Many doctors are now recommending that those in chronic pain should consider doing yoga. But that said, what kind should you do and what moves are recommended?
First off, there are several different kinds of yoga. Here is a list of the ones that are practiced
The two that are recommended the most for chronic pain is Hatha and Restorative. Hatha is typically a basic and classical approach to yogic breathing exercises and postures. And Restorative is considered less work, more relaxation. You’ll spend as many as 20 minutes each in just four or five simple poses using strategically placed props like blankets, bolsters, and soothing lavender eye pillows to help you sink into deep relaxation. There’s also psychic cleansing: the mind goes to mush and you feel brand new. It’s something like group nap time for grownups.
Both of these are simple to use and not so stressful on the body. And they both help you learn to deal with pain, especially chronic pain. This is done by helping you transform chronic pain-and-stress responses into “chronic healing” responses of mind and body, yoga helps reduce your suffering of chronic pain. Your mind and body have built-in healing responses that are just as powerful as their protective pain-and-stress responses. Whether it’s a meditation on gratitude, a relaxation pose that puts the body and mind at ease, or a breathing exercise that strengthens the flow of energy in your body—they all share the benefit of bringing you back home to your natural sense of well-being.
Relaxation specifically has been shown to be healing for chronic pain. It turns off the stress response and directs the body’s energy to growth, repair, immune function, digestion, and other self-nurturing processes. The relaxation response unravels the mind-body samskaras that contribute to pain and provides the foundation for healing habits. Consistent relaxation practice teaches the mind and body how to rest in a sense of safety rather than chronic emergency. Here is a breathing practices that promotes the relaxation response. Breathing the body is a visualization practice that was adapted from traditional practice of yoga nidra, or yoga sleep, and the body scan practices that was taught by Jon Kabat-Zinns mindfulness-based stress reduction program for people with chronic pain. To do this, do the following:
Start in any comfortable relaxation pose such as shavasana (corpse pose). Place your hands on your belly and feel the movement of the breath. Notice the belly rising and falling, and notice the breath moving in and out of your body.
In this practice, you will imagine that you can inhale and exhale through different parts of your body—as if your nostrils were moved to that part of the body. Start with your feet. Imagine the breath entering your body through the soles of your feet, and exiting your body through the soles of your feet. Notice any sensations there. Feel, or imagine, that flow of energy in the feet as you breathe. Now repeat this visualization for other parts of your body: Your lower legs, knees, and upper legs. Your hips, lower back, middle back, and upper back. Your belly and chest. Your shoulders, upper arms, elbows, lower arms, hands. Your neck. Your forehead and the crown of your head.
When you get to an area that feels tense, uncomfortable, or painful, don’t skip it. There are several things you can try that may make you feel more comfortable. First, stay with the visualization and direct the breath right at the sensations of discomfort or pain. Imagine that the breath is dissolving or massaging the tension and pain. Imagine the solidity of the tension or pain softening. Find the space inside the pain. Second, try moving your attention back and forth between the uncomfortable area and a more comfortable area. For a few breaths, breathe into the painful area; for the next few breaths, breathe into another area. Switching back and forth like this can teach the mind how to give the uncomfortable sensations less priority. You are practicing a healthy kind of distraction: intentionally shifting your focus while still being present in your body.
When you have worked your way through the whole body, let yourself feel the breath enter the body through your nose, mouth, and throat. Imagine the sensation of breathing through your whole body, as if the body were gently expanding as you inhale and contracting as you exhale. Feel, or imagine, the flow of energy through your whole body.
These simple relaxation practices will lead you on the path of ending your suffering. Yoga can teach you how to focus your mind to change your experience of physical pain. It can give you back the sense of safety, control, and courage that you need to move past your experience of chronic pain.