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Yoga can be a powerful healing tool for overcoming back pain. But there are times when your practice can do more harm than good. “Too often, students don’t back off a pose until there’s pain,” says Jamie Elmer, a yoga instructor in Boulder, Colorado. “Hurting even just alittle bit is a sign that you have to change something.” Elmer challenges students to answer this question: Why are you coming to yoga? “Are you coming for a distraction from something else? That’s what TV is for. A yoga practice without mindfulness can lead to injury quickly.”
If you have a history of lower back pain, keep these do’s and don’ts in mind when you practice, says Elmer:
DO vary the intensity of your practice. “If we do anything repetitively, day after day, and we haven’t built up the internal strength for that activity, the body won’t be ready for it, and injury will result,” says Elmer. Like any type of exercise, mix up the style of yoga you practice. If you do a vigorous, Ashtanga class one day, seek out a more meditative and calming class the next, so you’re not repeating strenuous movements too often.
DON’T go into any pose to your fullest range of motion. “When you’re in that kind of extreme, you’re not using muscle control,” she says. The result? Risky joint compression in your hips, knees, and spine.
DO use your abdominal muscles and bend your knees when going into a forward bend to prevent overstretching in your lower back.
DO use your abs and keep your legs strong in back-bending poses, including cobra and upward-facing dog.
DON’T twist with a rounded spine. “More important than how deeply you can twist is how long your spine is when you do,” says Elmer.
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