Can I do yoga if I have a bad back?

We’ve been meeting a lot of you in St Paul’s and a question that pops up is – can I do yoga if I have a bad back?

Unless the back pain has been caused by a specific injury, most back pain, herniated discs and sciatica are caused or contributed to by:

Weak abdominal muscles
Weak back muscles
Rigidity or stiffness of the spine.

All of these factors are specifically addressed by the Sivananda series of yoga postures, which puts particular emphasis on:

Building of core strength through double-leg lifts and the sun salutation series
Building of back strength through gentle backward bends (cobra, single-leg locust, bow)
Spinal flexibility in all six planes of movement (backward, forward, lateral left, lateral right, twist left and twist right).

So, as soon as your doctor has cleared you to resume gentle rehabilitative exercise, you should attend classes. It’s very important that you start to build up your core (abdominal) and back strength in order to prevent recurrence. As you know if you have any almost back ailment, such as a herniated disc, frozen shoulder, ankylosing spondylitis, whiplash or neck pain, your doctor will be actively encouraging you to do exercise that strengthens your back and abdominals and/or increases mobility of the spine and shoulders. So, as long as your back pain is not so acute that it is preventing your daily activities, it is time to begin a gentle and progressive exercise regime that over time, strengthens and stretches the back. Check with your doctor that you are at this stage and then get to class!