precautions for back painBy Bhavan Kumar

How should teachers handle precautions for back pain? Each student who has back pain is different because no two injuries and students are exactly the same. This is something every instructor should have learned in foundational yoga teacher training. Although I have outlined precautions and prevention guidelines below; these would be considered typical. As Paul would often say, “Back pain threshold and the exact cause of it are unique.” Below this paragraph is a handout that you can use to educate your students.


Cost of Backaches and Pain

ABC News reported in 2009 that Yoga training improves mood and ability to function in people with back pain. This study, done by the National Institute of Health, found that patients who used a combination of Yoga and traditional therapy did better than those who received treatment alone. Since almost all Americans have at least one episode of lower back pain or neck pain, this is a major problem. As a result, these ailments cost citizens $380 billion in 2016 according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Nevertheless, the US is one country among many. Of course, if we combine global statistics, spinal pain has to be costing the world trillions of dollars.


Preventing Injuries

Nevertheless, doing the wrong Yoga poses or doing them incorrectly can create additional pain and injuries. The key to success lies in knowing the cause of your back pain and finding a Yoga instructor who knows how to use asana as a therapeutic tool. Depending on the individual, particular postures may not be recommended. Communication is key to preventing injuries in yoga class. The yoga teacher should know his or her students and teach accordingly.


Gentle and Restorative

Important factors to consider are age, health, flexibility, balance, and strength. Because different styles of Yoga vary in intensity and technique, finding the right class can be confusing. Restorative Yoga is becoming more popular for people who want a safe practice session. Therapeutic Yoga classes are also good choices. Therapeutic and restorative classes focus on holding gentle poses, using props, and safely making adaptations to asanas.


Precautions for Preventing Back Pain in Everyday Activities

Don’t bend at the waist and round off the spine when lifting objects. Use the knees instead.

Avoid forcefully twisting the spine; turn the entire body.

Don’t lift heavy objects.

When you have to lift, hold objects near the body to distribute weight.

Avoid excessive or strenuous activity.

Keep the body aligned.


Benefits of Yogic Methodology for the Back

Relaxes muscles, increases flexibility, and prevents strain

Builds strength and endurance

Supports alignment, good posture, and coordination

Increases awareness of body’s strengths and limitations


Ten Yoga Poses to Modify or Avoid for Back Pain

Camel Pose

Cobra Pose

Corpse Pose

Bound Angle Pose

Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

Standing Forward Bend

Intense Side Stretch Pose

Reclining Hero Pose

Bow Pose



Moderation and Caution

Each of the above-mentioned postures might not cause pain to your back, but if you decide to try them use caution, be gentle, see how you feel, never force and be prepared to modify. As with everything else, the use of Yoga for back pain requires moderation and caution. While studies clearly show that asana practice helps, choosing the right poses and doing them correctly is crucial. The best way to do this is to find a Yoga instructor who knows how to choose the asanas you need and adapt them to your needs.


Side Note for Teachers

Precautions for back pain should be covered on student application forms. Teachers should state general precautions at the beginning of each class. Do not give medical advice, but do make sure your students know they should consult a health care professional before attending Yoga sessions. Our students need to be honest about what they can do. Risky poses should be avoided whenever possible and painful twists should also be avoided. We can teach wrist-free sequences, but some students will refuse.


Self-Destruction or Bust

If a student has pre-existing injuries but demands to practice a difficult pose, they should attend another class or school. Some students are Hell-bent on self-destruction and we should never assist them to injure themselves. One of my students was 66 years of age with pre-existing wrist pain. Frequently, she winced in pain during Table sequences.  She would get very insulted when given any modifications to avoid pain. Finally, she left and entered a Power Yoga class in another studio. After two weeks, she required surgery and later decided to avoid Yoga altogether.


All or Nothing

Sometimes, students have an all-or-nothing mindset. Just like watching the news, we see people who absolutely refuse to compromise. Unfortunately, some students and teachers see modifications and props as a sign of weakness. Yoga is designed to keep the body healthy, but injuries can still happen if proper precautions are not taken. If students feel pain while practicing certain yoga poses, they should modify their practice or avoid the posture. One of the best precautions for back pain is for us to put our ego aside during practice. Surely, a mind that can tame the ego is one of the most valuable benefits of yoga practice.


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