The word yoga comes from the word yoke with means to combine. The aim of yoga is to connect the body to the mind and the individual being with the universal energy. Yoga texts and philosophy dating back thousands of years outline an entire science of living. But let’s face it; most people come to yoga for a good stretch and some time out. Hatha yoga (which is the practice of physical postures and breathing exercises) is widely taught and practiced in Australia.
Recent developments in Physiotherapy evidence base and practices support hatha yoga principles. Core stability exercises and Pilates exercises are often based on yoga postures (also known as asana) and some underlying principles of Hatha yoga are mirrored in physiotherapy practice. There are three primary bandhas (or locks) taught in Hatha yoga which refer to muscle locks used to increase strength and direct the flow of energy in the body.
- Mula bandha (root lock)
- Uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock)
- Jalandhala bandha (chin lock)
When Mula bandha is activated there is contraction of the pelvic floor and transverse abdominus. Similar exercises are taught by physiotherapists and there is a plethora of evidence indicating that strengthening the pelvic floor and transverse abdominus is beneficial for treating low back pain. Pelvic floor exercises are also widely taught for management of urinary incontinence.
Activating Jalandhara bandha involves gently tucking the chin down and pressing the tongue into the roof of the mouth and activates the deep neck flexors. Deep neck flexor exercise are widely taught by physiotherapists for neck pain and instability and this practice is supported by clinical evidence.
From a physiotherapist view point, practicing yoga asanas can be hugely beneficial for creating a balanced, flexible and strong body. However, yoga asanas sometimes need to be prescribed with caution. For example, a bulging lumbar disc may be irritated by excessive forward bending of the spine with the legs straight. Conditions where there is forward slipping of one vertebra on the other (also known as spondylolithesis) will not respond well to backward bending of the spine.
Every body is different and the biggest lesson is to gain understanding your own body. Injuries will not occur during yoga practice if you are listening to the subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) messages your body is sending you. Yoga postures should never cause intense or sharp pain in the body.
If you have an injury or chronic pain and are interested in trying yoga, your physiotherapist can assess and guide you along the path.