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Yoga to Treat Chronic Pain


by Erika Long

Yoga is an effective way to increase flexibility and improve strength while gaining mental clarity and a sense of calm. Yoga can also be used as a pain management tool. Whether you attend a class at a studio, or you pull up a video online, it's easy to find yoga instruction, and it can pay off in spades.

Why is Yoga Good For Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain negatively affects your brain by changing its structure. When pain persists, it eventually damages our gray and white matter, leading to depression, anxiety, and an inability to communicate properly.

Luckily, yoga has the opposite effect on the brain and can reduce pain perception through diminishing pain's impact on gray matter volume and white matter integrity. Though medication can help manage chronic pain, yoga makes you feel better while actually healing the brain so that medication becomes less necessary.

In addition, yoga practice improves the entire nervous system. Your nervous system is responsible for the signals in our bodies, which affects our physical, emotional and mental health, as well as our immune system, pain pathways, and internal organs.

When we do yoga, we decrease the body's production of cortisol, which is the body's natural response to stress, and that causes a sense of relaxation. The deep breathing that yoga encourages strengthens nerve connections between the brain and the body thus reducing muscle tension.

All this results in increasing our tolerance for pain and helping the body get stronger. Restorative yoga is recommended for people suffering with chronic pain as it is a gentle form of yoga that still gives a deep stretch.

Which Yoga Poses are the Best for Chronic Pain?

Depending on where the chronic pain is located, certain poses will work better than others. Keep in mind, however, that any yoga position that does not cause pain can improve your overall health, as you are still increasing blood flow and getting more oxygen. There are several simple yoga poses that are particularly useful for chronic pain sufferers.

Corpse Pose, which is done by lying on your back with your arms outstretched and palms facing up, can help make you more aware of where you hold tension in your body due to chronic pain.

Supine Twist, which is done by lying on your back and bending your knees over while keeping the arm on the bended knee side extended, will allow for a stretch in your back and neck.

Bridge pose, which is a simple inversion, is done by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms stretched to the side and lift your core up, forming a triangle. This pose can help stretch and strengthen your core, back, quads, and chest muscles.

You may also want to look into Warrior II (with chair assistance), Baddha Konasana, and Wall Plank to help with chronic pain.

Aqua yoga is a fun alternative a traditional yoga practice. When we are in the water, up to 70% of our weight is supported and this decreased load on our bodies makes yoga poses easier to hold. This type of yoga is more realistic and accessible for people with chronic pain. If you don't have an aqua yoga class at your local pool, there are tutorials on the internet. Just get a couple of pool noodles from the Dollar Store and play a video on your phone resting on a towel at the edge of the pool.

How Meditation can be Added to a Yoga Practice to Treat Chronic Pain

Meditation is yet another natural way to treat chronic pain, and it works better than opioid medication. Meditation also has the added benefit of not causing addiction and thus can be used by those with addiction issues.

Yoga and meditation are typically interconnected, as both are heavily focused on breathing and being mindful. Yoga can enhance meditation by encouraging you to bring your attention inward and focus on the way your body feels as you move through the poses.

Luckily, yoga and meditation are low to no cost alternatives to traditional medicine, and they don't require a doctor's prescription or a trip to the pharmacy. You can use them whenever and practically wherever you would like, and they can be easily customized and adapted to fit your needs, interests and physical capacity.

Helpful Resources to Start a Yoga Practice for Chronic Pain Sufferers

When you add a natural treatment to your practice, you can recover more quickly and will in turn be more motivated to do yoga.

CBD oil for pain is growing in popularity and can help your yoga practice. As chronic pain can disturb sleep patterns, this natural remedy can help put you fall asleep so your body can get the rest and recovery it needs to have the energy to do yoga. Plus, hemp oil has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce the inflammation that is caused from injury, which in turn helps reduce pain

Massage is another self-care activity that can make you feel good and help relax tense muscles. It improves circulation and blood flow which helps muscles get the oxygen and nutrients they need to perform well. When our muscles are well-tended, yoga becomes more of a delight than a chore.

Acupuncture can also help heal the body and assist it in recovering from chronic pain. It's a great compliment to a yoga practice as they are both about moving energy. Acupuncture is about helping balance the body by moving energy from areas of excess to areas of deficiency. Yoga is about union of the mind and the body. When we incorporate both tools, our bodies will feel and function better.

Yoga to treat chronic pain can be the low cost, accessible tool you need to feel good again and be more energetic. Start small and gentle and work your way up from there. Slow and consistent progress will reap more benefit than strenuous and potentially dangerous moves. With time and perseverance, practicing yoga can be the most effective pain management tool you use.