Spotlight on Wellness: A Neurosurgeon’s View on Yoga and Spine Health

Dr. Sheri Dewan

For those with spine related conditions and those noticing overall progression of degenerative processes in the spine, Sheri Dewan, MD, FAANS, explains, “The spine can become rigid — almost fused — over time, if you don’t move it, causing pain and other complications. Kundalini yoga combats this. It focuses on the spine with a nice blend of meditation, which is key for pain management.”1

Dr. Dewan practices neurosurgery in the Chicago Metro area, as part of the Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, completed her training at Brown University and is a member of the CNS, the AANS and WINS. Her practice as a neurosurgeon focuses on seeing and treating patients with spine conditions, and she also performs neurosurgical cases in southern India through the AIMS hospital group. Dr. Dewan has been a yoga practitioner for over two decades. She has participated in several interviews detailing the benefits of yoga for spine health and excerpts from interview Q&As are included at the end of the article. She also explains the benefits of kundalini yoga, which Dr. Dewan refers to as a “yoga for the nervous system.”

In one recent article, Dr. Dewan explains what kundalini yoga is:

“Kundalini yoga, or spinal yoga, has been around for thousands of years. The yogi Harbhajan Singh Khalsa learned it in India and brought it to California in the late 1960s. ‘kundalini’ is the Sanskrit word for “coiled”: The practice is very focused on body mechanics, flexibility, core muscle strength, muscle tension, and loosening and adjusting the spine. It’s typically sixty to ninety minutes in total, with a five- to ten-minute warm-up and thirty to forty-five minutes of exercise followed by a relaxation period. The key final point is the meditation aspect of it. When patients are dealing with chronic pain, whether it is neck pain, thoracic pain, or low-back pain, so much of it is psychological as well as physical. What I like about kundalini-style yoga is that it not only focuses on your spine joints, your tendons, and your muscles to help relax and strengthen the whole body but then, in the end, you focus on your mind, which is also a huge component of the psychological pain that manifests as physical pain. Some people are very inflexible to begin with, and some of my patients are in their seventies or eighties, so we need to proceed carefully. I typically recommend patients start out at a yoga center that they are comfortable with and then slowly work up to places that do more-advanced spinal yoga. But once patients have exhibited that they have the flexibility to do spinal yoga, they can even do it at home. I recommend doing it in the morning when they first wake up or even in the evening before they go to bed — once a day or twice a day, depending on their activity level and time.” 2

She recommends kundalini yoga practice to those patients who want to be more holistic about their overall health and particularly their spine health, but advises that those with fractures or bone fragility should avoid this, and those over 70 should do so in consultation with their physician along with those who may have had prior surgical procedures or preexisting spinal conditions. For those she refers to yoga practice, “Coupling spine work with breathing exercises to calm the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight or flight stress response, is an effective way for many to manage back pain. You’ll notice a difference in how your back feels if you practice kundalini yoga every day when you wake up,” Dr. Dewan mentions, “studies have shown that relaxing the musculature in the back can help with the psychological component of chronic pain.”1 While she recommends it to almost anyone as a prophylactic measure for spinal health, she also focuses on postpartum women whose abdominal muscles can become weaker during pregnancy. She advises a daily practice for optimal results.

There are different types of yoga practices and various forms of practice. While the benefit of kundalini yoga is its focus on introspection, other types of yoga practices can help with maintaining spine health. Kundalini can’t replace surgery in some cases,” Dr. Dewan says, “but it’s a powerful tool you can use to manage pain and take control of your spinal health.”

 

References
1. Northwestern Medicine. (n.d.). Kundalini Yoga for Back Pain. Retrieved from https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/fitness/kundalini-yoga-for-back-pain.

2. Goop. (2019, June 19). A Neurosurgeon on Why Kundalini Yoga Is Good for Your Spine. Retrieved from https://goop.com/wellness/health/a-neurosurgeon-on-why-kundalini-yoga-is-good-for-your-spine/.