The question: I love yoga. I have recently been cleared by my physiotherapist to start exercising again after a slight disk bulge. I assumed yoga would be good for me, but I was told it is not. Why? Can't I modify the poses?
The answer: I am happy you have found an activity you love, but I am glad you are being cautious.
Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not a panacea for all physical ailments. As with everything in life, there is no one solution that is appropriate for everyone.
Your physiotherapist warned you to be careful because many yoga poses require the spine to flex, rotate or side-bend. All three motions, depending on the location of the bulge, can be irritants.
Flexion (rounding) of your spine can be particularly damaging to the disc. One reason why individuals with disc injuries often have trouble sitting for prolonged periods is because most of us sit with a rounded back.
Even restorative classes (usually considered safe for everyone) involve spinal flexion, rotation and side-bending. Think of child's pose: It is traditionally thought of as a harmless resting pose, but it involves gentle flexion.
Yoga classes also tend to have a low teacher-to-student ratio. So, even if you get a knowledgeable teacher, it's hard for them to monitor your form.
That said, from experience, I know it is almost impossible to give up an activity you love. So, the trick will be figuring out how to safely reintroduce yoga.
First, find a teacher who has worked with people in your condition. Initially, ditch group classes. Instead, do a few one-on-one sessions to learn what is appropriate for your body. Since you eventually want to reintroduce bending and twisting into your life, you need someone to guide you through the recovery process. That way your body can progress at an appropriate rate.
When you do take group classes again, use the knowledge you learned from your one-on-one lessons to modify the poses. (For example, consider prioritizing poses that require spinal extension over those with spinal flexion).
Also, be strategic about the type of yoga you do, and the qualifications of the instructor.
Trainer's tip: To minimize future risk, consider getting an ergonomic assessment of your workspace, listen to your body and thoroughly warm up before all activity.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for over 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.