“Can yoga really help chronic pain?”
“I’ve tried everything, nothing helps.”
If these statements are something you find yourself thinking, keep reading. If you feel like you’ve “tried everything” and nothing has helped, maybe you just haven’t tried the right thing. Maybe you need to look at things from a different perspective. Yoga is much more than just moving through poses and within this beautiful ancient practice, you may just happen to find what you’ve been looking for.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. If you are experiencing pain, seek care from a medical doctor.
What makes yoga a different approach to chronic pain?
Most of the treatment approaches or remedies that are utilized when we are dealing with any type of issue are external. We rely on medication, surgery, or a doctor to fix our problems. There is nothing wrong with external approaches as they are often necessary and effective. But when they don’t seem to be working, the problem may be that you need turn inward to allow for healing.
Yoga is a practice that is about using your own body and mind to heal and is about bringing your attention inward. It teaches you the power you can have over your own healing and it changes the narrative we so often see in modern medicine. Instead of relying on someone else to fix a problem, yoga teaches you that you have the power to heal yourself. This may sound daunting to some, but when you sit with this thought it really becomes empowering. This self healing doesn’t happen overnight but it’s totally worth it.
Quick note: Just a reminder that in this post I’m talking about issues that you have seen a doctor about and that you’ve been cleared medically.
Will yoga actually get rid of my pain?
Can I say with 100% certainty that yoga will get rid of all pain, of course not. We know that nothing in life is guaranteed. That being said, it is very possible to become pain free through practicing yoga. And while becoming pain free isn’t a guarantee, if you truly embrace the yoga lifestyle, this will start to eliminate suffering. There is a difference between pain and suffering.
Let me give you an example to elaborate on this point. Think about how two people with the same back injury can look completely different. One person can barely leave their home and the other lives their life as they always have. Or think about someone who has chronic pain but feels happy and fulfilled in life versus someone who has no physical pain who suffers from depression and anxiety. These are just examples to illustrate the difference between pain and suffering. Physical pain does not always lead to suffering. The point here is not to diminish what anyone is going through who has chronic pain, it’s just to shed a different light on the situation.
The way you think about and perceive situations holds a lot of power. We will talk more about this later on in this post but for now, just start to ponder this thought. Start to challenge your mind to think and see things a little differently.
Things happen in life. Injuries happen. Stress happens. Pain happens. These are all part of our journey in life and they shape us into the people we become. Yoga gives us the tools to handle these things better and allows us to move back into a lighter state quicker when things get heavy.
Don't I have to be able to do crazy poses to do yoga?
Don't I have to be flexible to do yoga?
These are some common limiting beliefs that I commonly hear that prevent people from giving yoga a try.
Yoga is so much more than being flexible and getting into crazy poses. While these aspects of yoga can be beneficial and fun, they are just one small part of yoga and are not required to engage in a yoga practice.
Yoga also includes things like breath work and meditation. There are even types of yoga that are about incorporating concepts into your everyday life that have nothing to do with a physical practice. This is why truly anyone can practice yoga since the options are so vast.
And when you get down to it, the true goal of yoga is for you to see the connection of all things which allows you to live as your highest self. If you’re living as your highest self, chronic pain will not have control of your life anymore.
Physical benefits of yoga
Even though the true meaning of yoga is about being connected and being your highest self, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t physical benefits from the practice.
A vinyasa practice (which is when you practice yoga poses and is the most common view of yoga) can be extremely beneficial for the physical body. When you are dealing with chronic pain, you can most definitely still practice vinyasa yoga but I would say that it can be difficult to do in a general class setting. This is why I do what I do today, to be able to offer people yoga specific to what they are dealing with and that can benefit their specific body as we are all unique beings.
I love to use vinyasa yoga for clients with chronic pain because a lot of times chronic pain can make you fearful of movement. While this is totally understandable, the human body is meant to move. If movement is avoided for too long, what happens is the joints become stiff and the muscles become tight and weak. To say the least, these things aren’t helping the chronic pain situation. Vinyasa yoga, when made specific to the person, is a wonderful way to get the body moving again and to reduce fear of movement.
It also covers all the aspects we are looking for physically, meaning it helps improve mobility, strength, and flexibility of your body. It’s also amazing at improving body awareness, which basically means you are aware of where your body is in space. The more you are aware of your body and what it’s doing, the more you can take control of your pain.
Emotional benefits of yoga
Improving body awareness not only benefits the physical body, but it can also benefit you emotionally. Emotional tension and stress can show up in the body physically. This is why stress can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or reflux (not saying that these are always caused by stress, just showing examples). Stress can also increase pain in muscles and joints.
When you are aware of your body, you start to make connections to areas where you hold stress and tension and this is different for everyone. Once you build this awareness, you can really work through any emotional blockages through your yoga practice.
I think it’s safe to say that dealing with chronic pain takes a toll on you emotionally, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. Whether it be from feeling like you can’t do what you used to, the frustration of not getting answers or help from doctors, or the pain itself, it’s a lot for anyone to handle. If this aspect of healing is ignored, we are missing an important piece of the healing puzzle. Unfortunately, the emotional and mental aspects of healing are often missed in modern medicine. Thankfully, yoga works on our entire being so it doesn’t miss these things.
Mental benefits of yoga
The mind and body are connected meaning that they work together. I have an entire post that talks about the relationship of the mind body connection relating to chronic pain which you can find by clicking here.
But a quick example is, think about what happens when you wake up every morning wondering if your pain is still there. This thought brings your attention to pain and more than likely you will feel the pain there. Now think about a time where your mind was completely focused on something else, good or bad. Maybe you’re in a deep conversation with a friend or maybe you had to rush your puppy to animal emergency. In both scenarios your mind is completely focused on something else and chances are in those moments, you don’t notice your pain.
This point illustrates the power of the mind in relation to the physical body. We can use this mind body connection for good, and yoga and meditation can help you achieve this. It can help you break up previous mental patterns that your mind is used to being in that is holding you back from reaching your highest potential. It can help you push past limiting beliefs so you will see yourself as perfect, whole, and complete at all times, which by the way, you already are
Dedication is key
Now to do all the things that we have been talking about in this post is not going to be easy. But rarely does the easy road get you to where you want to be. We have to push through challenges to be able to see the light.
You also really need to believe that it’s truly possible for you to achieve your goals. If you go about your yoga practice thinking it’s not going to work, it probably won’t. This isn’t any different from anything else. Say you go to see a new doctor and go into the appointment thinking, “they won’t be able to help me”. Well then, they probably aren’t going to help. Remember the power of the mind?
So to make this change, you really need to dedicate yourself to the practice and embrace it throughout your daily life. I know this statement makes it sound like it will be really time consuming, but it’s not. Your daily yoga practice can be as short as 10 minutes of meditation. In regards to embracing it in life, this may take some work in the beginning but after some time, you will start to naturally live by these principles.
So if you are suffering from chronic pain, or really any chronic condition, I really encourage to give yoga a try. The power of this practice is truly miraculous and beautiful which is why I share this with all of you. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below. I’ll post a short vinyasa yoga flow that I made for chronic pain below as well.
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