AskTari – Can Yoga Help or Hurt Back Pain?

Karyn M: Karyn is 56, an 8 year ovarian cancer survivor, and a filmmaker. Her back pain is related to prior conditions not cancer or treatments. She works long hours sitting in front of a film-editing computer. She rarely exercises and is carrying more weight than she should.

Karyn asked Tari: After the class on Tuesday I had back pain, not as severe as the previous time when I had to stop in the middle of a class but still enough to restrict my mobility somewhat. So my question is; are there some conditions like mine — I have been diagnosed with moderate spinal synopsis – where you would say yoga is not a good thing? You know how beneficial I think the classes are in general and how much I enjoy them but as this is the second time I have had a problem with my back I am wondering if I should carry on. What do you think?


Tari Answered: My gut says you are trying too hard in class. We need to do a private so you can learn how to ‘prop-up’ yourself when I, or an assistant cannot get to you. Also so I can learn more about what you are experiencing in class. My gut also says, if you stop moving and stretching you will get worse rather than better.

Spinal stenosis happens as people hit the half-century mark, their spinal canals start to narrow and nearby ligaments thicken. That can cause bone spurs and that pain can get worse from walking and weight-bearing activities. Unfortunately, surgery is the best corrective method.

So it could be the walking and lifting after class, not the class that is causing the pain. If you can do restorative poses at home when this happens, you can help to relieve some of the pressure inside the spinal canals. Yoga may be for you more than an exercise, but a prescription for when you do experience pain. You are just beginning to learn about your body’s abilities and its’ new limitations through taking class. Now I want you to take home some techniques that can be used as muscles relaxation and restoration.

In class we need to be attentive to your intention for the day. Less is always more. But not fewer yoga classes, less eagerness to keep up with the class and more awareness of where ‘Karyn’s’ limit is.

Good back health can be maintained:
Here’s how to practice good back health:

  • Stretch.
  • Lift with your legs.
  • Don’t go all-out and overdo it.
  • Continue to exercise, including weight-bearing routines (which will help with core strength, too).
  • Practice good posture
  • Do what you can to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get up from your computer regularly. “The biggest thing you can do for your back health is to stay active.”

I will try my best to help you. I would rather see you come to class and be less active, then to stay away. I hope this helps.