Combining relaxing breathwork and meditation with gentle poses to stretch and strengthen muscles, yoga can prevent and treat chronic pain. In fact, a recent study found yoga just as effective as physical therapy for reducing chronic pain intensity and left participants 20% less likely to use pain medication, Reuters reports. The causes of chronic pain — prolonged pain persisting long after the injury heals — include arthritis, past injuries, nerve damage, and back problems. Chronic pain isn’t only physical; it often has mental and emotional symptoms including low mood, stress, and fatigue. Beneficial on both mental and physical levels, yoga decreases physical pain and improves pain perception.
How yoga helps chronic pain
Yoga has been shown to reduce pain perception by preventing the typical age-related decrease in grey matter in the brain while maintaining white matter integrity. Essentially, this counteracts the effects of chronic pain and boosts pain tolerance. Gentle stretching releases muscle tension — making yoga particularly great for arthritis. Yoga also improves quality of life for neuropathy patients. It reduces nerve pain, inflammation, and oxidative stress in the body. Moreover, the flow of freshly oxygenated blood to the brain and muscle tissue boosts energy levels, well-being, and the ability to handle stress often symptomatic of chronic pain.
Moreover, yoga can help transform negative feelings of fear, depression, and anxiety into positive, life-affirming ones. It teaches you to get in touch with your body, identify your needs, and then act upon them, so you live a happy, fulfilling life. Yoga empowers mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Breathwork and gentle poses to try
If you’re new to breathwork, start with simple breathing awareness techniques until you’re ready for more advanced pranayama, such as alternate nostril breathing. You can also try focused relaxation poses to soothe body and mind. These involve breath awareness, body scans, and simple poses like savasana.
When you’re ready to get your body moving, try cat cow and seated or standing side-bends. You can then try more active poses — mountain pose, warrior one, warrior two, downward-facing dog are especially helpful for rheumatoid arthritis and back pain. You can also practice restorative postures, such as, legs up the wall pose, which helps the lower back and neck.
Yoga is gentle on the body, but feel free to modify poses when necessary. Your yoga instructor will advise you on modifications to suit your strength and experience. With regular practice, yoga will return feelings of happiness and give you the strength to move beyond your experience of chronic pain.