Question about forward bends with herniated disc

There are often many questions about Yin Yoga and specific spinal conditions. Feel free to ask your question here, or check out other posts or contribute input from your own experience.
Post Reply
Posts: 1152
Joined: Sat Sep 23, 2006 2:25 am
Location: Vancouver

Question about forward bends with herniated disc

Post by Bernie »

I recently received the following question:
  • Hi Bernie, I have been practicing yin yoga on a regular basis for 5 years. This past summer I was diagnosed with a herniation in the L4-5 disc, and after physical therapy, the pain symptoms have subsided. I'm back in yoga class, both Yin and vinyasa flow. My physical therapist has advised against rounding the back in forward bends, so I have been trying to do poses calling for rounding by folding from the hips with a straight back. What are your thoughts about rounding vs. straight back? Do you feel that in time rounding will become possible? I understand that you cannot offer medical advice, but would very much appreciate the benefit of your wisdom and experience in dealing with this type of injury. I'm a 70 year old woman, in reasonably good health, other than the back problem. Namaste, Deborah

Hi Deborah

This is a great question and one that many people ask. What do you do when you are diagnosed with a bulging or herniated disc and your therapist or doctor says “No flexion of the spine for you!” Certainly, I would never suggest you ignore the advise of your health care provider: she knows you, I don’t. She has seen you, I haven’t. But, despite their advice, you are the one flying your plane (see this article for what I mean by that). You have to decide what is appropriate for you. Everyone else is just ground control, givers of sage advice, but you are flying the plane: you must decide what’s appropriate. It is possible that out of the fear to doing harm, your therapist prevents you from doing anything, which will probably cause your spine to atrophy. Too much stress can be bad, yes — but too little stress is also unhealthy.

I have written about this several times. Please check out these threads and articles: In this last article, there is a comment about a yoga teacher who insists students must never round their spines. As you will see, my response is that never is never right. It would be more helpful if your therapist can help you find how much is too much and how much is just right. You need to be able to move the spine, but when we are injured, it is easy to go too far. But, just because you can go too far does not mean you should never flex the spine. Never moving will be just as damaging in the long run. So, you will have to experiment: with attention and intention. Find your new edge. How far can you go without hurting yourself? Only go that far. Maybe in time, as you heal, you can go a bit further, but don’t force it. Allow it. That’s yin!

Good luck!
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Dec 06, 2016 2:14 am

Forward bends with herniated disc

Post by Devorahg »

Thank you so much for your prompt and thorough reply. You have given me the courage to follow my instincts and listen to my body. After my injury, I was very cautious and a little afraid to resume my yoga practice, and was fortunate to have a teacher who worked with me to develop a set of asanas that allowed my body to gently resume practice without further injury. Your discussion of this issue, and references to sources of information is very helpful in guiding me in my Yin practice. I'm very grateful.
Namaste, Deborah
Post Reply