Important Note: I am not a medical professional. The stories on this website are my personal experiences only. Do not use the content on this site as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified medical professional. Before trying yoga or any exercise routine please first consult with your doctor. By reading this blog you agree to the terms of this disclaimer: Health and Medical Disclaimer.

At the end of a summer day in 2004 I was picking up a baseball left on the ground in our backyard. I was feeling fine until that point. As I straightened up with the ball in my hand, there was a sharp stabbing pain that ran from my lower back and down my left leg. I had never felt anything like it before. My back locked up and I was unable to stand up straight. Every movement resulted in pain.

This first episode of chronic pain lasted a short while. After it passed I had almost constant, daily, lower back pain. My long drive to work was uncomfortable. I limped for the first few hours of every day at the office. A co-worker nicknamed me “gimp”.

I was in my late 30s at the time. I thought myself too young to have a bad back.

A year or so later I was playing basketball in front of our house with my son and one of his friends. I don’t know what triggered it, but the stabbing back pain returned. This time it was much worse. I was lying on the ground in the fetal position. Any movement caused extraordinary pain. My wife helped me up and loaded me into the car, where I rested in the back seat on my side. She took me to the emergency room. I was barely able to walk, and I couldn’t sit in the chair in the waiting room. 

There was not much for the emergency room doctor to do. He sent me home with a few prescriptions. One for painkillers and another for muscle relaxers, as well as a referral for a physical therapist. I took the week off from work and lay around doing nothing other than taking powerful drugs to try and ease the pain. When it was time to go back to work I had lost all memory of the passwords I used so regularly to access systems and do my job. My brain was mush.

Over the next few years, this pattern repeated. I was plagued by daily low-grade back pain that was interrupted by roughly semi-annual episodes of extreme pain that left me in bed for days. 

One such event occurred on the day before Thanksgiving. I was doing the last of the food shopping before our guests arrived that evening. I pulled into the supermarket parking lot and got out of the car. Then came the familiar debilitating pain. I used the shopping cart to hold myself up as I shuffled through the store. When I got home I stumbled straight into bed.

I have vivid memories of the house full of holiday guests outside my bedroom door. I was confined to the bed, lying on my back with my feet up and pillows under my knees. My father-in-law was incredulous. He asked if I was really going to stay in bed all day. It was a silly question. In truth, there were plenty of people present to take over my cooking duties. I spent the day alone in bed on painkillers watching soccer on TV with my dog next to me. If it weren’t for the back pain, it would have been a good day.

Unfortunately, I was not getting better. In 2008 after another particularly bad back episode, I sought treatment from a neurologist at a center for spinal care. An MRI revealed several bulging (herniated) disks in my back, and one, in the doctor’s exact words, that had “popped like a balloon”. He advised that I would need surgery in the future, but suggested that I try to put it off as long as possible as I was young at the time (which sounds funny now). The recommended course of treatment consisted of more pain medicine, and epidural injections of steroids directly into my spine. He also recommended more physical therapy.

As usual, trying to medicate the symptoms away had no lasting effect. I even bought one of those inversion tables you hook your feet into that lets you hang upside down like a bat to get relief. Fortunately, though, I got some advice that time around. I was in a physical therapy session and the therapist explained that back pain often arises due to other problems, such as lack of core strength and flexibility, particularly in the hamstrings. We worked on these things as best we could with my therapy appointments, attempting to strengthen my core to help hold my spinal column in place. We also worked on stretching, to alleviate the pull on my lower back from my tight lower body.

Unfortunately, health insurance only covers a limited number of physical therapy visits. When they ran out I was still in the same condition as before. I was overweight, stiff, and in pain.

However, the guidance about core strength and stretching I had gotten from the PT stayed with me. I had a membership to a gym at the time and I sought the advice of a personal trainer who worked there and taught some of the group classes the gym offered. I signed up for a few training sessions with her and explained my predicament. She suggested I try a yoga class she was teaching, to improve my core strength and flexibility.

Along Came Yoga

Yoga was different than any exercise I had done before. Up until that point in my life, exercise meant going to a gym and lifting weights. I cringe now when I think about how many times I must have strained my back picking up heavy dumbbells from the floor. Now, instead of yelling and grunting, I was sitting peacefully on a mat in a quiet room. Instead of holding my breath and straining under a heavy barbell, I slowed down and breathed. It was the opposite of everything I ever believed exercise should be. Yet, it was still a workout. My muscles were sore in ways they never were before. It did not take long to appreciate yoga and its many benefits. 

The author practicing yoga tree pose
The author at the beach. Credit: Bill Boese

In addition to my yoga practice, I started going out more often on my bicycle. I had always enjoyed cycling and I decided to add some cardio to my exercise routine. Cycling also had the additional benefit of not placing stress on my lower back. 

Within a year or two of dedicated yoga with some regular road cycling sprinkled in, I noticed dramatic changes in my body as well as my well-being. The persistent backache that had plagued me for years decreased in intensity. The episodes of acute pain stopped happening altogether. I have not had a single one in the last 15 years. I still visit my doctor regularly, but I no longer need the prescriptions or treatments I used to receive. My back condition is not completely cured, I still experience low-level pain daily. The ruptured disk presumably has not fixed itself, but I have experienced a nearly complete remission from acute symptoms.

Yoga taught me to move mindfully and be aware of my body. I have learned to listen to my back, I know when it is starting to get bad and I can take steps to prevent it. I believe the process of slowing down (almost) every day and spending time on the mat in quiet mindful movement has also benefitted my mental health. I am much more mindful of how I move and breathe. Now when I get out of my car, I slow down and engage the muscles in my core to help lift me, instead of relying on my damaged back. I do the same thing every time I get up from a chair. 

My quality of life is much better now than it was when I was simply being treated for symptoms with prescription drugs and invasive procedures. I maintain a steady yoga practice, although I have decided to give up road cycling due to the risk created by terrible drivers. I no longer live in fear of back outages. On the rare occasions I do experience stronger back pain, I find that a few ibuprofen are far more effective than prescription painkillers ever were. I am stronger, healthier, fitter, and happier today than I was 15 years ago. Yoga changed my body and my mind for the better.


I am grateful yoga has found its way into my life. I am also grateful for the many yoga instructors, both in person and virtually on the internet, who have helped me.

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