The reality is, more and more people are beginning to experience chronic pain symptoms in their teens and twenties and too often looking to opioids for relief. As our nation finally begins to respond to the opioid epidemic (which has killed thousands), pain management healthcare professionals and chronic pain sufferers alike, are seeking alternative therapies to effectively manage and improve their pain and quality of life.
As a yoga therapist and someone healed from chronic lower back pain, I deeply understand the frustration, helplessness, and hopelessness that come along with living in discomfort. I also understand that to heal chronic pain, we must develop a plan of care for the whole person and not just the specific area of pain. Now, more than ever, we are finding studies that prove the deep connection between mind and body. Because chronic pain effects all parts of who we are, it is becoming clear that to successfully manage and improve chronic pain we must take into account one’s emotional, mental and lifestyle factors.
So, should why yoga therapy be considered a primary option for chronic pain?
Yoga therapy is an integrative medicine practice that centers around mind body health and habit change. How does this differ from a regular yoga class? Well, a general yoga class (“fit yoga”) offers students a variety of techniques so they can explore the practice mostly as physical exercise. Yoga therapy, on the contrary, is much more prescriptive - it is all about you and your condition(s). Our goal as yoga therapists is to investigate your specific symptoms and offer tools that target body, mind and spiritual health. Let’s explore how we approach each area.
The Physical Body: Improper alignment or malalignment is one of the most important parts to address to correct any kind of muscular imbalance in the body. Simply put, muscles affect the joints they cross. When there is a change to the length and tension of a muscle, all of our movements, even the basics such as walking or sitting are affected.
In your yoga therapy session, your yoga therapist will assess your body alignment in both static and dynamic movements. They then can offer you a series of adapted or modified poses or asanas to allow for shortened, tight muscles and fascia (surrounding connective tissue) to gradually loosen. These techniques give space for the body to realign and an opportunity for those, now released muscles, to strengthen and function properly. With consistency comes increased flexibility. When joints able to move in full range of motion strength, endurance, and the communication between the brain and body improves.
The Energetic and Mental-Emotional Body: By definition pain is a sensory and emotional experience. When we aren’t feeling ourselves or no longer able to participate in the activities that once brought us joy, it can make us feel angry, sad, scared or anxious, and even guilty. UGH! When we are in a constant state of over arousal (ie: anxious, angry, etc.) we are sending our bodies into fight or flight mode. Increased stressed leads to more tension and inflammation, which exacerbates pain.
So, how do we change our nervous system response? Breathing. In yoga, breathing is referred to as “prana” or “life force”. When there is an imbalance in the body, the part(s) that’s ailing us are typically thought to need more energy. Conscious breathing is one of the most powerful tools we can learn to manage our pain.
When I work with my clients, the first thing I do is assess their breathing. Often times notice that their breaths are heavy, short and shallow, which means they are fighting for vitality and energy. Guiding my clients to take on a more functional breathing pattern that serves in their healing is key. By slowing down the breath, lengthening the exhales and focusing on the present we invite in more of life’s vital energy. This shifts the balance from the flight-or-fight response to the relaxation response.
Allowing the relaxation response to take over leaves us feeling calm and restored (success!) The cherry on top? Operating from a state of relaxation lowers heart rate, decreases blood pressure, lowers cortisol (our stress hormone) levels, and increases blood flow to the body’s tissues and vital organs.
The Spiritual Body: Let’s make one thing clear; meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. In fact, I would like to meet the person that actually can do that! Mindful meditation simply means to pay attention. Connecting to ourselves in a non-judgmental way has been proven to have a significant effect on chronic pain symptoms and emotional and mental well-being.
When we are guided into gentle, mindful, and meaningful attention, our entire life can change. For example; for those of us living each day in pain, the pain negatively consumes our life. When we first experience pain, we immediately judge it as bad and then do whatever we can to make it stop. When that doesn’t work, we start to find ways to escape the pain all while continuing to judge our pain as bad or negative. The judgement that we impart on the pain, actually makes it worse both physically and mentally.
With “negative” sensations come “negative” thoughts and while it may seem counterproductive to focus on the sensations, when done without judgement, it actually creates an opportunity for pain relief. When we are practicing mindfulness, we have the chance to be the observer. From this place, we can discover all of the sensations, thoughts, feelings, and memories as they come and go. This leaves us feeling less stuck and helpless. It teaches us impermanence and that welcoming in whatever is showing up, is how we pave the path to letting it go.
Ready to take the first step to regain control of your health?
Start with 2 minutes (yes! Just 2 minutes) of mindful breathing.
Begin lying or sitting comfortably. Set your timer for 2 minutes. Close your eyes and notice the natural rhythm of your breath.
Pay attention to:
- Any sensations in the body (tingling, light, tense, heavy)
- To the quality of the air (warm, cold, dry, moist)
She is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) and the National Yoga Alliance (YA). Jasmine’s company ROOT Yoga Therapy has a private clinical practice and offers on site corporate yoga therapy programs that focus on mind body health. ROOT works with individuals and organizations to create specific plans, educate on how environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to overall health and share tools to improve well-being and quality of life. Jasmine works with a range of chronic health conditions from chronic pain and autoimmune disease to anxiety and depression.
Learn more about Jasmine and ROOT offerings at rootyogatherapy.com.
To stay up to date on yoga therapy tips and insights- subscribe to her weekly blog “A ROOT Awakening”.
If you would like details on how to manage your specific symptoms and needs, Jasmine is offering a free 15-minute consultation via SKYPE. Contact her HERE to set up your session!
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