Lower Back Pain

By Kimberly Williams
Introduction by Karen Allgire

The scientific study of yoga is in its infancy and there are very few studies involving Iyengar Yoga.

Kimberly Williams, an Intermediate Junior I teacher in Morgantown, WV, designed and conducted a pioneering study on the effect of Iyengar Yoga therapy on chronic lower back pain. She worked with the support of Senior Teacher Lois Steinberg, Ph.D., and John Petronis, M.S. This pilot study provided the data that allowed Williams to obtain a National Institutes of Health grant for a larger, more rigorous study.

She has completed that study, and the data has been presented at a number of scientific meetings over the past year. Williams is currently involved in the closeout of the study. She has a grant from the state of West Virginia to write the followup, which she hopes to submit for publication this winter.

Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is recognized as a major public health problem. Williams's preliminary study showed that the practice of Iyengar Yoga provides significant improvement of CLBP in individuals with mild disability. Details of the pilot study are presented in two articles published by Williams with others. The articles, which have slightly different focuses, are important reading for teachers of Iyengar Yoga. The first is valuable for Iyengar Yoga teachers and students with CLBP. It can be downloaded by clicking on the title, below.


Therapeutic Application of Iyengar Yoga for Healing Chronic Low Back Pain, Kimberly Williams, Ph.D., Lois Steinberg, Ph.D., and John Petronis, M.S., International Journal of Yoga Therapy, No. 13 (2003).

This article provides an overview of the Iyengar Yoga approach to lower back pain. Its introduction outlines the philosophy of yoga and the hallmarks of Iyengar Yoga. The article then presents the protocol of yoga asanas to be practiced for CLBP. Each section of asanas begins with the specific anatomical actions those poses are meant to encourage. Many of the poses are supported and prop-intensive.

Sequences are illustrated with anatomical drawings and photos of the poses. Most of the photos are taken from booklets on therapeutic applications of asanas compiled by Lois Steinberg. The article ends with an overview of current research on yoga and how Williams's study was designed to be scientifically valid.

This article would be useful to Iyengar Yoga teachers who want to learn more about using yoga for lower back pain, specifically to better understand the actions and effects various poses are designed to create. Iyengar Yoga students with lower back pain would also benefit from reading this article. Students should keep in mind that therapeutic asanas should be done under the direction of a qualified Iyengar Yoga instructor.