Yoga and Your Spine

Why Yoga Can Help with Back Pain and Obesity

Young overweight woman looking on a laptop computerQuestion: I'm a 27-year-old female, and I have chronic low back pain because I'm overweight. I want to try yoga for my chronic pain because I've heard yoga can really help control pain. I don't really exercise a lot, and I've struggled with my weight for years. Can I do yoga, and will it help me?
—New York, NY

Answer: Those are excellent questions—ones that require specific answers. Even though you've struggled with your weight and you have chronic low back pain, I'm happy to hear that you're interested in trying yoga. Be sure, though, that you talk to your doctor before you start any new exercise routine.

Deeply rooted in ancient Indian tradition, yoga is a popular way to stretch your muscles—and your mind—and manage stress. It can also actually help ease your low back pain and address your weight issues.

But yoga isn't just all about the poses. Deep breathing and meditation also play key roles in yoga.

  • Poses teach you good alignment (how to have good posture) and help you develop strength and flexibility to alleviate your back pain.
  • Breathing exercises help you learn how to breathe correctly.
  • Meditation helps you relax, focus, and check in with your body and mind.

It's unfortunate that many people find yoga intimidating—they think they have to bend, twist, and force their bodies into certain positions. But yoga is actually the opposite. It meets you where you are.

If you can, seek out a private yoga instructor. He or she can give you individualized attention and can create a routine you can do on your own. A private yoga instructor can also teach you poses to help with low back pain and weight issues.

With chronic low back pain, abdominal muscles may be weak. A personalized yoga instructor can coach you through certain poses to strengthen your back and core muscles, for example.

You can also attend a group yoga class. But because you're a beginner, you shouldn't go to just any yoga class offered at your local gym. Instead, try to find a yoga studio—and New York has many—that has certified yoga teachers who specialize in teaching beginners.

In your case, even though your back pain and weight may limit you to certain poses, you'll still benefit from yoga because there are variations of just about every pose, which means there are easier versions of them. Over time, and when you become more comfortable with the poses, you'll be able to go more deeply into them.

Another added bonus of doing yoga is that it helps address your weight. Specific breathing and meditation exercises help you become more mindful of what you put into your body (eg, choosing a leafy green salad over a fast food hamburger). Yoga essentially helps you learn how to take care of your own body.

For these reasons, regular yoga practice isn't just good for your spine—it's good for your overall health.

In addition, besides doing yoga, there are a couple of other good options you can try to relieve back pain, including a good daily stretching routine and acupuncture.