Not long ago, the number one treatment for chronic pain was rest, rest and more rest. Now we know how much improving mobility, strength and range of motion actually decreases pain. “Use it or lose it” couldn’t mean more for those of us suffering every day. Yoga, an ancient form of exercise, can be a wonderful start.
Yoga is a mind-body and exercise practice that combines breath control, meditation, and movements to stretch and strengthen muscles. What sets yoga apart from most other exercise programs is that it places as great an emphasis on mental fitness as on physical fitness.
Studies have shown just one yoga class a week significantly increased mobility and relieved chronic low back pain, fibromyalgia, and arthritic conditions. Yoga also had the added benefit of not only improving daily function but improving mood and psychosocial well-being as well. Also encouraging was those who practiced yoga regularly lowered their reliance on pain medications: Only 21 percent were taking any drugs at the end of the study, compared with more than twice that in the other groups.
Physiological Changes Caused by Pain
One of the reasons chronic pain is so challenging is that it goes beyond just the physiological presence of pain, and impacts the mind-body connection causing :
- Breathing to become more shallow and shaky.
- Muscle tension changes because the body is in a constant state of “alert.”
- How we move changes dramatically as we try to protect the area of pain sometimes shutting down all movement.
- Our body image changes as we feel physically challenged.
- Feelings us helplessness and frustrations affect our daily emotions.
What types of yoga are best for treating pain?
When your body is hurting, start with a slow-paced, gentle practice like viniyoga. It is an adapted form of yoga that focuses on slow stretches and deep breathing. Iyengar yoga is another slow-paced type of yoga, one that focuses on precise bodily alignment. Different props – like straps, blocks, blankets, and bolsters – are used in Iyengar classes, which can be especially helpful if mobility is limited or extra support is required.
How does yoga ease chronic pain?
Yoga works on stretching and strengthening, the key to long-term healing and pain reduction is strength. By building strength, releasing muscle tension, improving flexibility, and bolstering joints and bones, yoga can bring the body into balance, thereby alleviating pain. And the therapeutic benefits of yoga are not just physical. When we give ourselves the time to do these slow, deep, but gentle stretches, we bring all the parts of the body into balance. Then the mind can find a positive focus and allow the calming, grounding benefits to diminish the emotional toll chronic pain exerts daily.
Some pain programs have added mind-body approaches to treatment plans that features yoga, biofeedback, art therapy, and more. It’s mission is to treat the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. Yoga and meditation stimulate the brain as well as the body. Helping to reestablish that connection gives us back control.
How do I begin?
Yoga sessions typically last from 45 to 90 minutes. But even practicing yoga at home for 10 to 20 minutes a few times a week has shown benefit.
It generally begins with breathing exercises to relax the body and help free the mind of worries and distractions. Breathing deeply through the nose is a vital component of yoga that then proceeds through a series of seated, standing, and prone yoga postures. These postures are known as asanas. Some asanas are held for a few seconds to a few minutes.
Holding the body correctly in the various postures and breathing into them to stretch farther is important but always stop if you feel any pain. Then they end with breathing and meditation. Asanas can be modified to accommodate anyone’s strength and experience, as well as health conditions. People with multiple sclerosis, for instance, can do yoga on a chair rather than the floor, as is traditional.
Yoga can help anyone suffering from decreasing mobility, strength and pain. Choose positions based on your own individual needs, stick to the program -even if it’s just a few minutes a day -and you too can see results.
Those who suffer from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can reap the perks from the gentle motions of a yoga practice. Try these poses Happify collected that are known to help ease aches.