Yoga for Your Back
If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.
By Carol Ardman
MODERATOR: Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Fishman and Carol Ardman. Why yoga for back pain?
FISHMAN: There are very few side effects, it's portable, it's free and there are basically no devices you need to carry with you. Yoga is thousands of years old and there are almost no other means that are as side-effect free. Maybe best of all, unlike medicine, which only takes you up to the state of normal and then says, 'Thank you very much, go about your business,' yoga continues to improve you even when you reach what most of us think of as normal.
In addition, yoga can be individually crafted for you and your problem, unlike medicines, with which all you can do is take more or less, often through the day. But you can't alter the medicine, which is what you do all the time with yoga.
There is even one further advantage: yoga makes you calm. To the extent that pain is not eliminated you are able to bear it better.
MODERATOR: There are many different types of yoga. How do you determine which is the best to do? Is it a matter of personal preference, or are there certain types which are better for certain problems?
FISHMAN: First, there are some that are generally better, they're better for everybody because they are more anatomically sophisticated, and therapeutically better. But when it's someone in pain, we don't want a yoga teacher; we want someone who has experience with the yoga and the illness to combine the two.
My favorite teacher is Mr. Iyengar. I studied in India with him for a year. His anatomy and focus is exactly right. Ananda, Integral yoga and other eclectic brands might be excellent, but I can't talk about them all.
There are two to stay away from if you have back pain. One is Bikram, which is not particularly adapted or focused on individual difficulties. Also, the power yoga such as Ashtanga, where it seems there are dual aims. One is to give a good workout, and the other is to seek the calm so famously reached in the East. But you can't have your heart beat fast and have it beat slowly at the same time, so they're difficult to understand from this point of view.
MODERATOR: Do certain types of yoga help with specific back pain problems?
FISHMAN: Something that arches your back, to improve the opening of the spaces that the nerve roots exist in. A herniated disk will be terrible for you if your disks and vertebrae are slipping.
Our book separates out nine different causes for low back pain, characterizes them so everyone will understand them, then gives postures for each specific one. There is also a difference between acute and chronic pain. This too is best treated according to its category.
ARDMAN: When choosing a type of yoga if you have back pain, it's important to tell your teacher that you have back pain, and discuss it thoroughly to make sure your teacher understands what it is so that you know what you have to avoid.
Also, when choosing a yoga teacher, it's a good idea to make sure that he/she practices yoga seriously at home and has a personal practice. That person will be more able to be responsive to your needs.
MODERATOR: In your book you talk about nine common causes of back pain. Could you please describe them?
1. Musculoskeletal pain, which is basically when muscles, joints or ligaments hurt, is the most common cause of back pain. (ARDMAN: That includes muscle spasm.)