The latest NIH funded study about yoga and back pain came out last month and the results are really exciting. Again yoga came out glowing with efficacy – there was significant improvement in pain for most of the participants – and even more exciting is that it also alleviated their depression. AND the results lasted for 6 months after the class ended! Read the whole article here.

I have a new client who was a professional dancer when she was younger. Now she’s in her late 60s and has severe back pain. Yoga has been helping her a lot. “The thing is,” she told me, “I’m incredibly flexible. I don’t feel like I’m stretching unless I really push myself. When I first started doing yoga a few years ago, it injured me, because the instructor pushed me to go deep, like I did in dancing.”

Now, even though she’s still really flexible, the yoga that I’m guiding her through to relieve her back pain is very simple, slow and gentle. I mostly have her move from a supine position (on her back) – and it’s working. She gets so much benefit from this slow, conscious practice – the thing is that it’s undoing years of hyper-stretching – all the trouble that she got herself into when she was younger because it was so effortless to put her foot behind her head.

This is the second NIH funded study of lower back pain, that I know of. And both have come out strongly in favor of yoga. Here’s the other one.

But here’s the problem: yoga is a small word for such a huge range of practices…and that can be a little dangerous. Someone with chronic back pain, hearing about this study, turns up for a Level 2 fitness yoga class at their gym and well, the results are not nearly as spectacular. In fact, a statistic cited at a recent International Association of Yoga Therapist’s conference in LA, maintains that a whopping 50 percent of the people who start doing yoga quit – because they get injured. Fifty percent! That’s huge. And in my opinion it’s unacceptable.

Can’t we as a yoga community do something about the way we advertise about and teach yoga that helps us to limit this? “First, do no harm.” In yoga with call this “Ahimsa.” Gandhi made it famous – non-harming. That’s our first obligation. May all beings be free from suffering.

Here’s my proposal for re-categorizing yoga. Essentially, we need two clearly defined categories.

1. Fitness yoga – subcategories include: gentle, beginner, level 1,2,3, power, etc.
2. Therapeutic yoga – subcategories include: yoga for back pain, osteoporosis and arthritis, emotional wellbeing, seniors, pregnancy, restorative etc.

The IAYT has been working on this re-defining for a few years. But we certainly have a big PR problem in this country with yoga and we need to work on getting the word out that it’s not all about fitness – yoga can help with a variety of challenges. We should be working to invite everyone in, not just the fitness enthusiasts.


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