As we enter the new year, it’s customary to make resolutions. Remember the saying, “new year, new you”? Now’s the time to make yoga for chronic pain part of the new you. Here’s how.
How to get started with yoga for chronic pain
As always, when starting any new exercise routine with a chronic condition, talk to your doctor. Make sure it’s okay to start practicing and ask about any modifications you should make.
When you are ready, getting started with yoga for chronic pain means carving out space and time, finding support, and diving in.
To start, make sure you have a safe space to practice in. You will need the width of a yoga mat, plus a foot or so on either side and space above the mat. You can practice indoors or out. Yoga for chronic pain offers the most benefit when you do it regularly. Five minutes a day is better than once a week for an hour. Give yourself the time you need to practice daily, even for short periods of time.
When it comes to support, you do not need a lot of props to begin. Pillows, blankets, and large books work just fine. If you choose to purchase props, start with two yoga blocks and a yoga strap. An optional bolster is nice, as is a yoga blanket.
It can be helpful to begin your yoga journey with the support of a teacher. Let them know about any injuries or challenges you are experiencing due to chronic pain before you start. They can help you modify poses throughout a class.
Yoga and chronic pain research
The benefits of yoga are well-documented. When it comes to yoga and chronic pain research, here’s the latest.
- Yoga and meditation combined reduce chronic pain
- Yoga also reduces depression and anxiety associated with chronic pain
- As a complementary therapy, yoga increases daily function
- Yoga improves quality of life and boosts mood
These studies illustrate just a handful of the overwhelming research on yoga’s positive benefits for both mind and body.
5 general yoga poses for chronic pain
When you are just starting out, look for yoga poses for chronic pain that are easy to get into (and out of). In the beginning, start with yoga poses that simply feel good.
Here are five yoga poses for chronic pain, with prop suggestions.
Cat/cow is a great way to gradually increase mobility in your spine while strengthening your shoulders and arms. If getting up and down from the floor is challenging, do this pose before you get out of bed.
Come to all fours, with your shoulders over wrists and your knees underneath hips. Toes can be tucked or untucked—whichever feels best for you. Pad your knees with a blanket if they are sensitive.
Start with a neutral spine: crown of the head stretching forward, tailbone stretching behind you, and your navel gently tucked up toward your spine.
As you inhale, drop the belly so that the curve in your lower back increases. Shine your heart forward through the arms as you lift your chin and gaze. Shoulder blades press together on your back. This is cow pose.
Exhale, dropping your tailbone and rounding your lower, middle, and upper back before dropping your head. Shoulder blades slide away from each other. This is cat pose.
Use the entire length of your inhales and exhales to gently open up your body. Take at least three cat/cow postures, or as many as feels good.
2. Reclined spinal twist
This pose can be done before you get out of bed as well. Use your pillows as props or use yoga blocks and blankets.
To twist on the floor, lie down on your back. Make sure you have props close by if you need them. There are many variations of a twist. Make sure to gently engage your abdominal muscles as you move in and out of the twist for lower back support.
Some to start with include:
- Fallen mountain: Bend your knees and bring your feet mat’s width distance apart, arms out into the shape of a T. Inhale deeply. On an exhale, keeping your feet where they are, drop both knees to the left. Breath here for five to ten breaths, then move to the other side.
- Knees together twist: Start on your back. On an exhale, bring your knees perpendicular to your hips, with your shins parallel to the floor, arms into the shape of a T. Inhale, then on an exhale drop both knees to the left. You can use a block between both knees and/or a block between the bottom knee and the floor. Breathe here for five to ten breaths, then move to the other side.
- One leg extended twist: Start on your back. On an exhale, bring your right knee into your chest, keeping the left leg extended long (arms into the shape of a T). Inhale deeply, then on an exhale cross your right knee over your body, eventually coming to the side of your left leg. Use blocks to support the right knee. Place a blanket underneath your right shoulder if it is coming off the mat. Breathe here for five to ten breaths, then switch to the other side.
3. Child’s pose
Child’s pose helps to stretch your lower back, settle the mind, and open up the hips. You can use tons of props to help make this feel supportive and relaxing. To come into the basic shape of the pose, go to hands and knees (on the floor or on the bed) with toes untucked. Bring your big toes to touch. Sink your hips towards your heels, lowering your forehead to the mat. Your knees can be together and touching, or they can open wide.
Supportive variations include the following.
- Sore knees? Place several blocks under your sitting bones, or a rolled up towel between your hips and your heels (depending on how much support you need).
- Forehead doesn’t reach the mat? Place a block at any level to bring the floor closer.
- Looking for restorative yoga for chronic pain? Place many pillows or a yoga bolster on the ground in front of you to catch your torso.
Whichever variation you choose, take at least ten breaths here. Concentrate on relaxing and releasing tight muscles with each exhale.
4. Figure-4 stretch
Figure-4 stretch is a great type of chair yoga for chronic pain, but it can also be done lying down and standing up. All three variations are below.
- Seated figure-4: Sit on a straight-backed chair with a tall spine, abdominal muscles lightly engaged. Make sure your feet are comfortably flat on the floor, directly below your knees, with knees level with your hips. Place your right ankle on your left knee and allow your right knee to begin to release down towards the floor. Don’t push or force, just breathe and feel the stretch. If you like, you can begin to fold over the right shin. Stay here and breathe for ten breaths (or as long as you like) then repeat on the other side.
- Reclined figure-4: Lie on your back, bending your knees with feet a handprint from your sitting bones and hip’s width apart. Bring your right ankle to the left knee and pause here. You can use your right hand to gently press your right knee away from you, but don’t force it. If you want more sensation, engage your abdominal muscles to pick the shape up towards you. Thread your right hand between your legs to clasp the left hand behind your left hamstring. Stay here and breathe for ten breaths (or as long as you like) then repeat on the other side.
- Standing figure-4: Stand with feet hip’s width distance apart, abdominal muscles lightly engaged. Begin to move the weight into your left foot, bending into the left knee slightly. Lift up your right foot and place your right ankle on the left knee. You can bring your palms to touch at your heart, or you can rest them lightly on the right knee and ankle. Keep your balance by engaging your abdominal muscles and finding something that is not moving to focus your gaze on. Stay here and breathe for ten breaths (or as long as you like) then repeat on the other side.
5. Breath work
Yoga poses are just one of the eight limbs of yoga. Another way to bring the benefits of yoga for chronic pain into your life is to incorporate the relaxing benefits of pranayama—yogic breath—into your life. The easiest breath to start with is also one of the best to release mental tension and to relax.
Sit comfortably in any position (in a chair or in the bed is fine). You can also lie down if that feels best.
Start by taking a natural breath in, counting as you inhale. On the exhale, allow your out breath to last just a few seconds longer. For example, if you breathe in to the count of three, breathe out to the count of five. Focus on lengthening the exhale without forcing it. This type of breath stimulates your vagus nerve, letting your brain know that it is okay to relax.
You can incorporate this type of breath into any of the above poses and any of the sequences below.
Yoga sequences for chronic pain conditions
As the research above indicates, yoga for chronic pain offers positive benefits for both mind and body. Here are some of our favorite posts on yoga for specific chronic pain conditions.
Yoga for lower back pain
These yoga poses for chronic pain focus on stretching the hamstrings, strengthening the abdominal muscles, and building support in the lower back. All of these poses work to support and lengthen the spine to relieve common causes of lower back pain (e.g., bulging/herniated disc and spinal stenosis).
Find the full post at https://paindoctor.com/yoga-for-lower-back-pain/.
Yoga for fibromyalgia
People with fibromyalgia need yoga for chronic pain that gently eases them into movement. The goal is whole-body exercise that also works on easing the stress and anxiety of this widespread pain condition.
Look for individual poses, sequences, and research on this topic at https://paindoctor.com/yoga-for-fibromyalgia/.
Chair yoga for chronic pain
Many people write off chair yoga as something that’s just for seniors, but there’s more to it than that. Chair yoga offers all of the physical benefits of traditional yoga with more support. You can still work up a sweat in all of the standing poses with the support of a chair.
For yoga that works for those with limited mobility and yes, seniors, too, check out the full post at https://paindoctor.com/chair-yoga-for-seniors/.
Yoga for arthritis
Yoga for arthritis focuses on building muscles and support around painful joints while increasing range of motion and flexibility. Often, these postures take the pressure off of your joints and can be done seated or with props.
Give yoga for arthritis a try at this link: https://paindoctor.com/easy-yoga-for-arthritis/. Looking for yoga for chronic pain in the knees? We’ve got you covered here: https://paindoctor.com/yoga-for-knee-pain/.
Yoga for hip pain
Our hardworking hips often suffer from chronic pain conditions. Yoga for hip pain focuses on poses that increase hip flexibility, stability, and strength. Some poses are held for longer periods of time to gradually open up the connective tissues. Others are repeated to build support for the hips.
Find all of these options here: https://paindoctor.com/yoga-for-hip-pain/.
Yoga for shoulder pain
Looking to rehab an old injury, gain strength, or simply move with less pain? Yoga for shoulder pain features a series of poses that increase range of motion in this ball-and-socket joint while strengthening the shoulder and upper back muscles.
Look for these poses at https://paindoctor.com/yoga-for-shoulder-pain/.
Yoga for chronic pain videos
Sometimes it’s easier to follow along with an instructor, even when you can’t make it to class.
We’ve compiled our favorite videos you can do at home to find chronic pain relief.
If you’re looking for yoga poses for chronic pain or chair yoga for chronic pain, Adrienne has a great 25-minute video that can be done either standing or in a chair.
One of our favorite yogis, Erica Rascon, has a great short sequence that can be done in bed.
Although not specifically designated as “yoga for chronic pain,” Arianna Elizabeth has put together a seven-day, beginner-friendly yoga challenge with daily sequences of 20 minutes or less. This can be a great way to get into the habit of yoga for pain and stress relief.
Find chronic pain relief
The best chronic pain relief comes with a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan. Yoga for chronic pain is just one of the many options available for managing your pain.
Need more support? Find a pain specialist in Arizona or Texas by clicking the button below or look for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.