3 Reasons Yoga Heals Lower Back Pain


By Arthur Coulston

If you haven’t had lower back pain before, consider yourself very lucky. Most adults in the U.S. will suffer from lower back pain at some time in their life, many for years at a time. My suffering began at age 17 when I injured my back surfing. The doctor diagnosed it as a compressed L5 vertebral disc, prescribed me pain medication, and sent me off with the inspiring words “everybody’s back hurts”. Unsurprisingly this treatment failed to alleviate the pain. And over the subsequent years, as life became more and more stressful, the pain became worse and worse. Activities I once enjoyed, like surfing and camping, became uncomfortable and at times impossible. I tried chiropractic, Rolfing, massage, physical therapy, bed rest, supplements, herbs, and ice and heat therapy. I thought I had tried everything. I thought that my body was deteriorating and that it would only get worse and worse. It was depressing.

Photo: Mara Milam

Then, after a decade of chronic pain, my company moved into an office one block away from a yoga studio. I tried the free week of yoga they were offering and thanks to some encouraging teachers I stuck with it. Within weeks I felt better than I had in years, and soon my whole perspective changed. There was hope, I could heal! In the past few years since finding my own healing through yoga I’ve talked to so many others who have similar stories. And as I’ve read more on the subject in hopes of helping others, I’ve discovered that the science is increasingly supporting yoga therapy for the treatment of lower back pain.

Why does yoga heal lower back pain when so many other treatments fail? I could probably list off 100 reasons, but here are 3 big ones…

1) Lower Back Pain is a Psychosomatic Disorder

Psychosomatic disorders involve both the mind (psyche) and the body (soma). Take a moment right now to pretend that you are really angry but are trying not to show it. Really act it out, like this is improv class. What happened in your body? Feeling a little tense? Our emotions manifest in our body affecting our muscles, blood circulation and breath. Often they can have an adverse affect on our physical health without us even knowing it. When I think back to my worst episodes of lower back pain, they often align with stressful periods in my life. At the time I was unaware, but my stress and anxiety were wreaking havoc on my lower back. Yoga is a mind-body therapy by design. In yoga we use our breath, mindfulness and intentional movement together to heal our mind and body at the same time.

2) Yoga Balances Strength AND Length

Yoga strengthens and lengthens our muscles in a balanced way that few other activities can. Each yoga pose requires both exertion and stretching, and as we move through our practice we address each part of our body in a systematic way. This balanced approach helps support good alignment and makes our body more resilient and resistant to injury. Most physical activity is good for us, but when we only do one activity like biking, surfing, or running, we can end up with imbalances in our strength and flexibility. These imbalances can create all kinds of problems, one of which is lower back pain. Yoga is the perfect way to balance your body’s strength and length.

3) Suffering = Pain x Resistance
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Photo: Mara Milam

In yoga we are constantly learning to resist less and accept more. Why? Because resistance leads to suffering. When we experience pain of any type it is natural to put up resistance. This resistance can take the form of self medication, denial, or distraction. Anything but being with and accepting the pain as it is. When we learn to accept our pain mindfully a funny thing starts to happen, it starts to fade. While our ultimate goal may be freedom from pain, learning to live with our pain is a critical part of that journey. Yoga and all forms of meditation are powerful tools in learning to live with the inevitable pains and difficulties of our lives.

Want to learn more reasons why yoga heals lower back pain? Check out my workshop, Lower Back Love! on Saturday May 16th at 12pm! We’ll explore some of the latest science on back pain, and learn tangible yoga based tools for reducing pain and building strong healthy backs. Hope to see you there.