When I talk about using Yoga for chronic pain, please know this is not about how you can heal your pain through yoga. I think one of the worst things we can tell people with chronic pain is, “I have the solution” “I can fix you” because you’ve heard it a million times. You’ve probably tried a million different things too from diet, exercise, this doctor, this clinic, my friends brother said etc…
What I can share with you are perhaps tools that you can use to help deal with pain. Gentle movement patterns for the good days to keep the blood flowing, your joints moving. The mindfulness techniques for when the pain takes over and it seems to be all you can think about.
Pain no matter where or how it is experienced is debilitating. The physical is obvious, but what about the other areas of our lives that are impacted. We are in pain, struggle to find a comfortable position to sleep and so sleep becomes compromised. We are tired all day which accelerates the pain and so we crave caffeine and sugar that furthers the inflammation in our body. Then on top of this we become easily irritated by everyday tasks, a shortened fuse at work or home causing unnecessary arguments and furthering the stress still. Our bodies become tense, adding more pain and we are caught in this horrible vicious cycle where we feel we can’t catch a break on any side.
I don’t mean to paint such a bleak picture, but this is the reality for millions of people every day and I think something we need to understand when we look at how we approach and treat those that are suffering.
And pain isn’t only coming from our obvious injured or overworked joints and muscles. This is literally me in this moment. Perimenopause, (oh the joys!) and a massive drop in hormones just before my period means increased inflammation in the body, the headache that won’t go away and any minor aches and pains now heightened. Anyone with autoimmune conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia know these cycles all too well.
So where do we start?
First, we need to deal with what is happening physically, we have to get to the source of the pain and do what work we can for rehabilitation or at least for it not to get worse. Ignoring this I promise you, will not make it go away. Then, we can do yoga.
How do I do yoga when it hurts to move? The good news is yoga is so much more then how we perceive it to be. To say “do yoga” refers to get my mat out and do a bunch of poses. However what yoga really is, is so much more. Yoga teaches us how to reconnect to self. To honor and accept ourselves for who we are today.
What I have been doing all day which has helped tremendously is continuous micro breaks/meditations. Pausing and letting my whole body soften. I close my eyes and then let my shoulders sink, I sit back and reset my posture. I soften into my breath. If I need more, I lie down in savasana on mat right behind (a bonus of working from home) and focus on quieting the chatter in my mind. After a few minutes I come back. This is Yoga for chronic pain in action.
Do I get as much done? Absolutely not – is my pain dramatically reduced? It is!
Here are a few others you can try:
This one is huge! Mind over matter. A regular meditation practice gives clarity of mind, reduces stress (thereby reducing tension and pain) and the ability to be present. Presence is an interesting concept when dealing with pain as we spend a lot of time and effort trying to avoid the present and current pain. What we do want to work with is the ability to sit with the pain and be okay. To notice the other areas of our body that aren’t in pain and to sit in that space. Gratitude meditations are very powerful here.
In times of pain (both physical and emotional) our breath becomes even more shallow or we may even hold our breath. By focusing on deep and full diaphragmatic breathing, we feed our body oxygen rich blood giving it more sustenance and thereby energy.
Remember movement is good for you, once again movement that is pain free. If you are experiencing shoulder pain, standing poses with hands on hips is a great option. If you are experiencing knee pain, using a chair and stretching and flowing through your spine and arms will help the rest of you feel good. Move what feels good and be a little more nurturing on the areas that need some extra care.
And always remember when it comes to Yoga for chronic pain – less is more, I promise you.