Ask the Yoga Expert: Zoelle Horowitz

Can yoga be bad for people with lower back problems? – Genia Nowicki from London.


Zoelle is a medical doctor and a yoga instructor. Photo credit: Stewart Norman.

Lower back problem is a broad term that requires a more detailed classification to answer this question correctly. Lower back problems can range from the common muscle spasm to spinal cord damage. I’ll therefore answer this question from the back, up.

The source of lower back pain should be explored before embarking in any new activities. There is talk of esoteric means of ridding oneself of serious ailments, which I do not discredit, but it would be important to know what needs to be healed, whatever healing method will be used. I would suggest visiting a certified health practitioner that has a good understanding of the spine and its movements. A recommendation is often a powerful source.

A diagnosis will provide you with potential solutions. Again, the issue at hand will influence whether or not something is good or bad for it. Can yoga be bad for your back? Yes it can – if the back pain is poorly understood, caused by something requiring medical treatment or if the yoga teaching is neglectful (an important point to remember here, is that you are just as much your yoga teacher as your yoga teacher is). I would suggest individual/small classes for a more therapeutic approach.


Conversely, can yoga be good for people with lower back issues? For sure, in the most fantastic ways!

BREATH. Breathing correctly not only ensures adequate oxygenation to your tissues, it also has the ability to reduce stress and anxiety (which can be the psychosomatic roots of any chronic pains in the body).
POSTURE. Being able to maintain a healthy posture throughout your day is not an easy task, especially if you are seated in an un-ergonomic chair in front of a screen (as I typed this I had to root my sitting bones, uncross my legs and straighten the hunch in my spine). Yoga aids in realising healthy posture and giving you the tools to work at it. I use the term work because at first it takes a lot of mental and physical power to be disciplined enough to make this a part of your daily routine. Good posture is vital to a lifetime’s worth of a happy spine.
BALANCE. Balance is poetically illustrated throughout yogic ways. The practice helps to equalise the two sides of your body. Being off balance can affect the use of your pelvis and lower back and may result in muscular spasms or strained ligaments/joints.
• INTROSPECTION. Yoga is a means of bringing your awareness inwards and helps in understanding parts of your body more intricately. If you listen to your body, you will be able to communicate back and know when to slow down or take it up a notch.

Never do things that cause uncomfortable pain or stop your flow of breath. The point of yoga is to acknowledge where your body is. Don’t compare yourself with others. There is never anything wrong with taking a break in a class. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher for an alternative posture or an easier one that will help you build strength. Be gentle with yourself. Doing yoga includes lying on the floor in contemplation. If this is the limit of your lower back pain today – light those candles, lie on the floor and breathe.


Our yoga expert in Cape Town. Photo credit: Stewart Norman.

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Yoga was introduced to Zoelle Horowitz as a teenager during dance training. It was then forgotten about during strenuous years at medical school. The life of a young doctor was emotionally and physically taxing and caused Zoelle a lot of strain. She began to battle with stress levels and was horrified at how her body was deteriorating. Yoga found Zoelle again at an important juncture and reminded her that she needed to take care of herself to be able to help others. Zoelle is inspired by the synergistic relationship of yogic life and health, and incorporates yoga into every adventure that she embarks on.

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