Does Yoga Help Relieve Chronic Pain?

| Texas Partners Healthcare Group

Does Yoga Help Relieve Chronic Pain? - Texas Partners Healthcare Group

Yoga Can Help Relieve Your Chronic Pain

Yoga is a popular mind-body practice that has been around for more than 5,000 years (some researchers believe yoga is 10,000 years old). Although yoga has surged in popularity in Western cultures, many caught on to its incredible healing powers many years ago. Yoga isn’t all about deep breathing and pretty postures; it can also help improve mental and physical health. One of the most underrated benefits of yoga is how it focuses on mental fitness and enhanced cognitive ability.

By quieting the mind and tuning in to the body, many people have found relief from chronic pain through yoga. It is essential to keep in mind that there are several (8) main lineages of yoga:

  • Hatha
  • Ashtanga
  • Iyengar
  • Yin
  • Bikram
  • Kundalini
  • Vinyasa
  • Jivamukti

Hatha refers to any yoga that includes physical postures (some solely focus on breathing and meditation). Depending on the class, Hatha yoga can consist of stretches and various poses that can relieve back pain, strengthen the core, and bolster the shoulders. If you aren’t sure what type of yoga is offered at your local studio or rehab facility, just ask. Many cities have programs that focus on pain relief for older adults as well as classes specific to alleviating lower back pain, knee discomfort, or to help recover from surgery, for example.

With an estimated 100 million people living with chronic pain in the United States and a nation amid an opioid epidemic, it is no wonder alternative therapies are being popularized. Thanks to advances in pain management in recent years, more people have access to safe and effective pain management solutions, including stem cell therapy, ketamine infusions, and other forms of regenerative medicine. These treatments are especially useful when used in conjunction with yoga. In today’s blog, we are going to take a step back in history and look at where yoga got its roots. From there, we will cover the benefits of yoga and why it is such a great option for chronic pain sufferers. If you have any questions or are wondering how yoga may help you, contact Texas Partners Healthcare Group today.

What is Yoga? 

Yoga was first used in written form in Northern India some 5,000 years ago. It can be traced to the Rig Veda, an ancient set of texts. The Vedas is a collection of writings that include songs, mantras, and rituals followed by the Vedic priests, Brahmans. The history of yoga is fascinating and gives great context to how it is used today, but we will fast forward to modern yoga for today’s purposes.

Starting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters from India began traveling west, landing in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, Hatha yoga has become popularized and is well-loved by millions of Americans for its physical and mental benefits. One of the reasons so many are singing yoga’s praises in Western cultures today is how it helps people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, low back pain, and other chronic pain conditions find relief. According to a recent study, attending a yoga class once a week can increase mobility more than most other types of medical care. 

Yoga’s Take on Chronic Pain 

Nothing is worse than living with chronic pain on an everyday basis. Not only can physical discomfort be unbearable, but your mind is often involved. Yes, the experience of pain is real, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t also in your head. What we mean by this is that pain often has roots in our mind, whether from injury, stress, or illness. Depending on the person and the why, pain can manifest chronically with no rhyme or reason. For example, doctors in Western medicine often look to the exact source of the pain, like a muscle injury, bulging spinal disc, or a pinched nerve.

But recent research tells a different story. While chronic pain is often due to something physical, scientists and doctors alike now believe it can also stem from our thoughts, emotions, memories, and expectations. Although an injury or illness may be where a person’s chronic pain first started, the mind-body relationship is why it’s sticking around. This is a huge revelation that can be difficult for many to wrap their head around.

The bottom line is that this is excellent news for chronic pain sufferers! It means, through the power of changing the way you think (meditation), bringing breath to the source of pain, and moving the body through asana (physical poses), you can find relief. Chronic pain can alter the structure of the brain, changing the volume of gray matter (neurons) and creating communication (white matter) hiccups between the different brain regions. One particular study showed that yoga works to increase the gray matter and build stronger connections of white matter.

Yoga Tips for Chronic Pain Relief

The kind of yoga and specific postures you do will depend on the person and the pain you are experiencing. Look for classes that integrate body-based practices like breathing exercises and physical poses. Together, your breath and movement can calm down the nervous system and activate necessary changes in posture, mood, and emotion.

Here are a few beneficial yoga exercises that may help those living with chronic pain:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing (deep breathing)
  • Mindfulness meditations
  • Standing side stretch (for low and mid back pain, neck pain, and fibromyalgia)
  • Supported fish pose (for neck pain, migraine, and mid and upper back pain)
  • Downward dog (beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis, low and mid back pain, neck pain, and migraine)
  • Legs up the wall (for low back pain, neck pain, and migraine)
  • Supine twist (back discomfort)

Before trying any of the above, we encourage you to take a class or discuss your condition with a professional. Yoga can be extremely useful in reducing the symptoms of chronic pain, but not all lineages are appropriate for everyone. Keep in mind that the asanas can be modified to accommodate your ability, strength, experience, and needs. When done under the guidance of a professional and as part of a tailored pain management plan, yoga can help heal the body and calm the mind. To learn more about the benefits of yoga and whether it may be right for you, contact Texas Partners Healthcare Group. We often recommend yoga alongside other alternative forms of treatment and are glad to discuss your options with you today.

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