Discopathy, herniated disc, back injury...can one still practice ashtanga ??

topic posted Fri, August 25, 2006 - 6:29 AM by  Carolina
I would like to talk about back injuries. Can somebody tell me the symptoms of a herniated disc ? Can you still do ashtanga yoga with one ? Can you do ashtanga with a discopathy ?
How do you recover from a herniated disc or a discopathy ?
I do have a discopathy inbetween my 4 and 5 lumbar disc , and I might have a herniated disc; I`m getting MRI next month.
Any info is very welcome and thank you !!!!!!!!!!!
posted by:
Los Angeles
  • carolina

    i am a firm believer one can practice ashtanga if one wants to - with any injuries....and heal them! i have taught this practice to people without the use of their arms!

    but there are different ways to practice, and to do this, on must have great awareness and move carefully. and one must be flexible about what it means to 'do ashtanga' when you have an injury. i heard a great teacher say - that if you are going to do this practice daily for the rest of your life, you can NOT go balls to the wall, every day. you must learn to do old lady yoga - and to know on any given day what is appropriate. and yet - on a slow day, you can still do the series in a modified way and bring much healing.

    i have been practicing 11 years and over that time have healed many injuries, including a lower back injury last year. but i never had an mri - and never knew for certain what the situation looked like on the inside. i can say that after years and years of practice and teaching i have seen many studetns practice with herniated discs. i have seen herniated discs without pain! in other words, i believe it is possible.

    sounds like you need a really good teacher. i am nearby if you have any questions.


    jodi b
    • Thank you Jodi !!
      I have been reading that forward bends ( Uttanasana ) can be an open invitacion to get a herniated disc.. why is that possible ?
      • because people often do them in a way that isnt safe.

        in ashtanga yoga - all movement is preceded by bringing your attentionto the breath and what we call the bandhas. basically the bandhas involve a tightening of the muscles that are at the floor of the pelvis and the lower belly. i am oversimplifying - but when you 'hold' the bandhas, the back is protected. this is a fundamental aspect of the practice, but is really often overlooked.....but again.....its the most important thing.

        there are ways to do forward bends safely - holding the bandhas, bending the knees - breathing continuously to increase awareness of the most miniscule movements. for you this is pretty important.


        jodi b
  • I could be of some help... maybe...

    i have been living with lower back pain for over ten years.... Lol... almost as long as you have been doing ashatang jodi.... i injuried myself breakdancing.... b-boy for life life here peps.... anyway when i came to yoga this same expression was given to me..

    "Anyone can practice yoga, and if you have an injury yoga will heal you."

    I am a firm believer in putting things to the test. .... the test is still in progress. for now this is my results: oh and just to clear up any confusion i recieved my first MRI a few months ago... i have two herniated disks... thats right two.. ill spell it out..hehe... i have L4 /L5 and L5/ sacurm herniations. the L5/sacral herniation is boarder line ruptured. they wanted to rush me right in to the surgury tabel and were seriously concerened when i laughed and limped out to of the hospital saying " You can't cut me open... im a yogi... I do surgery without anestetic everyday." these guys..(doctors) have no real clue whats going on with the spine...

    So to answer you question about what symtoms you feel... well if you disk is truly herniated you will recieve muscle spasms... this is where the pain comes from..the muscles inflame and press on nerves in the lower back. it greatly decreases your range of motion. You normaly complain about not being able to put on socks... brushing the teeth sucks because you have to lean over the sink. Sitting in one place is out of the question you have to constantly shift.... and usually you end up flat on your back with you legs raised... and pissed off because you can move for days.

    The only way to know though is to go get an MRI... Doesnt hurt to know... just dont be upset if you find out it is what you dont want it to be. :)

    So for your question " Can some one with an herniated disk do ashtanga yoga"


    Quite well actually if you work at it. What jodi said about learning to do grandma yoga is very true... Ashtanga is about daily practice... the heart has to be in it. Even on a day that i can get out of bed i find a book in my hand and i visualize myself practicing... with a healthy back...its the only thing that keeps me from drowing in the depression of a hurt back. there is a lot of emotions that can store up in the back and hips...

    Before i started yoga i would have 2-4 spams a year. It really put my breakdancing carreer on hold and put a new perspective on weather or not that type of movement was for me anymore. I thought i was becoming an old man at an early age. The doctors said i have the back of a 60 year old... but im not even 30 yet. :(

    Now that i do yoga i get maybe one spasm a year. This is excellent for me. A true improvement. And let not mention that now my range of motion, ability to move and the spirits ( happiness) i can maintain even in the grips of pain is much better. much much better. Some of the doctors who looked at me dont believe it. I would love some of them to do studies on me while its still here... i dont think this back thing of mine will be around much longer... and even if its still will not control me... i will control it.

    Sometimes its not about figuring out how you are going to fix something...its about how your are going to learn to live with it.

    excessive forward bending can create these problems. Which i assume we are talking about PJ Ashtanga yoga which the primary series is over 50 forward folding variations. If you do as jodi said... work from the foundation of Breath and Bandhas... then you have no worries...these are like saftey belts for a climber... as soon as your breath or bandhas become comprimised you are too deep and risk injury. This is usually why people get hurt in ashtanga... ignorace towards what is really going on in the inside their bodies.

    This may drive the traditional ashtangis crazie, but i am speaking from personaly experience. Even if you cant complete the primary... like mari D or supta kurmasana.. its ok.
    you need to practice a little of second series, which is tons of backbending variations and spinal twists and hip openers. this is great for your lower back. strengthens the extensors of the spines and helps to releave the spasms.

    Also you might want to look at your core... abdominals... If you simply practice the uddiyana bandha throughout your entire practice then you will recieve a strong core, but if you need a little help in that area you can play around with pilaties... I think its all yoga, but somewhere down the line the guy pilaties gets all the reconition for abdominal and core a lot of yogis are against it because of this.... go figure... but this will also help with the support of the lower back

    I am a massage therapist for over 10 years now.. i have worked alot with people and lower back issues... from simple spasms that make them think they have disk problems, to people with herniatied disk..;. discopathies, and even fused vertibre and the physical therapists who treat these people... the physical therapist will say much of the same things you have heard here... they will tell the person to lay on the floor, belly down and lift the legs and arms.... lol... shalabasana... second series of ashtanga. theres lots more too.

    If you have any specific questions please feel free to ask. As we get into yoga we tend to become very self dependent. I would highly suggest getting a good deep tissue or myofacial therapist to work on your does wonders for the pain which can help keep you on your mat....

    thats what really matters right.

    ." what can keep me coming back to my mat everyday"

    Sorry so long of an answer...its something i feel passionatly about... If your on the west coast you should connect with jodi... she could help you out in your practice alot im sure.


    Remember breath and bandha

    • wow... i didnt mean to write that much...sorry peps
      • Along the lines of back pain, I started standing up from backbends a couple of months ago and started going a little bit deeper. For the record, I'm a lazy yogi and I definitely don't push myself beyond my capabilities, so I don't feel like I'm overdoing it. But I'm beginning to feel a sort of vulnerable sensation in my lower back. It doesn't hurt, but it's definitely sensitive--vulnerable is the best description I can give for it. How does one distinguish between good and bad back pain or discomfort? It seems like there's such a fine line between the two and I want to be concious of it early on so that I don't injure myself.
        • hi michelle....i dont have an answer to your question. i guess i always encourage people to distinguish pain as something that is sharp, burning, ripping, get teh idea.

          but vulnerability - is a different thing. and i understand what you mean.

          i would say this. as you practice you are continuously becoming more flexible, and most practitioners seem focused on always gaining flexibility. but there is so much opportuntiy to build strength - especially in the lower abdomen. and if you are going deeper in backbends, on a daily basis - as we do in practice, you need the strength to balance that.

          so focus a lot on bandhas, every single jump thru - jump back - every asana....that is what sets this practice apart, after all.

          another thing. if you are just about to start really exploring supta kurmasana - and putting the legs behind the head. i would share that there is a very intimate connection between deep backbends, like kapotasana - and deep forward bends, like dwi pada sirsana. and as you increase your flexibility in these two directions, well - what can i say. things happen. i mean, its different for everyone. some people get a bit unstable - some feel just great. some have pain -

          i say just stay aware - and it sounds like you are. i have a few things i teach to keep the psoas open and wake up the a few backbends (not your drop backs) where when you go up, you then step your feet together till they touch - for 5 breaths. then come down. i often have people do 5 urdhva dhanurasana....and do this on 3 and 4....then on 5 really feel your legs and your pelvis - and there may be some new found freedom there.....its something that has worked for me.

          i bet david has something good to share on this - i loved what you had to say david - definitely NOT too long. thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience.


          jodi b
          • I would have to say your right on Jodi. The deep forward bends definatly corespond to the deep backbends as well. or at least it would be a good idea to try to keep the two opposite poles even... otherwise you will create an unbalance.

            i try to not use the word pain.. sensation is much more accesable to me. there are good sensations and bad sensations. With varying degrees. Yoga is about creating sensation in the body in order to create more awareness of this shell we are in. (body) Ashtanga yoga is strong medicine. Dont over medicate yourself. meaning dont push.. let the breath and bandhas pull you into the pose. Allow your self to experiene any asan you have as a journey... not a destination. It's like a piece of fruit. The core and the skin carry the least nurishment... its all in the fruit... whats inbetween point A and B.... its the vinyasa baby.....

            lol now im just going off...

            when my lower back feels negative sensations i like to hang upside down in a sling... i guess you could use the inversion table... but its supper expensive. with a rope and pad hanging from the ceileing you can do the same effect. its a lot better than just standing on the head because when your in sirsasana there is still the effects of gravity on your spine... the inversion sling completly release back tension.

            Besides that like jodi said... "Bandhas" and ill add... "Don't forget to breath"
    • David, thanks for sharing and I agree with everything you had to say except one thing..

      A good neurosurgeon definitely has his place and I disagree that they have no idea what is going on with the spine. I just wanted to caution folks, from experience, that while most herniations are run-of-the-mill and can be treated with good body mechanics and conservative care, a small percentage of herniations can cause very real, long-term and/or permanent nerve damage.

      An extreme version of nerve compression or inflammation is cauda equina syndrome. Cauda equina syndrome is a serious condition caused by compression of the nerves in the lower portion of the spinal canal. Cauda equina syndrome is considered a surgical emergency because if left untreated it can lead to permanent loss of bowel and bladder control and paralysis of the legs. Seventy percent of cases of herniated disks leading to cauda equina syndrome occur in people with a history of chronic low back pain, and 30% develop cauda equina syndrome as the first symptom of lumbar disk herniation.

      If you experience any symptoms associated with Cauda Equina Syndrome, you should get to the nearest emergency room asap. Here is a list of symptoms online ( Your chances of regaining normal function and having a positive outcome are related to how long you have had symptoms of cauda equina syndrome before surgical intervention. Most experts agree that people with cauda equina syndrome should undergo surgery to make more space for the nerves (lumbar decompression) within 48 hours in order to have the best chance for complete recovery.

      Yes, these represent a small number of cases of disc herniation, but one should not believe that a good yogi would never have surgery, or that doctors have absolutely no function in the life of a yogi. I have had a few ashtanga friends respond that they would never have made a decision to have surgery, as I recently did. My only concern was that they give this advice to someone who, in that rare case like I had, should be getting prompt attention from a qualified professional and suffers permanent damage as a result. You don't want to be putting on a pair of depends before you get on the mat everyday. Get the MRI and know what's going on in there. Make sure to rest and allow time to heal as well. A bad herniation can burst if not allowed some time to heal.

      I am a few weeks post-op. ALL the pain in my hips, glutes and legs was gone immediately after the surgery. I am now standing (nearly) straight - my body became severely splinted when the disc burst. I am looking forward to recovering and getting back on the mat in a couple more months.

      Be smart and treat yourselves well. Be safe. There is nothing wrong with good information. And there is nothing wrong with taking a middle-way. I generally don't post online, but thought maybe this will reach someone who needs to read it.

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