Yoga Therapy for Chronic Pain


legs up the wall

What started as a minor strain in your back, turns into a prolonged, daily, chronic pain that won't seem to heal or go away.  Walking doesn't help, sitting makes it worse.  Sleep becomes a struggle as you're constantly awakened by throbbing or stabbing pain.  You take a mild pain reliever.  When that doesn't work, you seek a pain prescription from your doctor.  Even with the pills, however, the pain is always there.  Like a shadow following you around, your chronic pain makes it difficult to be present with your family, and makes it to hard to concentrate at work.Backache Does this scenario sound familiar to you?  Health research estimates that over 100 million Americans suffer some kind of chronic pain.  That means chances are either you, or someone you know, is affected.  I have had bouts of chronic pain, usually associated with a specific injury.  My mother, however, had intense pain in her legs for years that often brought her to tears and greatly limited her involvement with family activities.

Chronic pain is defined by a recurring pain that lasts for three to six months.  Although treatments vary, unfortunately they are not always effective.  From the outside it may seem that prescription drugs are the number one treatment plan for pain, but pills are often a last resort for many physicians and patients.  The number one treatment for sufferers of chronic pain is exercise.  But this prescription is not always followed by patients because the idea of movement is a little, and maybe very frightening for people in pain.  It hurts!

This is where I believe yoga therapy offers such a safe and un-intimidating approach for helping chronic pain.  The foundation of yoga therapy for chronic pain is breath.  If the thought of moving scares you, start with the breath.  Breathe and imagine yourself free of pain.  Visualize yourself moving while you take deep, relaxing breaths.  Notice any emotions coming up for you while you breathe, and allow these feelings of loss, sadness, fear, etc. to be a part of your breathing. Let them come up and explore them.  Cry if you need to. Write your feelings down.  Talk to a friend (or your yoga therapist) about your experience with pain.  Recognizing and resolving these feelings is part of a learning to live with and let go of pain.

After breath, we begin to add gentle movements.  If you are bedridden, start moving the parts of your body that you can from your lying down position.  When you are able, do poses in a chair.  Maybe you eventaully stand and do the poses on two feet, but maybe you don't.  The intention is not to get you to progress towards intense yoga postures.  The goal is to create blood flow, breath, awareness, and freedom in your body through movement.

One of the forerunners on chronic pain research in yoga therapy, is a brilliant yoga therapist named Neil Pearson. I met Neil at a yoga therapy conference last year and was very impressed with the work he is doing with pain management.  In this short video you can see a glimpse of how he approaches chronic pain through yoga.  My favorite part is when he acknowledges that everyday with pain can be different, and then he says, "Maybe today the best thing for you to do is rest."

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/118041691]

If you are looking for solutions to your chronic pain, perhaps yoga therapy is an option for you.  Neil's DVDs are certainly a wonderful place to start.  You can find them here.  I can also work with you one on one via skype to help guide your practice.  Together we can create a plan for healing that is right for you.