Guest Post by Lillah Schwartz.

How did I end up with this pain?

Will it ever go away?

What can I do to enhance the healing process?

These are questions more than 50% of visitors to doctors ask when suffering from back pain.

As a hard working, busy, active person you may have already asked those questions, because you have experienced back pain.

One solution to help enhance relief from back pain is…Therapeutic Yoga.

When it comes to long term relief a 1987 survey, conducted by Klein & Sobel* and published in Medical Self Care Magazine, yoga ranked at number one.

The survey, of 492 chronic back pain sufferers used several modalities based on long term prolonged relief, short term relief, and no relief.

The top four modalities offering long term relief were as follows:

  1. Yoga instruction 96%
  2. Psychiatrists 86%
  3. Physical therapists 65%
  4. Acupuncturist 36%

How does that help you? Let’s explore back pain; its causes, and how Therapeutic Yoga can enhance a long- term solution to its relief.

The causes of Back Pain fall into four general categories:

  1. Accidents or injuries, including repetitive motion injuries;
  2. Poor posture and body mechanics, including prolonged sitting and other working conditions;
  3.  Stress, whether real or imagined, resulting in both specific and general muscular tension with varying intensity;
  4. Disease processes, including physiological responses from asthma, high blood pressure, and nerve or joint pain from conditions such as M.S. or Fibro-myalgia.

Yoga is both a science and an art. Although yoga is not a panacea, it does offer relief, self-empowerment, and even healing for those individuals who are fortunate enough to find a good yoga teacher.

One of yoga’s greatest gifts is the way the practice slows us down and helps us to be in touch with what’s going on inside. Through the practice of yoga we develop a fundamental attitude for healing, that of Ahimsa, non-violence or kindness. When we extend our limbs in a pose we meet the resistance of our stiff muscles. In the beginning we judge all pain as negative, fearing we may re-injure ourselves.

However, all sensations of discomfort are not negative. Meeting the resistance within us, physically and mentally is the doorway to releasing our healing potential. The formula for releasing pain and resistance with kindness is a simple one.

When you come up against your resistance in a pose:

  1. Stop. Don’t resist or push through.
  2. Suspend judgment.
  3. Breath.
  4. Wait, and observe what changes.

In this way the healing potential within you is released to flow more freely, and you have an opportunity to exercise discernment in what to stretch and how much, rather than react.

Body mechanics and proper alignment also play an important role in healing back pain.

Regardless of how our back pain arises, there will be muscles that are short, tight, or even in spasm, and muscles that are long, weak or overworked. As we correct these imbalances with an appropriate yoga sequence, we are correcting and re-aligning our posture. This is done by aligning one joint with another to create stability along with greater range of motion.

As students learn and maintain proper alignment, joint stresses are released and body mechanics become more efficient. The risk of re-injury is reduced as we create a balance of strength and flexibility, making alignment an essential part of the healing process.

The art of yoga also guides us to focus on the breath, and to build the bridge between body, mind, and soul. When we look within and breathe deeply in a pose, regardless of the source of our stress, we begin to reverse the stress cycle. Our body gets the message that it is “safe” to relax. The muscle fibers release, blood vessels dilate, endorphins release, and stress hormones lessen.

In this way even the simplest of poses can have a profound effect on relieving the aches and pains associated with stress. In relation to back pain from a disease process, yoga offers sublime and unexpected relief. One of the cornerstones of Iyengar Yoga, the style in which I am trained and certified, is the adaptability of poses through the use of props to maximize their therapeutic benefit.

The therapeutic aim in this instance is measured not in a structural way, but rather in relation to the organic body and its function. The poses are done in such a manner as to open and stimulate the core of the body improving circulation, elimination and function of the glands and organs.

The reversal of a disease process may or may not occur, however, a well-guided yoga practice will support a higher level of physiological function and the resulting sense of well-being.

According to Mr. Iyengar’s method, the practice of yoga is an integrative art, often moving students toward longer lasting pain relief, renewed self confidence, and a sense of wholeness.

The following three stretches are a simple way to gain quick relief from low back pain:

  1.  Dog Pose Prep – position: bend forward at your hip joint, extend your arms placing your hands on a wall, desk or chair. Choose an appropriate height so you align the wrist, shoulders and hips. Step your feet hips width apart and toe in slightly. Action: turn the upper arms out so the shoulder blades move away from the spine. As you exhale, move your pubis and top thighs back and lift your sits bones. Extend your spine completely, pressing your palms into the wall. Feel the stretch of the legs and ribs.
  2. Kneeling groin stretch – position: Knees as wide as they go with big toes touching, hips even with your knees, the lower back is slightly concave, belly soft. Action: Breathe deeply, let go of tension in your neck and spine, movethe hips slightly forward and back.
  3. Traction Twist – position: Lying on your back, feet close to your buttocks–yet wider than your hips, arms out to the side. Action: Drop both knees to the right, tuck your tailbone as you draw your hip and waist back toward the floor. Feel the stretch through the front of your thigh and hip. Change sides.

For back pain relief a good yoga teacher would be someone who has training in alignment and body mechanics, can adapt poses for persons with limited range of motion, and understands the function of pain and mental attitude in the practice of yoga.

Yoga is a wonderful practice for back pain sufferers allowing us to tune in and release pain in a positive way; teaching us proper alignment to relieve strain and re-balance our posture; helping us to use our breath to release stress, build self-confidence, and improving our overall health and well-being.

When I evaluate students in my classes and private sessions, I help them identify their muscular imbalances and recommend the right yoga moves to help create balance, pain relief and freedom of movement.

For students seeking pain relief who can not attend an appropriate class, I recommend my two DVD’s; Yoga: Freedom from Back Pain, and Yoga: Relief from Neck and Shoulder Pain. Each DVD offers 12 simple yoga moves that are practical and accessible to most students, new and more experienced.

The DVD’s have been recommended by Yoga Journal, Prevention Magazine, and Dr Andrew Weil, author of “Creating Optimal Health” and “Self-Healing” newsletter, and have been distributed Nationally in the U.S. and Canada.

Note from Catherine Carrigan: I have just completed my 500-hour yoga teacher training with Lillah Schwartz, including taking all her trainings on yoga for healing your back. If you are in Georgia, you can reach me to learn how to heal your back with yoga at 678-612-8816 or

Lillah Schwartz is a certified Iyengar Instructor with over 28 yrs experience. She is the founding director of Lighten Up Yoga and Teacher Training School in Asheville, NC. For more information on Lillah her classes, personal training or teacher trainings please call 828-258-9401.