A regular practice of modified yoga postures can help repair a herniated disc by promoting proper alignment, stretching and strengthening muscles -- particularly abdominal and back -- and releasing stress. Because the disc is 80 percent water, staying hydrated is also important. Certified yoga therapist Mukunda Stiles, author of "Structural Yoga Therapy," encourages drinking one to two quarts of water daily. Before you begin a yoga practice for a herniated disc, consult a physician.
Your spine contains 26 vertebrae. Between each vertebra, a disc serves as a shock absorber and allows you to bend forward or back. The outer part of the disc, the annulus fibrosus, protects the inner part, a gel-like substance called nuclear pulposus. A herniated disc, also called a ruptured or disc, occurs if the nuclear pulposus leaks through the annulus fibrosus and compresses your nerve root. Symptoms of a herniated disc include severe back pain, numbness in legs and muscle spasms.
Poses to Avoid
If you have a herniated disc, avoid forward bends -- or any pose that requires bending more than 90 degrees. As you bend forward, your lower back flexes and puts more weight on the front of the discs, which pushes back the nuclear pulposus and weakens the ligaments. Before you pick up anything, bend your knees. The more weight you lift, the more pressure you create on your discs.
A modified downward facing dog against the wall lengthens your spine. Place your palms flat on the wall, arms straight in front of your shoulders. Walk your feet back, directly under your hips. Reach your pelvis back and your spine forward. Maintain the natural curve in your lower back as you inhale and exhale.
Modified twisting poses help improve circulation of fluids to the disc. Sit sideways on a chair. Inhale, stretch upward. Exhale, turn your torso to the back and place your hands on either edge of the chair back. Repeat on the other side.
Stiles recommends lengthening the spine with mild back bends, particularly cobra and locust. Both poses, done lying on your belly, can decompress your lumbar spine and decrease pressure on the nerve roots.
Cat/cow and child's poses can also help a herniated disc, as do breathing exercises such as kapalabhati, or skull cleansing, alternate nostril breathing and bee breath. The key is to keep your abdominal muscles engaged as you practice. Use props -- blocks, blankets, bolsters and straps -- to modify poses as you need.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, nonsurgical treatment such as exercising is effective for more than 90 percent of those with the symptoms of a herniated disc. Stop practicing if you feel any pain. If you attend a yoga class, inform your teacher that you have a herniated disc.