Yoga For Low Back Pain
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- How to construct an individualized, back-friendly home yoga practice.
- How to drastically reduce, or even eliminate, lower back pain.
- How to improve strength while crafting a leaner, more powerful body.
- How to identify and eliminate pain triggers, including common yoga poses that are directly contraindicated for back pain.
- This course was designed to be accessible but challenging for everyone from very beginners to more advanced practitioners of yoga and other forms of strength training.
- Helpful to have: 1 yoga mat, 1 or 2 moderate-weight kettlebells or dumbbells
Here's yoga's dirty little secret: yoga has a great reputation for helping with back pain, but most group yoga classes are comprised of movements directly contraindicated for back pain.
This course was developed by Justin Sluyter, author of Yoga for Low Back Pain, a former group yoga instructor who found himself debilitated by yoga-induced back pain, and created the Low Back Yogi program based on years of research undertaken by Dr. Stu McGill at his world-renowned Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of Waterloo. This course is intended to provide yoga practitioners with a legitimately science-based approach, offering a path out of chronic back pain.
Instead of focusing on arbitrary flexibility, the focus here is on strength, endurance, stability, and appropriate mobility.
This course will provision you with all the tools you need to construct your own individualized home-based yoga program, featuring many postures that have been clinically proven to reduce low back pain.
The revolutionary Low Back Yogi program features over twenty carefully-chosen and researched postures to choose from. Each lecture contains precise, easy-to-follow instructions and step-by-step demonstrations to help you master each pose.
In addition to pain reduction and the calming benefits of a yoga practice, this course will also enhance your athletic performance and help you sculpt a leaner, more powerful physique.
All you need to get started is a yoga mat! It can also be helpful to have a Swiss Ball handy for the Stir-the-Pot exercise, and one or two kettlebells or dumbbells for use in the Carries exercise, but these are quite optional.
UPDATE 1/22/20: Buying this course on Udemy now gives you access to the latest edition of the ebook, Yoga For Low Back Pain: A Science-Based Approach!
Early Access Reviews:
I started going to group yoga classes a few years ago to complement my normal routine and help prevent injuries. I am quite happy to have been introduced to Justin's series, as the sequence is far more tailored to my needs. Quite usefully, Justin explains the logic behind the poses chosen, as well as the reasoning behind why you might be better off skipping some of the poses included in typical group classes. I recommend the course to anyone who has dealt with back pain in the past as well as anyone who wants to improve core strength and stability. -Jacob Mays
I think he did a great job of presenting the material. He focused on a specific therapy (yoga for the low back) instead of trying to teach all yoga for all body parts to everyone and that was a wonderful thing because it delivered exactly what was promised in the title of the course. The wide shots were beautiful with the landscape in the background. The video camera was also close enough to see details. He seems to CARE about the practitioners too which is nice. He gives reasons why you should do things a certain way and he gives advice as to how to approach the practice and what to do for your back pain when you're not practicing. His goal really seems to be helping people in pain. There were some non traditional moves that were new to me and that says a lot because I'm always studying exercise and constantly searching for variety. I find anyone who can inspire me with something new very refreshing!!! -Sky Nicholas
This feels revolutionary. I think with continued practice this could help relieve lower back pain for many people familiar with yoga. It might be a bit difficult for people who are not flexible, but they would most likely gain flexibility by doing these exercises. The instructor is obviously very knowledgeable and yet also has a gentle, encouraging tone. He is a joy to watch and listen to.
I don't think this course needs to be changed in any way. It does exactly what it says, and I believe it would provide great results over time for dedicated students who proceed with the caution the instructor recommends. -Patricia Smith
I don't know anything about yoga but this helped me and it's one I'll watch again and again and take notes. -Lovely L. Jones
- You are struggling with back pain.
- You are interested in a more scientific and athletic approach to yoga for pain-reduction, weight loss, and strength gains.
- You are interested in meditation and the calming benefits of creating a home-based yoga practice.
- You are bored or frustrated with your current yoga and exercise program.
Braced Neutral Pose and Spinal Elongation – Braced Neutral Pose is a great way to initiate your yoga practice, with mastery of simplicity. Spend at least several rounds of breath in Neutral Pose before starting your elongation pose. If you have trouble figuring out the "abdominal bracing" technique, have a buddy whack you in the belly! The way your core will tighten automatically in anticipation of the impact is what we're going for, but a much less intense version of that. Only about a 20% to 30% contraction of the abdominal wall is necessary for our purposes, and since I'll be asking you to maintain that abdominal brace throughout most of this yoga sequence, if you go for too strong a contraction you'll exhaust your core far too quickly. In the Elongation pose, please remember to be conservative…a little bit goes a long way! Crunching into a back bend as deeply as you can go won’t do your joints any favors, and can cause more trouble than it’s worth.
HIP HINGE PROGRESSIONS // The Hip Hinge is a fundamental movement pattern that unfortunately becomes flawed and dysfunctional for many of us suffering from low back pain. These three Hip Hinge progressions constitute great patterning work that can help us move in a safe, spine-sparing way. Perform 3 (or more) slow repetitions of each progression before finishing, if you’re ready, with just one repetition of the more advanced Deep Squat.
Things to remember:
The first two hip hinge progressions constitute a Deadlift movement pattern, while the final two constitute a Squat pattern.
Think of this first hip hinge progression next time you’re getting in and out of a chair. Use it! Collapsing into chairs and cars like a hunchy monkey isn’t doing you any favors.
The second hip hinge progression will challenge your spine's ability to handle shear loading, so for those of you with shear-intolerant backs—a good indication of this is that you experience pain when hip hinging in this second progression, despite having a perfectly braced and neutral spine—you may need to skip this step for now. You might be shear-intolerant, and you can always return to this progression later on, as you get stronger.
When performing the third hip hinge progression, the most important thing to remember is to keep your spine straight. If your lower back starts to collapse, if your tailbone starts to tuck under—what trainers like to call the squat “butt wink”—this means you’ve gone too far. I’m not capable of performing a very deep squat with my feet flat on the floor, and that’s okay, some of us aren’t naturally deep squatters. If you’re like me and you can’t squat very far down without your tailbone tucking and/or experiencing pain, be extra careful when advancing to the Deep Squat. Just do ONE deep squat, one is enough! Many of us cannot squat deeply AND maintain a braced neutral spine unless we lift up our heels and come onto our toes. This is perfectly natural, a function of anatomy, and not—I repeat, NOT—a “problem” that you need to correct by doing 20+ minutes of squat drills and ‘stretches’ every day (which is precisely the kind of spine-destroying nonsense I see propagated by trainers and yoga gurus alike).
Knee pain is nothing to mess with, if you experience knee pain in the deep squat progression, please avoid for now.
HIP AIRPLANE // Facility with the prior balancing poses, plus being able to execute good pain-free planks (see later in this sequence) are, I believe, prerequisites for attempting the Hip Airplane. This movement may irritate shear-intolerant backs, so if you find it provocative to your back pain, put it aside for now. You can always come back to it later!
TRIANGLE VARIATIONS // Triangle 1 & 2 – Yoga classics. Focus on maintaining your good abdominal bracing and proper alignment throughout.
REVERSE LUNGES and BELLY DOWN CORPSE POSE // Eagle-eyed students will note that the Lunge portion of this video has recently changed. I initially advocated a forward lunge variation, but after noticing some discomfort in my knee and doing further research, I have decided to adopt the reverse lunge instead, as advocated by Dr. John Rusin. The reason being that in forward lunge variations the eccentric loading of the quadricep muscles can cause strain through the patella. But reverse lunges activate the posterior chain musculature more and allow for a slightly higher front-side hip flexion angle, which means the rectus femoris muscle can be more relaxed in the eccentric phase of the movement, resulting in less strain on the patella.
According to Dr. Stu McGill, in his book “Back Mechanic,” (which everybody should read right now this second), low back pain can produce “antalgia,” which means a loss of the natural hollow in the lower spine, a “flattening” of the low back. Belly Down Corpse Pose can help to restore that natural lordotic curve. Focus on really relaxing all your muscles when you’re in this position.
BIRD DOG // This is the first of The Big 3 exercises, designed by Dr. Stu McGill to help stabilize the spinal joints. Start with a single leg lift, as demonstrated. If that goes well and doesn’t provoke pain, try lifting your opposite arm at the same time. If you can lift your leg and opposing arm while remaining stable and pain free, eventually you can graduate to ‘making squares.’ Remember, these are only 10 second posture holds. Don’t get greedy. Holding these for more than 10 seconds per repetition gets you into ‘diminishing returns’ territory pretty quickly.
PLANKS // The second of Stu McGill's 'Big 3' exercises. As a beginner, never do more than a 10 second plank, with 5-10 second breaks in between reps. You’re better off doing a 1-minute plank in 6 distinct 10-second ‘sets,’ as opposed to gritting and grunting your way through one long 60-second posture hold. This is great for joint stability in the spine and building muscular endurance. Hit it often, hit it regularly, even on ‘rest’ days. When you’re ready to ‘flow’ through the planks, as demonstrated in the video, make sure you’re never TWISTING your spine. I harp on this several times in the video, but it’s worth mentioning here as well: don’t let your shoulders get lazy. It’s easy to develop shoulder issues in planks (and especially side planks) if you start to lose your form. In planks, pull those elbows down towards your hipbones, and in side planks, do the same thing…that ‘base elbow’ should be strongly pulling down toward the bottom hipbone. This engages the lats and protects the shoulders.
McGILL CURL-UPS // The third and final 'Big 3' exercise. This is a killer core workout that looks—deceptively!—like you’re barely doing anything. This posture has been studied in the lab, even tested on U.S. troops, and found to be remarkably effective and far safer than traditional sit-ups / curl-ups / crunches. Don’t forget to breathe calmly and deeply into your belly, and to activate those obliques for a good, high-quality abdominal brace. The McGill Curl Up should be done with a core so tight that if someone was standing over you, holding a medicine ball above their head, waiting to slam it down right on your bellybutton, you’d be ready for it. I’m not kidding! Hold each rep for 10 seconds. The neurological pulsing drill I demonstrate at the end is good for athletes, runners, weight lifters, but consider it an advanced progression. Feel free to skip it as a very beginner. It will come in handy when you decide you’re ready to start practicing Turkish Get Ups, though.
"I consider that every general program to enhance athleticism needs a carry task." - Dr. Stu McGill
Please note that you can always substitute dumbbells for kettlebells in every variation presented here, except for the bottoms-up carry, which does require a kettlebell. The weight distribution in obviously different, but you'll get benefits whether you use KBs or DBs!
HALF FIXED FIRM POSE // This is a version of a posture I taught for many years in group yoga classes. The traditional version of this pose encourages students to go all the way down to their elbows, and if that’s okay then to proceed further still, until the student is all the way down with the backs of their shoulders touching the floor! Unfortunately, this is an inappropriate level of stretch for most people and a highly unstable position for the spine. Once you go down onto your shoulders, you’ve placed your spine in an unstable extended position, and then when reversing out of this posture it’s very difficult—impossible, for some people—to come out without dumping the lower back into flexion. This replicates a common, serious mechanism of injury: going directly from spinal extension into spinal flexion. I like the Fixed Firm posture only insofar as it provides for a nice mobilizing stretch in the knees, ankles and quads. When I was teaching group classes, I noticed that the majority of my yoga students started their yoga practice seriously lacking mobility in their knees and ankles, and a steady yoga practice was usually able to restore good functional, pain-free range of motion. If you have to start on all fours like a cat, that’s fine. Getting to the point where you can sit seiza-style on your heels is the first goal. Proceeding to the fixed firm position, knees wide, sitting all the way down between the heels, is a more intense stretch and will target different muscle fibers in the ankle, and can provide a pleasant groin stretch for some practitioners. Hang in this posture for a minute or two, and never push into pain.
When you finish this posture, I encourage you to finish your practice with at least two to five minutes of silence, either sitting seiza-style, or in belly-down corpse pose.
Congratulations, you finished your practice!