Can I Do Yoga/Pilates?

Some of my favorite achy back modifications

Some of my favorite achy back modifications

When people find out I teach yoga & Pilates, the most common response I receive is “I’ve heard that would be good for me. Can/Should I do that?” That last question is usually prefaced by “I have a herniated disc/the tightest hamstrings in the world/a torn rotator cuff/a hip replacement . .

My answer (assuming that injury didn’t happen yesterday) is always “Yes.”

The body was made to move; regular movement keeps it strong and limber; extended periods of inactivity lead to bone and muscular weakness as well as stiffness in the joints and connective tissues, limiting your range of motion and increasing the likelihood of strains, falls and other injuries. Weakened bones and muscles make it difficult to sit, stand and walk properly.  Posture becomes slumped, straining the low back and compressing the diaphragm, making our breathing shallow and strained.  No wonder we get injured and it takes so long to recover.


Curious to know more about this? Check out this video from Gil Hedley on how lack of movement over time restricts our ability to do so. 

Warning for the squeamish – this is extracted from a medical lecture with a cadaver.


So back to the “Can I do this?” question.  The full answer is “Yes, but only in a way that honors what your body needs from you to heal.”

This can be tricky.  We get advice like “just push through” or in the case of chronic pain “learn to live with it.” Neither of these are good advice.

Injury and the associated pain are not your enemies. Pain is simply a signal from your body asking you to do something differently. This may mean backing off or eliminating certain movements from your routine – for a time or maybe for good.  It likely means learning to move in a new way and firing up previously sleepy muscles to support, stabilize and strengthen the injured area. It definitely means learning to pay attention. Your breath and focus will become your greatest tools to track sensation in your body and notice the difference between stretching and working a previously shut down area and pushing into pain.

In the end, injuries become our greatest teachers. . . if we let them.

These are opportunities to pay attention and become more mindful movers. Yes, you can do yoga/Pilates. Find a teacher familiar with the issue(s) you’re working with and build a practice together that encourages healing and building balanced strength in your body. Be willing to accept that your body’s needs & abilities will vary day to day.  What you can do today will be different than yesterday and tomorrow and progress is not always linear.

Injury is what led me to my own Forrest yoga & Pilates practices (you can read the full story here) and over a decade later, they are what keep me out of pain. My practice is always changing and evolving, some days it’s strong and powerful, other days I go all the way back to basics depending on how I’m feeling. 

My greatest thrill as a teacher is finding the movements and modifications that open up new possibilities for my students.  For this reason, I’m so excited to be teaching a Yoga for Back Pain workshop this weekend.  Whether your back is just stiff from too many hours at a desk or you’ve had surgery, there are ways to bring healing to this area and experience the benefits of yoga without aggravating your back.

Come as you are, injuries and all. They are a part of you but they do not have to define you. Let’s find a way to learn from them together.