The UK media recently ran the news about bad backs – go to yoga instead of your doctor! Studies in the US and UK show clear improvements to back pain and mobility after participating in 12 week yoga courses.Proven trials are showing what the ancient yogis knew all along - use back bending, forward bending, side bending and twists to keep the spinehealthy. On a very simple scientific level,moving the spine in all directions allows the vertebral discs to open and take in fluid to keep them from drying out. This has a knock on effect throughout the spine itself, the nervous system and the whole body, as well as the muscles of the back and core.

Back pain affects most people at some time in their lives. The spinal column is designed for movement but also for stability. So the question is, how do we proceed to heal, strengthen and remove repetitive habits, and keep up a yoga practice that will not make a problem worse, and prevent back problems in the future?

In my opinion, there are some clear priorities which help when you are experiencing back pain:

1. Find a way to become pain-free. ‘Pain’ could range from a strong sensation which is calling for attention, to literally being unable to move.

2. Find out what is going on – my body is trying to tell me something so I need to listen - Do I know what has caused this? What is going on in my life – as a holistic practice, mental and emotional factors need to be taken into account, how is my digestive system, nervous system etc…If it is ‘non-specific’ back pain, what is my theory?

3. Find ways to release tense muscles and pinched nerves, to realign and strengthen with kindness, respect and compassion, not pushing and forcing my way through a yoga class in the hope that it will do something good…when in reality, it could just be making it worse.

Judy Hirsh went to her first yoga class because of a bad back, bad posture and sedentary job. She has been observing yoga’s effect on her own back for the last 12 years and has designed a course based on her experience of back issues with students over the years. She is a qualified and dedicated yoga teacher who has trained with physical therapist and yoga therapist Judith Hanson Lasater and is a certified ‘Relax & Restore’ practitioner, attended her ‘Yoga Body’ intensive on Anatomy, kinesiology and asana, Spinal Integration with Donna Farhi, and part of the Yoga Therapy Diploma course with the Life Centre.She is inspired by the work of Vanda Scaravelli and her book ‘Awakening the Spine’.

‘Many of the yoga poses we use on this course, are not only mobilisation exercises but ‘awareness exercises’ so you can enquire and pinpoint where the problem lies, and use the information to find freedom in the spine’. Judy Hirsh

The next back care courses are running inMuswell Hill and Hendon in North London in October/November 2012, and Guernsey in Spring 2013. Yoga for upper back, neck and shoulders course is running over two weeks in October in Hendon, North London.

In the meantime, I would like to share with you a restorative posture which helps me. It is very similar to the ‘recovery’ position used in first aid… for obvious reasons I suppose…but with some yoga props to hold the body in place so you can release tension away from the body and into the supports.

The props you will need are all available at yogaunited.

A yoga mat , a large bolster, 2 blankets, a block, an eyepillow (possibly another blanket, a soft chakra blanket for example, mini bolster or towel to fill any gaps or for cushioning).

Lie on your yoga mat on one side – your body will probably know which side so try both and choose the side that is more comfortable - the aim is not to stretch your back out, or to correct anything but to have as little sensation as possible…ie. no pain so if you can’t feel anything, that’s good! You may need more padding under your side for this so you can fold a blanket under your side to support the body wherever creative with what props you have and literally fill in any gaps.Place a block and/or folded blanket under your head so your neck can release and let your head drop its weight. Take your arms forward and curl up around the large bolster as if you were cuddling it close to your chest, your knees folded towards you with one knee on the bolster – again, how far the knees come in will depend on working it out, trying various positions and finding the one with least sensation. You can experiment with a block between your ankles. Find a position for your arms so they are comfortable and there is no work in the shoulders to hold you in place. The props and the floor should be holding you completely. This may take a while but its worth taking your time to become reallysuperly comfortable. You can cover yourself with a blanket and tuck it around you to feel secure. When you have found your position, rest the eyepillow in the palm of your hand and allow the centre of the palm to relax under its light weight. Grip the eyepillow if you start to experience pain and use the information to move very very slowly to readjust the props accordingly. Then relax your grip again.

Focus on the gentle rise and fall of your breath in your body. Relax the eyes, jaw, throat, hands and feet. Spend a little longer on the exhale so you can imagine all physical tension, negative thoughts, and emotional grip drain away into the ground as you breathe out. Literally breathe it all away and feel the ground supporting you fully.After 10 minutes or less if you start to experience any pain, turn over onto your back with the bolster under your knees and eyepillow over your eyes. You will find a position if you experiment but make sure you stay for at least 5 minutes to give the body a chance to release.

Judy Hirsh is running back care courses in November 2012 in North London. Contact for more information and booking or see more workshops, holidays and events here