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The Journey from Back Pain to Yoga Class

Paul M. Jerard Jr.
Aug 17, 2007
Why are doctors referring their patients, who have chronic back pain, to Yoga classes? How many studies have been conducted on back pain and Yoga? Is Yoga a "cure all" for back pain? What kind of Yoga class is best for back pain? Let's look at all of these issues and see if we can clear up some answers.

It is conservatively estimated that more than half of the world adult population suffers from some sort of back pain. Yoga, for back pain, is the most popular subject that teacher interns write about at our Yoga teacher training center.

However, this does not explain why so many doctors, within the United States, refer their patients to Yoga studios as an additional alternative to medication and physical therapy. The truth is, that within the U.S., there have been very few studies, and I only know of one in particular, which was the Group Health Cooperative study, which recently took place in Seattle, Washington.

Therefore, one study is not the answer; especially one study which just happened. The truth is, most of the studies on back pain and Yoga, as a form of therapy, are taking place in India. So, why does your family doctor, chiropractor, or orthopedic doctor, take a leap of faith outside the view of traditional western medicine? To put it simply, doctors read and continually educate themselves. They do not look down the narrow path of medicine that is laid down by bureaucracy.

Yoga is relatively inexpensive, in comparison to prescription medicines, so why bother to do a study? In comparison to the joint ventures, and potential profits involved in pharmaceutical studies, Yoga can't promise a "big pay day." Yet, the fact that physicians, within the United States, are willing to "look outside the box" for answers, speaks volumes in regard to their integrity. Doctors are often accused of being too quick to prescribe medicines, but the public often demands quick and effortless solutions in regard to health care.

Is Yoga really a "cure all" for back pain? In short, the answer is "no." How can I say that? Nothing is a cure all for back pain, but Yoga helps most of the students I work with. No prescription can claim 100% patient satisfaction either. Odds are that most people, with pre-existing back pain, who take up Yoga classes for relief, will reduce the number of pain killers needed. This fact has been stated by my Yoga students over the years.

If you have pre-existing back pain, which style of Yoga should you seek out? Regardless of style, you may want to observe a Yoga class before trying it. You should seek out a gentle style, and you should talk to your prospective Yoga teacher ahead of time.

Stay away from vigorous Yoga classes. I would advise against taking part in my Vinyasa Yoga class, but I would welcome you with open arms in my Restorative Yoga class. Why do I say this? Yoga styles, class formats, lesson plans, and teachers differ.

My suggestion is that you get a private session first, and your Yoga teacher will work with you "first hand." If possible, get a referral from your doctor, or from a friend, who practices Yoga. This will help you avoid the guessing process.

Copyright 2006 - Paul Jerard / Aura Publications
About the Author
Paul Jerard is director of Yoga teacher training at Aura in RI. He's a master instructor of martial arts and Yoga. He teaches that along with fitness. He wrote: Is Running a Yoga Business Right for You? For Yoga students who want to be a teacher.
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