Yoga for Pain Relief: What’s the hype?
Have you heard that yoga is a miracle cure for pain? Have you been told to consider yoga for pain relief? Well, there is something to that. Exercise in general can be a valuable part of your pain management program, but yoga in particular can help you find lasting relief.
Below are five reasons yoga is great for pain relief, but before you read them let’s be clear what I mean by yoga. I don’t mean Pilates and I don’t mean stretching. Yoga is a very specific thing in that it is a complete mind-body practice. If you haven’t experienced yoga before, ask around for a good beginning yoga class taught by a knowledgeable instructor. You’ll be glad you did!
Five Reasons To Consider Yoga For Pain Relief
1. Yoga is inwardly focused.
In yoga, your awareness is drawn into yourself which is something most of us don’t do often enough in our modern world. A yoga instructor may ask you to close your eyes, become aware of your breath, and to fully accept your sensations, thoughts, and emotions. This is a powerful practice because being accepting of your current state relieves your body of stress.
A typical response to pain is to reject it and refuse to pay attention to it. Unfortunately, that can increase your suffering and prolong the discomfort from pain by increase your stress response and other neurological triggers. Yoga teaches you to how to be with your current experience without needing it to be different.
2. Yoga befriends the body.
Anyone can do yoga. While many exercises require specific skill sets and muscular conditioning, yoga can be done by anyone. A knowledgeable yoga instructor knows how to modify classic yoga poses to account for injury and alignments. Yoga encourages you to accept your body as it is – bumps, bruises, pain and all.
3. Yoga is all about kindness.
In yoga you are reminded to be kind to yourself. Now you might think that we should naturally be kind to ourselves, but it’s not unusual that people will get out of the habit of being kind to themselves for one reason or another. Maybe you’ll skip that nap you want because you were told people who nap are lazy. Maybe you work too hard on days you feel good to make up for days when you couldn’t work because of the pain. Or maybe you’ll take on too many commitments because you have difficulty saying no.
Being kind to yourself means accepting your current strengths and weaknesses and then making the choices that promote your wellbeing. In yoga, you are reminded to practice kindness to yourself. If your body does not want to bend today that’s ok. Go easy and do what you are capable of doing without worsening pain. Yoga teaches you how to be compassionate to yourself no matter what you are experiencing.
4. Yoga can be gentle.
There are many forms of yoga and some of those forms can be pretty intense, but yoga can also be extremely gentle. Slow breathing paired with slow movements can help calm your over stimulated nervous system. By learning to move gently, you’ll find that you can do more and cause less pain. Moving gently enables you to sense your body’s cues and avoid injury.
A lot of exercise is about achieving physical goals, and while many forms of yoga can be challenging just like that, yoga can also be a practice of gentle movement with no goal other than healing movement. You don’t have to try and tie yourself into a pretzel to get benefits from yoga.
5. Yoga is applicable off the mat.
Yoga is a mind-body practice that teaches you skills applicable to all of life. The gentleness, kindness, and awareness you learn while doing simple movements translates to being gentle, kind, and aware of all things in the word. Yoga teaches you self-regulation skills that are relevant to all facets of your daily life. By cultivating a yoga practice you can better deal with the frustration, sadness, grief, pleasure, or fear that comes with pain. The awareness developed through yoga can help you to have better communication with others and healthier relationships. Most importantly, yoga helps you develop the self-regulation skills critical for better pain processing. That means you experience less suffering in response to pain and live with a greater quality of life.
If you have never tried yoga for pain relief I suggest you look for a local studio that offers “gentle” yoga. Call the studio and tell them a little about yourself. They will be able to direct you to the most appropriate class. You can also look online for free or low cost videos of gentle yoga classes. Here is one, and here is another. Just remember to always modify anything that does not feel right in your body.
If you are a seasoned yogi and have fallen out of practice, encourage yourself back to the mat for just 10 minutes once a week. You’ll immediately feel better by starting your practice again!
Let me know which of these 5 things most intrigues you about doing yoga? Which one are you most interested in experiencing for yourself and why? Share in the comments below!
Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT