.