THERE was a time when nothing but lying flat out in your bed was the cure for a bad back, but not any more. In the biggest study of its kind, scientists in York have shown that yoga is one of the best ways to improve lower back pain.

York yoga teacher Anna Semlyen, along with fellow practitioner Alison Trewhela, wrote the manual for the study, showing participants how to carry out the poses and stretches.

This has now been released as a book, Yoga For Healthy Lower Backs, complete with clear descriptions and photographs on how to follow the exercises. There is also a CD to accompany the book.

Anna, who runs weekly classes through her Yoga In York business and is also a City of York councillor, said: “It’s about being more self-reliant about your own health.”

The exercises, which include lying tummy-down on a table with your feet on the floor, or sitting on a chair and twisting round as well as lying on the floor with your legs bent and raised, are designed to be easily carried out at home.

Ideally, people should do the exercises for 15 to 20 minutes every day to see the benefit. And it helps too, advises Anna, if they can attend a few yoga sessions.

In the £250,000 trial funded by Arthritis Research UK, the participants undertook 12 sessions of yoga over a three-month period. By the end of this time, they found they had a 30 per cent improvement in back function compared to the “control group” who were under GP care.

Twelve months later, this improvement level was maintained, suggesting the participants had kept up with their yoga exercises.

They did so, says Anna, because it works.

“It’s yoga as medicine. The study proved that yoga is a medical and healing method for people with back problems.”

Sciatica, scoliosis, slipped discs, strains, weakness after pregnancy and poor posture are just some of the back problems yoga can help improve, she added.

It’s reckoned that eight in ten adults will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, with 30 per cent in pain on any one day, says Anna.

Back problems cost the British economy millions of pounds through lost working days too, she points out.

Anna said that after following the 12-week course and exercises, people on the study noticed improvements in sleeping, ability to do more housework and simple tasks such as putting on socks and rising unaided from chairs.

Next year, Anna will be travelling across the UK teaching other yoga tutors about the methods and exercises in the book.

“Yoga is a very cost-effective way to treat back pain,” said Anna. “It saves days off work and the cost of appointments to see other practitioners such as manipulators and massage therapists.”

There are two yoga teachers in York trained to follow the specialist programme in the book.

Jean Lavers teaches on a Tuesday at Park Grove School at 6.15pm. She can be contacted on 01904 671695.

Anna offers individual lessons at her home in Grange Street, Fishergate, at £40 a lesson or £175 for 5.

She is happy to start a new group from January specifically for lower back pain, and needs between eight to 15 people to make it viable.

The bespoke course would cost £100 for six classes, and participants would need to buy the book (£16.99) and CD (£12.99) too, so they could carry on at home.

Anna is so convinced of the methods that she is offering a money-back guarantee.

“You would need to practise at home too, not just come to the classes,” she said. “But if you really didn’t feel it worked you would get your money back.”

Find out more by telephoning Anna on 01904 654355/07891 989310 or emailing

You can order the book from the website