Interview with Rachel Krentzman

Rachel Krentzman, RPT, E-RYT on Yoga for a Happy Back


COVER-Yoga for a Happy BackRachel Krentzman discusses her new book Yoga for a Happy Back: A Teacher’s Guide to Spinal Health Through Yoga Therapy

With great anticipation we bring you an interview with Rachel Krentzman who has just this month launched her new book Yoga for a Happy Back: A Teacher’s Guide to Spinal Health Through Yoga Therapy. Rachel is bridging yoga with physical therapy in her new book and DVD by the same name.  In addition to being an author, yoga teacher, and physical therapist, Rachel organizes “Yoga in Medicine” conferences for UCSD Center for Integrative Medicine and is passionate about bringing yoga into the healthcare setting. She trains yoga teachers on how to provide safe yoga classes and private sessions for individuals with back and neck pain. Her book represents a wealth of experience, both professionally and personally. Read on to find out how her unique work is sure to be an invaluable tool for yoga teachers, healthcare professionals, and advanced practitioners alike.

What was the motivation for you to write Yoga for a Happy Back: A Teacher’s Guide to Spinal Health Through Yoga Therapy?

My main motivation for this book was to share my personal experience of sustaining a back injury through a vigorous yoga practice and how it changed my practice and my entire view and approach towards yoga and healing. I began to see how I was using my yoga as another tool to feed my competitive and perfectionistic nature instead of a means towards paying more attention and turning inward. I also wanted to share all the teachings I have learned and integrated into my physical therapy practice with great results so that other teachers and health professionals can teach their students and patients that there is a very viable and sustainable alternative to pain medication and surgery for back pain.  While yoga is becoming more popular, I have noticed that there is a need for more education when it comes to anatomy, kinesiology, pathology, and rehabilitation. This book is a culmination of my professional and personal experience over the last twenty years.

How would you summarize the main message(s) of your book and who should read it?  

The main message of the book is twofold. First, when your body sends you a message in the form of pain, you need to stop and pay attention. Pain is often a sign that you are out of balance in one of the five koshas (sheaths) and it is time to take a different approach not only to movement but to your overall belief system. The second message is to SLOW DOWN. The only way to heal from back pain or spinal conditions is to stop pushing your body and apply techniques in a mindful way creating proper alignment and minimal tension.  

This book was originally designed for yoga teachers and health professionals to help them work both with groups and individuals who experience back pain. It is both an advanced manual for yoga therapy classes and private sessions but can also be used by students and patients who want a better understanding of their lower back. The illustrations and photos are also a great resource for beginners and advanced practitioners alike.

How is this book unique from other guides to yoga and back pain?

What makes this book unique is that it is a fusion of my personal memoir of healing, case studies and stories of real patients, and an instructional manual. It is also different in that it focuses on a holistic approach to back pain which incorporates healing on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. Yoga for a Happy Back also has original evaluation forms designed for yoga therapy and distinct sequences for individuals based on their specific condition as well as class ideas and themes.

Yoga for a Happy Back was inspired by Purna Yoga and my studies with Aadil Palkhivala over the last 12 years and has many therapeutic techniques that have never before been published.

Talk about some of the biggest barriers your clients face before beginning to practice yoga therapy.

I would have to divide the challenges into two different groups of clients: those new to yoga and experienced practitioners. Probably the biggest barrier to healing with new clients is difficulty focusing on subtle cues and decreased body awareness. Although this is a challenge, I find they slowly embrace this new way to be in their body and it changes their relationship to their injury forever. Watching someone learn how to be mindful is one of the most rewarding experiences I could imagine.  

The barrier with many yoga practitioners is a more difficult one to tackle, in my opinion. Generally, yoga practitioners who come in with injuries usually are overly flexible and experience a repetitive stress type of issue. When I tell them they need to slow down, take a break from their asana practice, or change their physical practice, I notice a great deal of resistance come up. Many of them are so attached to their “idea” of what yoga is to them that they are willing to suffer rather than change their practice. With these individuals, I need to sit down and talk with them about reframing their pain as a way to go deeper into their practice by letting go of the ego and their attachment to physical postures. Not an easy task.

How would you encourage someone who has suffered chronic back pain for some time? What message do you want them to hear?

I want them to know that there is hope and that there is another way to heal.  Often people are frustrated because the medical model has little to offer them. I let them know that there is no quick “fix” but that I am certain that if we work together, they will find relief and have the tools they need to help themselves for years to come.  

What are some of the most important truths or principles that you’ve learned on your journey as a physical therapist utilizing holistic healing therapies like yoga?

In my book, in chapter one, I talk about seven principles that are crucial for clients to embody if they want true and complete healing to occur. They are:

  1. Change the story about the pain
  2. Peel the onion
  3. Find the balance between stability and mobility
  4. Maintain the natural curves of the spine
  5. Don’t be afraid to move
  6. Find the middle way
  7. Learn how to heal

If I had to choose only one, it would be to “find the middle way”. Yoga is about balance and everyone’s center point is different. Our goal is to help individuals find their own balance and integrate it into their daily life. This is true for physical activity as well as lifestyle and nutrition.  

What dreams do you have for the future?

Good question. This book was a dream. My second book will be coming out soon and is titled Scoliosis, Yoga Therapy and the Art of Letting Go. In the future, I have hopes to publish a personal memoir and balance my own professional time by traveling, teaching health professionals and yoga teachers about the therapeutic benefits of yoga, seeing clients, leading retreats in Israel (where I currently live), and writing. I would like to develop more trainings and contribute to the growth of the field of Yoga Therapy in Israel which is still in its infancy. I feel so blessed that I get to do what I love and help people evolve and heal more fully each and every day.


About The Author

h9 ed 1.1Rachel Krentzman PT, E-RYT is the founder and director of Embody Physical Therapy and Yoga in San Diego, CA.  In 1996 she gained a degree in physical therapy from McGill University and began her career in hospital settings in areas such as orthopedics and neurosurgery. Rachel became increasingly aware of the therapeutic benefits of yoga and completed a 2000 hour program in advanced study with Aadil Palkhivala, the founder of Purna Yoga.  Rachel also studied in depth with Aman Keays, Iyengar Yoga teacher, and Judith Hanson Lasater. In addition to workshops and classes, Rachel offers teacher training in yoga therapy particularly in the treatment of back problems.