I was recently diagnosed with a ruptured disc at L5/S1. Are there any yoga poses I should avoid?
First, you need to find out from your physician if it is ok for you to continue to participate in yoga at this time. Be sure to explain to him/her the style of yoga you practice (e.g., whether it involves flowing poses including standing, balance and floor postures). Many times, it helps to provide your physician with pictures of typical yoga poses you may perform if he/she is unfamiliar with yoga postures.
If you are cleared to participate, it is definitely important that you be very careful with all your poses, implementing modifications when necessary. Forward folds, when done incorrectly, can predispose the disc to push further out of alignment. It is important in any pose in which you fold forward that you maintain a neutral pelvis and your back in extension. Most people benefit from a slight knee bend when performing forward folds as this decreases the tension on the hamstrings, allowing one to more easily maintain back extension.
Poses such as Camel or Cobra can actually be beneficial for people with disc problems, as long as they are not experiencing back pain or a radiation of pain away from the low back. (For these movements, please search the PTN Flexibility Library under Modality "Yoga.") Remember to engage your pelvic floor muscles and scoop your tailbone under to protect the low back area. All extensions and twists involve elongating the spine prior to initiating movement. You may want to avoid twists for a while, slowly incorporating easier twists such as Seated Spinal Twist and Lying Down Spinal Twist before progressing toward the more challenging twisting poses such as Reverse Twisting Triangle or Twisting Chair.
Remember, always honor your body and its sensations. You should not feel pain or discomfort in ANY of your poses. Yoga can certainly help to strengthen and lengthen the surrounding muscles in your core to protect your low back area and prevent further injury in the future. However, yoga performed with discomfort or with poor spinal alignment can be just as injurious as leaning over and picking up a heavy box, which is something someone with your history would definitely avoid!