Recovering from a Herniated Disc

Recovering from a Herniated Disc

Most people upon being diagnosed with a Herniated Disc are dreadfully concerned because the prospects of recovery are known to be infamously slim. They think: “Oh! I am in for a long haul of discomfort and suffering.” They often believe they are condemned to a life sentence of pain and ache. Fortunately the prognostic is not as pessimistic as this. Take heart, if you do suffer from a Herniated Disc, Yoga Therapy can assist you in your healing.

Of course, having a Herniated Disc is a very painful and debilitating condition. It is also known as a slipped disc, ruptured disc, bulging disc or even sometimes as pinched nerved root. Initially the person who is suffering from this incapacitating condition will need to seek medical assistance to be relieved from the pain. Some will go as far as getting a surgery to find relief. However, surgery is hardly recommendable as one can achieve the same result simply by embracing yoga therapy.

Discs are little fibrous cushions between each vertebra in your spine. They act as shock absorbents between the vertebras and keep the bones from rubbing against one another. When the “nuclear pulposus” (the semi-liquid core inside the disc) pushes through a tear in the “annulus fibrosus” (the shield of elastic fibers around the disc), it creates compression on the nerve root and you have a Herniated Disc. It can happen unexpectedly or gradually over weeks, months or even years and commonly affects the lumbar vertebras. Symptoms include the wicked sciatica, numbness and/or tingling sensation in the legs and feet, muscle spasms, loss of leg function and severe back pain.

It has been said by many health professionals that a Herniated Disc is a condition that cannot be completely cured since the liquid has poured out of the cushion. Nevertheless, in Yoga Therapy we believe that by improving the flow of nutrition to the disc with yoga exercises, the liquid that was pushed out can be partially or even totally absorbed back in. Consequently the pressure on the nerves and spinal cord will subside.


Yoga is overall an excellent remedy for a Herniated Disc because it encourages correct posture, stretching and breathing while decreasing stress and muscle tension. Building stomach and back muscles compensates for the Herniated Disc and relieves in the pain.

Practicing asana teaches the person suffering from a Herniated Disc to become more conscious of the body while sitting, bending and hence, lifestyle adjustments will come about naturally when moving in daily life. These changes in habits will contribute to stop damaging the injured disc and support its healing.

To make the healing complete, the sufferers will also have to deal with some emotional issues. According to Louise Hay in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, a Herniated Disc is connected to our support system. It means that the person feels somehow unsupported. The sufferers will need to learn to support themselves by living according to the guidance of their feelings and intuition and not so much according to what their intellect dictates them. They will need to surrender their life to the Universe and relinquish control. We all need to trust our higher guidance and know that the universe is supporting us. Surrendering is the base of yoga and the key to life.

Yoga treatments, with the approval of your physician, should be undertaken slowly in order to find permanent ease in the body.

General rules for practicing yoga at the beginning:

  • The practitioner should avoid all sitting forward bent.
  • Do not bend forward past 90° with straight knees.
  • Twist should be done very carefully without too much limitations as they are very beneficial.
  • Avoid rounding your back.
  • If a pose causes any pain, tingling, or numbness, stop immediately.
  1. Ardha UttanasanaArdha UttanasanaArdha Uttanasana
    • Stand with the arms stretched out over your head.
    • On exhale, bend forward with your knees bent, bringing the belly and chest toward your thighs and the hands to your feet.
    • On inhale, keeping the knees slightly bent, lift the chest and arms at 90°.
    • One exhale, return to the forward bend position with your knees bent.
    • On inhale, return to a standing position.
  2. BharadvajasaBharadvajasa (on a chair)
    • Take place sideways on a chair, with the right hip leaned against the back of the chair. Ensure you do seat with both buttocks on the whole seat. Stretch the trunk up and take your shoulders back. Line up the trunk with the legs, while keeping your knees and feet together.
    • Exhale and turn toward the back of the chair, synchronizing the movements of the right and left sides. Move the back ribs in but do not disturb the position of your legs.
    • Place the hands on the back of the chair. Pull with the left hand to bring the left side of your trunk toward the back of the chair while pushing with the right hand in order to turn the right side of the trunk away from the back of the chair: your torso tends to become parallel with the back of the chair.
    • Turn to the maximum, keeping the trunk upright. Turn the head and look over the right shoulder. Stay there for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing evenly.
    • Keep turning the hips, the waist, chest and shoulders as much as possible towards the back of the chair. Move the left kidney in.
    • Lift the rib cage even more and ensure that the shoulders are back.
    • Squeeze the abdomen to the right.
    • Exhale and turn back to the front.
    • Repeat the entire exercise for the left side of your body.
  3. Half - Ardha SvanasanaHalf – Ardha Svanasana (Half dog pose)
    • Face the wall and stand about 3 feet from it.
    • Place your hands on the wall shoulders-width apart about the level of your chest. The head and neck are in a line with the torso and the ears are parallel to the arms.
    • Exhale and bend forward from the hips so that your legs stay parallel to the wall and your torso becomes more perpendicular to the floor.
    • Inhale; press your hands into the wall even more. Your arms should now be almost parallel to the floor.
    • Exhale, push your hips back and elongate your spine while keeping the normal shape of the back.
    • Inhale, the torso raise upward.
    • Exhale and the torso sink in again.
    • Make sure that you have a curve at the lower back. If you don’t have it, raise your arms up until you do feel the curve.
    • If you feel that the position is too stressful on your lumbar vertebrae, bend you knees.
    • The torso should now be at 90 degrees. However, as you feel more comfortable you can walk you hands slowly down the wall always bending from the hips and making sure that you are not stressing your spine.
  4. MaricyasanaMaricyasana (standing)
    • Place a tall chair or stool against a wall.
    • Stand facing the chair, so that the right side of your body touches the wall. Keep the legs straight and draw the trunk up.
    • Raise the right foot and place it on the chair which stands directly ahead of you, toes facing forward and the knee making a right angle with the foot. Keep the right thigh against the wall.
    • Turn now your torso to the right and face the wall. Raise the arms at the level of your chest and press the palms against the wall. Press well with the left hand in order to turn the left side of the trunk even more to the right; press the right hand and turn the right side back so that your torso becomes more parallel with the wall. Turn to the maximum.
    • Turn the head further and look over the right shoulder. Stay, breathing evenly for 20 to 30 seconds.
    • Make sure that your left leg is kept straight and if not, pull the left thigh back.
    • Keep the trunk upright. Every two or three breaths try to turn even more but only on an exhalation. Alternately lift the trunk and turn it.
    • Exhale and return to the front, facing the chair again. Lower the arms and the right leg.
    • Repeat on the left side.
  5. TrikonasanaTrikonasana on the wall
    • Stand with your back against a wall, your feet spread wider than your shoulders and your arms stretched out to the sides, parallel to the floor.
    • Exhale and bend sideways to the right, bringing your right hand to floor and your left arm pointing upward. Turn head up toward the ceiling and looking at the stretched left hand.
    • Inhale and return to your starting position.
    • Repeat on the other side.
  6. VibbrasanaVibbrasana open heart
    • Stand and move your left foot forward. Your feet should be hip distance apart. Your hips are squared forward and your arms stay parallel to your body.
    • On inhale, simultaneously bend your left knee; displace your chest slightly forward and your hips slightly backward, bringing your arms stretched out to sides (as if you would carry something very wide and heavy). Make sure your shoulders are drawn back. (On inhale, keep your hands and elbows in line with your shoulders and feel the opening of your chest and flattening of the upper back. During the position, ensure you are not compressing your lower back and do keep your head forward. You will keep you balance by staying firm on your back heel.
    • On exhale, return to a standing position.
  7. BalasanaBalasana on bolster
    • Get down on your hands and knees (all fours) Place a bolster or three long folded blankets on the floor between your knees. Place your chest and belly on the bolster/folded blankets. Turn your head sideways. Arms stretched forward.
    • For relief of back pain, lie flat on your back on the floor. Place pillows under your knees and keep your hips and knees bent. Arms next to your hips with the palms facing up. This takes the pressure off your back.
  8. BhujangasanaBhujangasanaBhujangasana adapted
    • Lie on you belly with you arms behind your back, your palms facing up and resting on the sacrum, and your head turned to one side.
    • Inhale, lift the chest and sweep your arms wide like wings towards the front and turn your head to center.
    • Exhale, bend your elbows and pull your back towards the ribs, lifting the torso higher while flattening your upper back.
    • Inhale, extend the arms forward again.
    • Exhale, return to the starting position but this time turning your head to the opposite side.
    • Repeat 6 times.
  9. Cat poseCow poseCow pose and Cat pose
    • Get down on you hands and knees (on “all four”), with your shoulders in a vertical line above your wrists and your hips above your knees in a right angle.
    • Inhale and lift the chest up tilting the tail bone up, cow pose.
    • Exhale, press on your hands and move your tail bone down. Gently contract the belly and round the back while keeping your navel to the spine, cat pose.
    • Repeat 8 times.
  10. Butterfly legsButterfly legsButterfly legs
    • Lie on you back with your arms stretched sideways at shoulder level, palms facing up.
    • Inhale, raise your legs at 90 degrees but keeping the hips down and the legs straight.
    • Exhale, spread your legs.
    • Inhale, close them.
    • Repeat the movement 8 times.
  11. Twist loosing the neckTwist loosing the neck
    • Lie down with your arms stretched out to the sides.
    • Bend you knees but keep your feet flat on the floor.
    • Cross your right leg over the left and turn your knees to the left while keeping your torso and shoulders flat on the floor.
    • As you inhale, keeping the position of c), turn your head to the right and as you exhale, to the left. Repeat this movement of the head 5 times.
    • Return to center with your knees bent and feet fat on the floor.
    • Repeat c) but this time crossing the left leg over the right and turning your knees to the right.
  12. ApanasanaApanasana
    • Lie flat on your back. Bend both knees toward the chest and keep your feet off floor. Place your hands on the knees.
    • Exhale. Pull your thighs gently toward your chest.
    • Inhale and return to the starting position.
  13. Shavasana with ajapa japa
    • Lie on your back with the body stretched out. Your head is in a straight line with the body, your feet are apart, your arms lay besides the trunk with palms turned upwards.
    • Make yourself comfortable. Become aware of your body and relax completely. Move your awareness through the spine, moving up and down in the spinal passage, from muladhara chakra at the tail bone to ajna chakra at the top of the spine.
    • Add now the awareness of breathing. Move the awareness up your spine as you breathe in, and down as you breathe out.
    • Keep your awareness on the spinal breathing, ajapa japa. Practice this breathing for 15 minutes.


Email from Willie dated April 8, 2007

You mentioned in your herniated disc article for the affected person never to round their backs yet one of the asanas you suggest is cat & cow. I find this a contradiction since there is a rounding of the back in this pose.

Answer dated April 8, 2007

Dear Willie,

Thank you for your e-mail. I will clarify this on my site.

It may sound like a contradiction but it’s not. I meant to avoid rounding your back while practicing the asanas so as to avoid pressure on the tear and this should be extended to every thing you do in life. However, cat and cow is a very effective position in helping people with a herniated disc as it improves flexibility in the shoulders, neck and spine. It is perfectly safe as it is done on all fours with knees bent.

I mainly did this website for my patients, my students and people who can afford professional help. I recommend that you talk to your doctor and discuss the asanas with her/him or seek the help of a professional yoga therapist. Having said that, if you to chose to practice by yourself, just be very connected with your body and do not tolerate pain. Learn how to discriminate between discomfort and pain which is a warning bell. Only you can make that distinction.

Do you mind if I put your e-mail on my web site? Of course, I will not put your e-mail address.

I wish you the best on your healing journey,

In peace and light,

Linda Madani