What is Yoga?
Yoga is a method of postures and breathing exercises that work to attain control of the body and mind. Yoga uses poses and stretching exercises that consist of bending, twisting, reaching to stretch out different muscles and open up the joints. Although yoga has components of stretching, it's different because you are working to connect the mind, body, and breath in order to direct attention inward.
Yoga views the body as a whole connected entity, instead of various separate parts. All parts move in relationship with one another. Yoga focuses greatly on awareness of posture and body alignment helping the body to function even better.
How Yoga Can Help with Chronic Pain
New research shows that with chronic pain the brain structure changes leading to depression, anxiety, memory impairment, emotional problems, and impaired cognitive function. Any illness or injury can actually change the way the nervous system processes pain, whether short term or fully healed. Yoga along with meditation has been shown to have the opposite effect relieving chronic pain.
A brain imaging study has shown that chronic pain can change gray matter, home to neurons in specific brain regions, volume. It can also alter the stability of white matter connectivity, which creates communication lines between the brain regions. Therefore, the changes in the brain may interpret situations as threatening or sensations as painful creating pain when there is no real danger. When experiencing repeated pain your nervous system learns from those experiences and overprotects the body in the present. Neuroplasticity or Samskaras (the yoga term) describe the concept of the memories of the body and mind influencing how we experience pain the in the present.
You Can Unlearn Chronic Pain and Stress Responses with Yoga
Your mind and body have built-in healing responses that are just as powerful as their protective pain-and-stress responses. While most people expect pain and have a "fight-or-flight" response in the nervous system, people who regularly practice yoga will experience a "rest-and-digest" response to pain instead.
Mindfulness and Yoga
Mindfulness is a practice used in yoga that makes it even more effective. Mindfulness is a mental state of being consciously aware of the present moment accepting your feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations. Mindfulness provides tools to use when practicing yoga for listening to pain, starting to understand it, accepting it, and healing in the process.
Physical Health Benefits of Yoga
• Improves posture, body alignment, and balance
• Enhances flexibility of body and joints
• Improves energy, vitality, and breathing
• Increases muscle strength
• Helps Maintain a balanced metabolism
• Increases circulation, lowers blood pressure, reduces heart disease
• Protects the spine from being damaged
• Improves bone health which helps prevent osteoporosis
• Boosts Immune System: fights infection, destroys cancerous cells, and toxic waste products of cellular functioning
• Helps manage weight and create an all-around healthier lifestyle
Mental Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga can also provide many mental health benefits such as being able to release negative and damaging emotions. It improves your mental well-being which may reduce stress, anxiety, depression, sharpen concentration, create mental clarity, relax the mind, and improve self-awareness.
Some specific health conditions yoga has been shown to help with include; arthritis, asthma, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, cancer and heart disease.
To learn more about yoga and different poses for chronic pain, check out these sites:
Restorative Yoga for Chronic Pain: Yoga therapist and psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains how to identify the source of your chronic pain—and how restorative yoga can bring you true relief.
Bergland, Christopher. (2015, May 27th). Psychology Today/How Does Yoga Relieve Chronic Pain?
Owen, Liz. Beliefnet. Yoga for Chronic Pain.
Mcgonial, Kelly. (2013, June 10th). Yoga International/Restorative Yoga for Chronic Pain.