The Benefits of Yoga for Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is defined as any pain that exists in the body for more than 3 months. An estimated 50-75 million Americans live with chronic pain, and if you’re one of these you may be feeling like you have tried everything and are beginning to feel, or maybe you already are feeling hopeless. There may be something that can help you with the chronic pain you’ve suffered from for some time. Yoga can have a significant effect on not only the physical pain you experience in your body, but in the pain response you experience in your mind. A regular, relaxing yoga practice (such as restorative) teaches the body and mind to rest in a place of safety rather than emergency. This reduces the pain response in the mind and the body.
Specifically, relaxation has been shown to be extremely beneficial for chronic pain by converting the pain/stress response in the body and mind to growth, repair, and other self-nurturing processes. Relaxation promotes healing and freedom from a great deal of pain. Restorative yoga, specifically, combines the use of many props and gentle poses held for about 10 minutes allowing the body to completely relax and drop even the deepest layers of tension. You will feel no strengthening and hardly any stretch when practicing restorative yoga because, while these are great things and are necessary in life, these are forms of tension being held in the body.
Using a deep breathing exercise can also promote quite a bit of relaxation in the body and can be done easily from home. Deep breathing can be practiced a thousand different ways, but here is one in particular that can help with the pain response: lay down on your back and place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Begin to bring your awareness to your breath and try to move your breath into the hand that is on your belly. Focus on imagining any place in your body where you may be experiencing pain and imagine the pain leaving your body with each exhale. If this feels too uncomfortable and you find that you are focusing on the pain, move your awareness from the area that is painful to a more comfortable area in the body and try to move back and forth from each area as you move through the discomfort. This will train your brain to intentionally shift your focus from the pain while still being present in the body.
Chronic pain can affect those who experience it deeply and there are many ways to cope with it, if this is something you experience don’t give up quite yet, there still may be an answer out there for you.