September is Yoga Health Foundation’s National Yoga Month, and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to look at all the ways in which yoga can help chronic pain patients. Grab your mat, a block, and a strap, and take a look at these 17 ways yoga can help.
1. Yoga calms the mind
After a while, seasoned yogis will tell you that just the action of unrolling their mat begins to calm the stormy thoughts of the mind. The action of stepping on to the mat signals the body and the mind that it’s time to slow down
2. But at the same time it speeds up the body
Yoga gets the heart pumping, brings oxygen to the lungs and muscles, and generally fires up all of the body’s systems. A solid yoga practice includes different classes of poses – forward bends, backbends, inversions, seated poses, twists, and standing poses – and moves the spine in six different directions. This wakes up the body.
3. You can focus on building flexibility
Chronic pain can cause muscles to tense and tighten. A slow restorative or yin yoga practice can help the body to release that tightness.
4. Or maybe concentrate on strength
For chronic back pain, working the core muscles can help to rehabilitate the spine and add support. Knees get stability when the muscles of the upper thigh and calf get stronger. Strength is not just about being able to handstand. Strong muscles alleviate the pressure on the aching bones.
5. Yoga can help to stack your bones
Some chronic pain conditions may be a result of years of improper alignment. This alignment could be as a result of injury, overuse, or misuse. Whatever the cause of misalignment, yoga can help you to learn how your skeleton fits together, perfectly balanced to support your whole body.
6. It can also correct scoliosis
Preliminary research has found that just one pose – side plank – can actually dramatically correct a C-curve in a scoliotic spine. Researchers found a reduction of 41% of curve in just six months.
7. Yoga’s effects can be felt in just ten minutes
In ten minutes you can get the benefits of yoga, even as a beginner. Focus on energizing poses in the morning, digestive poses at midday, and restorative or relaxing poses in the evening. For people with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, this little bit of movement spread throughout the day may be just the thing to keep joints lubricated and moving.
8. It doesn’t have to be physical to work
For some in chronic pain, full bed rest is the only movement they are capable of at certain periods. Good news: asana (the poses themselves) is only part of yoga. Other parts of yoga include pranayama (breath work) and meditation. The word “yoga” means “union,” generally of body and mind. If the body is unable to be physically active, the mind can be strengthened and breath work can help change the mood. Balancing breath like alternate nostril breathing can be alternated with bumblebee breath for anxiety or bellows breath to warm the core.
9. Yoga can help build a community
One of the most difficult aspects of chronic pain can be the isolation. Often, a chronic pain patient will feel trapped inside their body, or they will feel like no one understands. Change that perception by attending a yoga class. Many studios feature gentle or therapeutic classes to slowly build strength and flexibility. Others may offer a yoga for arthritis class that uses props to help enter and exit each pose. Participants in each class are likely going through similar experiences, and that can help a chronic pain patient to feel less lonely. Teachers can also help to build a safe home practice by offering pose suggestions and tips.
10. Yoga is a healing gift to the body
For all types of pain, from the physical pain of breast cancer treatment to chronic back pain, yoga is an incredible gift of healing that you give to yourself. Time on the mat is time that is solely focused on physical recovery and rehabilitation.
11. And the mind
Yoga is an effective and powerful treatment for feelings of depression. A review of available research studies found that even for some of the most severe forms of depression, yoga, when practiced consistently with the guidance of a licensed professional, can offer a boost to mood similar to anti-depressants.
12. It can wake you up
Chronic pain may leave a person feeling exhausted, even after very little activity. Yoga for chronic fatigue is one way to improve energy levels gradually. Using props and support for restorative yoga poses allows the body to bend, stretch, and gradually strengthen, improving endurance and stamina.
13. Or help you sleep
It’s a vicious cycle: chronic pain leads to trouble sleeping which leads to intensifying symptoms which leads to trouble sleeping. Break the cycle with deeply relaxing poses before bedtime or quiet the mind with yoga nidra, a guided meditation that can gently guide you into rest.
14. Yoga can be silly
Yoga with your dog? Yoga on a paddleboard in the water? Aerial yoga? Laughing yoga? Yoga takes many forms in the west, some of which are more traditional, and others that can get pretty crazy. If you suffer from chronic pain and need a little levity, choose a form of yoga that makes you laugh.
15. Or it can be a serious pain-fighting tool
Mindfulness meditation, a type of meditation that encourages people to acknowledge a feeling without giving it any significance, has been found to dramatically reduce the pain of migraines. Adults trained in mindfulness meditation who also did yoga on their own had an average of 1.4 fewer migraines per month. When a migraine did occur, intensity and duration were greatly reduced. This result is better than traditional medical interventions for migraine.
16. Depending on which type you choose, yoga may be enough exercise
No, restorative yoga is not enough to get your heart pumping for cardiovascular health, but several weekly ashtanga classes or vigorous vinyasa can be enough exercise to fulfill the recommended weekly allowance.
17. Doctors are starting to jump on the mat
As evidence grows about yoga’s benefits, many doctors are now recommending yoga as a complementary therapy. Of course, before beginning any exercise program, including any type of gentle yoga, talk to your doctor.
Have you tried yoga for chronic pain?