Bikram yoga has so many health benefits – and just one of the most common reasons people are keen to try it is because of the benefits to your spine. The short explanation for why this is: is this form of yoga focuses very much on spine strength and flexibility – and many of the 26 postures during a Bikram yoga class directly impact spinal health.
Great… But Will Hot Yoga Help My Back Pain?
Well, our bodies are amazingly unique and individual things; so we can’t claim that one treatment works for everyone; however we’ve seen many, many people come to our studio and find themselves amazed at the relief they’ve gotten through regular practice, that they’ve never been able to gain elsewhere. And we’ve heard of even more than we’ve seen; for example, studies have shown that those who practice Bikram Yoga, as little as twice a week, for 8 weeks make very noticeable gains in strength, flexibility, and endurance; which also happens to be one of the basic goals of most rehabilitation programs for back pain.
In addition, the breathing and meditation aspects of yoga induce a “relaxation response” that has been found in many studies to assist people in decreasing their pain. Bikram Yoga has also been found to be helpful in the treatment of depression and anxiety that often accompany pain problems…. more on this at the end.
… So, Exactly How Could Doing Yoga In A Hot Room Help?
The Foundations: Understanding Our Spine
To understand how Bikram Yoga can help with back pain, we first gotta understand the way our spine works. Our spines extend from the base of our skulls to our pelvis and is made up of bones (vertebrae), nerves and soft tissue – including tendons, ligaments and muscle. A healthy spine means a healthy back; and means you should be able to do your day-to-day life “stuff” without experiencing pain.
Why Our Spines Become Unhappy
One of the major causes of back pain is spinal compression; which basically means the spaces between the vertebrae get “squashed” and are smaller than they should be. This can happen with age, and/or typical daily activity. If spinal compression is left to worsen it can cause weakness…. which can lead to pain or a numb feeling in your back…. this tends to happen to most people at some point if they don’t do something to decompress the spine on a regular basis.
So, that’s the bad news; the good news is that Bikram Yoga can help decompress the spine – hooray – as there are many postures in the class that involve back bends; which help the spine as they put space between the disks and spinal nerves in your back, and decompress the front of your vertebrae. Some of the postures that are particularly good for decompression are standing bow pose and bow pose, camel, and cobra.
Flexibility Is Our Friend
We go into the benefits of this in a lot more depth in our guide on Bikram Hot Yoga & Flexibility – but in a nutshell, Bikram Yoga can also help your spine, and therefore your back pain, by improving your flexibility. Tight muscles in the back and lower body can be another major cause of back pain, so improved flexibility can help prevent and treat that pain.
Yoga Journal sums it up with the following: “when the hamstrings are tight, they pull the pelvis down and create more pressure for the lower back. Plus, there is less stress on the spine when the hip flexors and pelvic muscles are flexible. Flexibility can also ease tension and soreness in muscles to relieve pain in the back and other areas of the body.
Poses that are particularly useful for pain caused by inflexibility are half moon pose, rabbit pose and spine twisting pose; as they gently stretch the spine – which when done regularly, leads to greater flexibility.
Also be aware that tight hamstrings can also exacerbate back stress and pain. If you know you have tight hamstrings, postures such as standing separate leg stretching pose and even just fully releasing in corpse pose helps lengthen the hamstrings; thus helping to relieve the pressure on your back.
All Of Which Helps Create… Less Back Pain!
The above helps us understand why Bikram Yoga has helped to many people to alleviate different types of back pain, from herniated disks, sciatica, scoliosis of the spine to a variety of other lower back problems…. as with the many other benefits of Bikram; the more frequently you practice, the quicker and more long term these benefits will be.
The benefits for back pain aren’t just physical; Clinical Psychologist at the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry, Professor Mark Williams, says yoga has great potential for alleviating long-term pain conditions…
He explains that it has been shown by measuring electrical and chemical activity during yoga that the amygdala – the part that controls fear – shrinks. This is why it can be an effective treatment for anxiety, depression – and pain – because much of the problem is feelings of hopelessness that come with endless discomfort.
…. Which is another super fascinating and rather brilliant benefit for our happy-to-be-bendy backs!