Help me find useful yoga and/or pilates DVDs.
October 26, 2009 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Can you tell me about your experiences with pilates or yoga in regards to lower back pain? DVD or CD recommendations especially helpful.

I have chronic lower back pain that I'm hoping can be diminished by starting to regularly practice yoga or pilates. Mostly, I'm hoping somebody can point me towards a DVD or CD that I can practice with. I took classes in college that introduced me to both pilates and yoga at a beginner's level, so I'm fairly comfortable with most of the terminology, but I would still consider myself to be no more than a beginner.

I'm also looking for experiences people have that would help me to decide which would be the best for me. What do you like about yoga? What do you like about pilates? Do you have back pain and one of the two really helped you? Right now, I'm leaning towards pilates, as I remember some of the exercises making my spine feel really good, and also because I perceive it as being easier to practice without an instructor present (I have no idea if this is true. Any responses regarding this are also welcome!). I can't afford to go to classes. No, not even the low cost ones.

I really enjoyed the few moments we would spend at the end of class, being mindful of our bodies. I am interested in any stress relief either exercise can bring, but I would probably be turned off by anything that feels too over the top hokey. I am also turned off by a focus on weight loss. I don't want to slim down or sculpt anything or lose inches in only ten minutes a day, just move and feel good about my body and possibly lessen my back pain. I am not very flexible, so something that gives alternate ways to practice moves that require more flexibility would be welcome.
posted by rosethorn to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Specifically for the lower back there is the snake pose. 5-10 minutes a day is all I've needed for the past few years to keep pain free while doing all manner of activities. It's the same as the stretch I was given by a my physical therapist after back surgery - although "Naga" is a cooler name than "lower lumbar flexi-whatever".

The PT claimed that we spend so much time flexed the other way, at work or in cars or watching TV, this would balance it out somewhat and reduce pressure on the spine tremendously. How true is that I don't know, but it works so far.
posted by anti social order at 1:40 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yoga and pilates are really different, especially in their approach and philosophy. Personally, I would recommend yoga for your back. Certain asanas will help you stretch your back, strengthen your back, lengthen your spine, and deepen your ability to twist (twist stretches release tension from the back). Other asanas - corpse pose, knees to the chest pose - are especially good for just releasing your spine and letting go of the back tension that's probably what's giving you pain.

There are specific asanas and sequences which can target your specific problem. I urge you to consult an instructor on this. Pilates and yoga should both be practiced, at least in part, under the guidance of an instructor. If done incorrectly, both can fuck you up even more. Videos and other home practice routes are great supplements to a regular class, but you really should consider going regularly to a class, even if it's only once a week.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:41 PM on October 26, 2009

I say go for pilates. It will build up core strength to support your back.

Also, as a data point, I have constant lower back pain. I never pushed myself hard in yoga, but still winded up making it worse. As my problem was with my sacroiliac joint (has too much movement), yoga was super easy, but the problem became worse. I did a bunch of googling and found that one of the more common injuries in yoga was damage to the sacroiliac joint. Sucks, as I loved yoga but I found the most relief from back pain with belly dance movements.
posted by Vaike at 1:41 PM on October 26, 2009

I strongly encourage you to attend a yoga class, specifically one where the instructors spend a great deal of time walking around checking everyone's alignment. Yoga performed without improper instruction is a great way to injure oneself. DVDs are nice, but there is NO replacement for a good teacher who is actually looking at your body and determining if you are doing a pose right or hurting yourself.
posted by satori_movement at 1:53 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I appreciate the thoughts so far, but I'd also really appreciate it if we could stay away from answers that are 'you should go to a class/see an instructor'. I would love to go to weekly classes, and hope to be able to in the future, but I can't right now. I'm looking only for things I can do outside of classes that might help.

That being said, if you think yoga or pilates is too dangerous without an instructor but have a suggestion for something else I could do, I'd definitely welcome your input.
posted by rosethorn at 2:08 PM on October 26, 2009

echoing satori-movement, above. Nothing replaces a good instructor checking to make sure you're doing it correctly.

With a DVD, I've noticed that I'm always straining to see the screen to follow along. So perhaps when my head should be down I'm instead staring at the screen - not getting the full benefit of the pose and perhaps doing something to make it worse.

However, if you do want to go the DVD route, I was pleased with Rodney Yee's Back Care DVD's. I just like Rodney Yee, so YMMV.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:08 PM on October 26, 2009

(sorry I didn't see your follow-up rosethorn before I posted my comment)
posted by Sassyfras at 2:13 PM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: No worries, Sassyfras. I found your comment helpful, since it gives a specific recommendation for a DVD and also points out something about doing yoga with a DVD that I hadn't thought of. It's the comments that consist only of telling me to go to a class that were less helpful to my situation, and I wanted to head them off before they had a chance to take over the thread. Thanks for your response!
posted by rosethorn at 2:22 PM on October 26, 2009

I have practiced yoga for 16 years and Pilates for 7, all the while dealing with a bad lower back. Like Vaike I'm hyperflexible, and love getting all twistybendy in yoga. However, it is very easy to do damage in yoga; to the lower back, neck and shoulders in particular. I started practicing pilates to strengthen my core and to allow me to practice yoga without hurting myself. Pilates has helped tremendously in this regard, and a stronger core has allowed me to start running again, too.

I take a couple of yoga classes a week (Iyengar and Astanga) but took basic Hatha classes at the Sivananda centers for years. I love all the classes, but in my experience Iyengar breaks down poses in the most back-friendly manner. You can find good detail on the poses in the B.K.S. Iyengar book Light on Yoga. I wouldn't trade my Pilates tower classes for anything -- I really get the most benefit from them -- but an ok substitute when I'm traveling is my Pilates-for-dummies DVD.
posted by tidecat at 2:27 PM on October 26, 2009

If you are not very flexible and you have chronic back pain, I would recommend being particularly careful of any forward-bend postures that you do. In my experience, a lot of teachers fail to emphasize the need for care in forward bends. You basically want to avoid over-rounding your spine, let the bend come from your hips, even if it's frustrating how far you're NOT bending. I've seen yoga teachers push people into forward bends in such a way that it can injure the back. The erector spinae muscles that run along the length of your spinal column are extremely prone to strain from over-stretching.

"Lower back pain" doesn't reveal much. Can you give more information? Have you seen a doctor for this and have they identified the source of the pain? Is the pain down near your coccyx or your lower ribs? is it dull or sharp? does it feel like it's in the spinal column or in the muscles? is it more pronounced on one side than the other? do you feel pain radiating down into your buttocks or legs? It's difficult to recommend something that's just good for the back. Your spinal column moves in many different directions. If your pain is due to a slipped disc, you're going to want to treat it differently than if it's due to over strain of your back muscles or weak back muscles due to poor posture.

I've been using myyogaonline for several months now. I think they're great. I don't want to sound like an advertisement in the comments thread, but I really like the way they're set up. Well worth checking out.
posted by pahool at 4:48 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been using My Daily Yoga as needed. That is to say, when I feel like my lower back is getting unhappy, I'll resolve to do it... and it usually makes things significantly better, almost instantly. But, since things are better, I then don't continue doing it. So I'm not sure how useful it might be for someone with truly chronic back pain, since I haven't used it as such.
posted by Jacen Solo at 6:17 PM on October 26, 2009

IMNAY(oga)I(nstructor) qualifer here. But I have taken yoga for 4 years (off and on, mostly on) at a anusara yoga studio and two or three pilates mat classes. I actually took Yoga I a record 6 times before I felt that I'd mastered the basics enough to move on to Yoga I/II and I learned something new each time I repeated it. I'm actually pretty flexible; for me it was more a problem with strength, but I'm not some 80 y.o weakling either. I probably could have moved on sooner, but for me it was really important to get a strong foundation.

To answer your actual question, although I think that pilates is great, I actually think there is more potential to hurt yourself doing it incorrectly on your own. It might make your lower back feel good at the expense of your neck and shoulders (even the most basic exercises like "the hundred" require keeping your neck and shoulders off of the floor and people who are both inexperienced and who have yet to develop the proper core strength tend to hitch their shoulders up and hold a lot of tension in their neck).

For yoga DVDs I'd suggest the Beginning Yoga Step by Step by Yoga Journal. It is a good, through DVD that gives lots of pointers about proper alignment and breaks the poses down. In the dvds, the male (whose name I forget) demonstrates alternate poses and the use of props (mainly blocks) for those who are less flexible. It is far more important to keep your back in proper alignment than to contort yourself. There is no shame in piling up two blocks if you can't get your hands more than a foot from the floor for example. It shouldn't hurt; if you feel a sharp pain stop immediately. You'll be surprised that even a gentle but properly done, fully engaged session, can create some definite "I didn't even know that I HAD muscles there soreness" the next day though.

In fact the Yoga Journal web site is a good source of information. You can get information on individual asanas, creating a sequence, as well as by which poses are best for which parts of the body and/or medical conditions.

I know that you don't want to take a class now but I'd feel remiss if I didn't add that the difference between improper alignment and proper alignment can be millimeters. A simple adjustment or suggestion by a qualified instructor can make all the difference, and that's just not something that you're going to get from even the best DVD. Until you know how it feels to do a certain pose correctly, you won't be able to tell if you're doing it incorrectly, potentially doing more harm than good and learning "bad habits" that will take you that much longer to "unlearn" when you can get to a regular class.
posted by kaybdc at 7:46 PM on October 26, 2009

There are a lot of strong suggestions here. My personal experience with each? Yoga loosened my hamstrings and lessened the strain on my lower back, while pilates made me more intensely aware of the benefits of a strong core than a lifetime of competitive sports had ever managed. A combination of the two would be ideal, but after my first six weeks of 1xweek pilates classes I felt that my core was supporting my spine - and not vice versa - for the first time. It was something short of an 'Aha!' moment, but revelatory nonetheless. The only DVDs I've sampled are from Stott Pilates based in Toronto; they're excellent. Good luck!
posted by swillis at 8:47 PM on October 26, 2009

Response by poster: Pahool - according to the chiropractors I've seen over the years my pain is related to a combination of intensely flat feet (for which I wear inserts), weak abdominal muscles, and this tiny bone in my back that is flipped slightly the wrong way, which is no big deal usually, but means that my back is prone to weakness. The bone is actually in my mid back, but for some reason it radiates down and I experience most of my pain in my lower back. In the past, I only had occasional flare ups that were dealt with by seeing a chiropractor multiple times a week for a few weeks, but since I lost health insurance and employment, I've been unable to do this and it has translated into daily pain.

Thanks for all the thoughts so far. I'm starting to re-evaluate whether this is really the best strategy for handling my lower back pain until my situation improves and I can do something about it. I just remembered my pilates instructor saying something about using pilates to treat lower back pain and, well, hurting every day makes me jump at anything that could provide relief. I'll be checking out all the suggestions, though, and any others that make their way in.
posted by rosethorn at 2:40 AM on October 27, 2009

Quick fixes for lower back pain:
  • Stop sitting in chairs all day. Try stools or backless seats. This will be annoying until your back strengthens up - YOU have to decide if the annoyance is worth it
  • Do some "Supermans" - lay on your stomach on the floor. Put your arms in front of you like you're flying like superman. Lift arms, legs, and head off the ground, towards the ceiling. Hold for as long as you're comfortable. Repeat
  • Work out your "core" by doing pullups/deadlifts/etc
  • Hang out in the child pose when you're all done, to help relax the work you did

posted by phrakture at 3:32 PM on October 27, 2009

Re phrakture's Superman suggestion -

I recently hurt my back (it was pretty minor compared to most back problems; I just wrenched it a bit and was sore for a couple of weeks, and had trouble standing up straight sometimes). The only thing I really tried to improve things was lying on my back with my knees up, either resting on the seat of a chair or a couple of really thick pillows.

It made a huge difference and made me feel a lot better.

I hope you find something that makes you feel better!
posted by kristi at 10:25 AM on October 28, 2009

If you're open to non-yoga, non-Pilates options, I would highly recommend the book Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. It's based on a series of gentle, non-impact exercises (some similar to certain yoga poses or Pilates exercises) that work to strengthen your muscles and realign your body. This interview with Pete gives a pretty good introduction to his ideas.

I had been dealing with a chronic bad back for 15+ years following an injury. Then I got a bookcase dropped on my foot and spent three weeks on crutches and four more on a cane, which torqued me thoroughly out of alignment and put me into six months of continuous pain. Six months after the injury, and six weeks into the most intense, longest-lasting, most immobilizing sciatica attack of my life (and really wanting to get off the opiate painkillers), I got Pain Free out of the library.

Four days later, I looked at the clock late afternoon and realized I had gone all day without taking a single painkiller. Not because I was toughing through the pain, but because I had forgotten about them.

They have a network of clinics around the world, which you might eventually want to check out if there's one near you. (Or you might not. Lots of people have gotten relief from their pain just through the exercises in the books.) Several of the clinics have blogs where they post videos and exercise menus for various conditions (back pain, neck pain, hip pain, you name it).

I recommend the Egoscue Method and his books rather a lot and sometimes worry about being a Johnny One-Note, but seriously, it changed my life. These days, I have no more back pain and no more foot pain. I can walk comfortably for miles, I can change the bottle on the water cooler at work without a second thought, and I'm 9 weeks into training for the 2010 Oakland Marathon. I love what it's done for me and if I ever meet Pete Egoscue, I'm going to have a hard time resisting the urge to give him a great big kiss.
posted by Lexica at 9:35 PM on October 29, 2009

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