Yoga: An Ancient Practice for Modern Living

Yoga is an age-old practice rooted in tradition. However, it's actually quite well suited for modern life!

Have you ever enjoyed stretching your muscles like taffy in a yoga class? If so, you’re already aware of what a great workout yoga can be. But did you know that research is demonstrating that yoga can help manage back and neck pain, too?[1] What’s more, studies are also indicating that yoga has several health benefits.[1]

Read on to learn more about yoga for pain management and overall wellness. We’ll also share some tips on how to get the most out of yoga when it comes to back and neck pain, including how to practice as safely as possible.

Yoga: Then and now

Yoga is an ancient practice for the mind, body, and spirit, with roots in India. A westernized form of yoga has become increasingly popular in the US in the last few decades. Classical yoga (as originally practiced in India) incorporates several elements and has a spiritual foundation. In contrast, yoga practiced in the US focuses more on using it as a tool for physical fitness. Stateside, you’ll usually find yoga classes emphasizing 3 main aspects: dynamic physical poses (called asanas), breathing techniques, and meditation.

Yoga for pain management

If you’ve used the Kaia Pain app, you’ve already learned how our mental well-being can affect how intensely we perceive pain. So it’s not surprising that research is demonstrating that a mind-body practice like yoga can be an affordable, effective way to address back and neck pain.[2-5] In fact, the American College of Physicians recommends trying yoga to address lower back pain first before resorting to taking pain relievers.[6]

“Because yoga can be done at home, it can frequently prevent or reverse chronic back pain."

Loren Fishman, MD

Need more motivation to roll out your yoga mat? In one study, people with lower back pain who participated in a yoga therapy program reported having significantly less difficulty getting around and lower pain intensity—as well as using almost 90% less pain medication—after 4 months.[7]

“Yoga can be as effective for back pain as physical therapy, and you can do it at home for very little cost,” states physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Loren Fishman, MD, who also wrote the book Yoga for Back Pain.[8]* Indeed, yoga was demonstrated to be as effective as physical therapy for chronic lower back pain in a comparison study. When it came to increasing functioning, as well as reducing pain intensity and the need for pain medication, yoga was on par with physical therapy. What’s more, the positive effects of the yoga were maintained for a year.[9] Yoga has also been demonstrated to decrease pain intensity and improve movement for neck pain.[1]

Tips

Generally speaking, yoga is considered to be safe for most people who are healthy. “When starting to do yoga, start slowly and let pain be your guide,” recommends Dr. Fishman.* However, as when embarking on any other exercise program, it’s best to talk to your doctor first to make sure yoga is right for you.

Note: The Mayo Clinic advises to definitely check with your doctor first before trying yoga if you are pregnant or have any of the following conditions[10]:

  • Herniated disc
  • Blood clot risk
  • Eye conditions (such as glaucoma)
  • Severe problems with balance
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Blood pressure issues that aren’t under control

Also, make sure that you follow a yoga program that’s suited to your needs. “Because yoga can be done at home, it can frequently prevent or reverse chronic back pain. Of course, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s critical to do the correct yoga for a specific problem,” advises Dr. Fishman.* Speak with your doctor or physical therapist about which yoga poses are best for you. In addition, check out Yoga Journal and Yoga Injury Prevention for more information on the best yoga poses for different types of pain.

Health benefits of yoga

Research indicates that yoga may provide several health benefits, including

  • Relieving stress[1]
  • Boosting quality of life for people with chronic diseases such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma[11]
  • Improving sleep[1]
  • Alleviating anxiety or depression related to stressful situations[1]
  • Improving physical balance and flexibility[12]
  • Building bone[12,13]
  • Increasing bone density[12,13]

Conclusion

Yoga is an age-old practice rooted in tradition. However, it’s actually quite well suited for modern life. Research is demonstrating that yoga can help with pain management. Plus, yoga can provide several health benefits. If you’re interested in exploring yoga, check with your doctor first and read up on our suggested resources to see what’s right for you.

*Author Carol Ardman quoting Loren Fishman, MD; email communication; September 10, 2020.

References

  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Yoga: what you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know. Accessed September 9, 2020.
  2. Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Balderson BH, et al. 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. 2016;315(12):1240-1249.
  3. Sherman KJ, Cherkin DC, Wellman RD, et al. A randomized trial comparing yoga, stretching, and a self-care book for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171(22):2019-2026.
  4. Chuang LH, Soares MO, Tilbrook H, et al. A pragmatic multicentered randomized controlled trial of yoga for chronic low back pain: economic evaluation. Spine. 2012;37(18):1593-1601.
  5. Michalsen A, Traitteur H, Lüdtke R, et al. Yoga for chronic neck pain: a pilot randomized controlled clinical trial. J Pain. 2012;13(11):1122-1130.
  6. Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, McLean RM, Forceia MA; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Noninvasive treatments for acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2017;166(7):514-530.
  7. Williams KA, Petronis J, Smith D, et al. Effect of Iyengar yoga therapy for chronic low back pain. Pain. 2005;115(1-2):107-117.
  8. Fishman L, Ardman C. Yoga for Back Pain. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company; 2012.
  9. Saper RB, Lemaster C, Delitto A, et al. Yoga, physical therapy, or education for chronic low back pain: a randomized noninferiority trial. Ann Intern Med. 2017;167(2):85-94.
  10. Mayo Clinic. Yoga: fight stress and find serenity. Mayo Clinic website. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/yoga/art-20044733. Published September 19, 2019. Accessed September 16, 2020.
  11. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Yoga for health: what the science says. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/yoga-for-health-science. Accessed September 9, 2020.
  12. Goldman L. This 12-minute yoga sequence is backed by science to strengthen your bones. https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/12-minute-yoga-sequence-for-strong-bones. Updated February 5, 2019. Accessed September 9, 2020.
  13. Lu YH, Rosner B, Chang G, Fishman LM. Twelve-minute daily yoga regimen reverses osteoporotic bone loss. Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2016;32(2):81-87.

Further Reading

  • Break the Cycle of Back Pain and Poor Sleep

    Back pain and insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or waking too often or early) can easily become a frustrating cycle with one leading into the other. Read on to learn more about this cycle—and how to break it for good.
  • Coping With Back Pain Flare-Ups at Home

    Back pain is never a good time. Plus, when you’re busy and distracted, it can be hard to remember to take care of your back. The good news is that there are many things you can do to cope with back pain right at home.
  • Make Your Work Area Work for You

    Working doesn’t have to be a pain. Read on to find out what can cause back pain when sitting at your desk. We’ll also give you tips on how to take care of your back to avoid desk-related back pain.