The physical poses that come to mind when most Americans think of yoga originated thousands of years ago in India. Originally they served to make the body strong and supple enough — and the mind patient enough — to sit for long bouts of meditation. Nowadays, people practice yoga poses for various reasons, including improving their strength and flexibility, decreasing stress and pain and relieving depression.
Yoga and Pain
Pain can be divided into two main categories: acute and chronic. Acute pain happens suddenly, such as when you slam your hand in a car door. Chronic pain is more complicated and long lasting. Science used to look only for physical sources of chronic pain. Now researchers think that, while chronic pain has roots in the physical, attitudes, emotions, thoughts and stress level sustain it.
Since yoga can help manage stress, and chronic pain thrives on stress, yoga may reduce chronic pain. Yoga breathing and simple postures may quell your anxiety and dampen your body’s fight-or-flight response.
“Neuroplasticity” is the nervous system’s ability to learn from experience. How do you use it to your advantage? Teach the body and mind healthier responses to stressful situations. Just as chronic pain can be an adaptation to the physical and emotional stressors placed on the body, practices like yoga can change the body by introducing new experiences. If, from now on, you consistently respond to new stressors with deep breathing rather than exercising a negative reaction, your body and brain will start to change.
A Restorative Practice
As yoga has become more popular, a mind-boggling array of classes has popped up. Beginners may be too confused by the difference between Ashtanga and Iyengar to make it to a single class. Or, they might take one class only to wind up in a grossly inappropriate session, thus making them swear off yoga forever. One size does not fit all. If you’re a newbie, and especially if you’re dealing with chronic pain or other limitations, look for clues like “beginning,” “level one” or “gentle” in the class description.
Restorative yoga is especially good for people suffering from chronic pain. This style of yoga is extremely slow and quiet. You’ll mostly hold relaxing positions supported by bolsters, blocks and other props for up to 10 minutes. Many people find they can let go of stress and tension in a restorative yoga class.
If you’re looking for a way to relieve your chronic pain or other health conditions, yoga may help. Ask your functional medicine chiropractor to suggest an appropriate class for you.