Posted by: Yoga in Borve | December 29, 2014

Yoga book review: ‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’

Yoga for healthy lower backs cover photo‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’ by Alison Trewhela and Anna Semlyen is a very different style of book to the similar title by Liz Owen featured in my last yoga book review.

Trewhela and Semlyen’s book is much shorter and will probably appeal to a wider range of readers looking for some simple yoga routines to do at home.

That said, it was originally written as a manual to accompany a 12 week block of yoga classes for beginning yoga students who suffered chronic low back pain.  The authors recommend strongly that to gain maximum benefit from the book you seek out a trained teacher via the Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs website.

The course and manual were developed for a large scientific trial investigating the effectiveness of yoga for treating back pain.  You can find out more about the study at the website link in the last paragraph, or if you’re in the mood for a proper academic journal write-up, you can read all about it in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

I have read Trewhela and Semlyen’s book and worked through all the exercises in the sequences suggested.  I’d certainly be interested in attending the training course for yoga teachers – but I’m not eligible, because you have to have a minimum of four years’ post-qualifying yoga teaching experience before you can apply.

I understand why the organisers have set this requirement: they want to keep the experience of ‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’ 12 week courses at a consistently high standard, adhering to the conditions of the original evidence-based research.

I’ve worked as a university researcher myself and I live in a family of scientists.  I really care about quality yoga teaching and rigorous evidence.

On the other hand, it’s a shame – because the reality is there are currently only seven yoga teachers in Scotland listed on their register, all of whom live hundreds of miles from those of us here in the north of Skye.  And more than that, I already regularly have people with back pain issues coming to my yoga classes because health professionals (usually physiotherapists and GPs) are recommending they do yoga with me.  So I want to be doing the best I can now, not in five years’ time!  However, I notice Anna Semlyen does teach occasional one-day ‘taster’ workshops open to any yoga teachers, and I’ll look into when and where these are going to be run next year.

I’m sure I’d learn a lot from the workshop and even more from the course, but it should also be said that the book is quite clear and accessible. Yoga for healthy lower backs - contents I reckon in the quarter century I’ve been doing yoga, I’ve come across 90%+ of the exercises and poses in the manual.  I already teach an awful lot of them, and as far as I can tell from the book, I teach them in a similar way (in terms of things to watch out for, modifications, etc.).

So my conclusion is – don’t be put off this book if you live too far away from the nearest ‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’ course/teacher.  Also, don’t feel it would only be appropriate for you if you have a chronic back condition: I think this would be a useful little book for anyone seeking to do some gentle yoga at home.  Perhaps you go to a class but don’t yet have the confidence to try some of the more physically challenging poses at home.  Maybe you don’t have the energy for a physically demanding home practice, but want to do some yoga most days to stretch out and relax.  It’s never a good idea to assume that apparently gentle poses are ineffective or ‘not enough’ for you!  Yoga can be subtle yet profound in its impact.  Personally, I enjoyed and felt the benefit of working through the sequences in the book.   They were just right for how I’ve been feeling over the last while, as I’ve been resting up with bronchitis.  Although my own back is fine these days, a lot of sitting and lying around can make it very stiff, so it was lovely to guard against any potential problems with the programme in ‘Yoga for healthy lower backs’.

If any local yogis would like to borrow my copy to see what they think, let me know!


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