Wednesday 17 September 2014

Practicing Yoga for Pain Relief

Practicing Yoga for Pain Relief
The benefits of yoga have always been known to those people who practice it on a regular basis. Medical science has caught up in the last couple of decades, with studies that show it can help people in a variety of ways, in addition to the direct health benefits. Taking part in regular yoga sessions can improve mental health, body image, and lift the mood, and provide relief from some types of pain.
How Exercise Provides Pain Relief
Exercise is often difficult for people who are in pain, whether it’s as the result of an injury or short-term illness, or long term, due to chronic illness or injury. Even though the physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise are well-known to most people, it’s hard to work up the motivation to exercise when even gentle movement can cause pain. The problem is, although those first few exercise sessions might be hard to get through, over time, regular exercise can help reduce pain—which means people living with injury and illness can benefit from less pain and stress, better mobility and quality of life, and sometimes, a reduced need for habit forming pain medications. Exercise has this effect for a couple of reasons. One is that it causes the body to release endorphins and dopamine—hormones that improve the mood and dampen the body’s response to pain. The second is that regular exercise strengthens muscles, which reduces pressure on joints, and improves overall fitness, making everyday tasks easier and less strenuous.
Additional Benefits of Yoga for Relieving Pain
Most forms of exercise—including yoga—provide these benefits, but yoga actually has several additional benefits that make it a very useful form of exercise for people who are affected by chronic pain and long-term injury, as well as temporary pain.
The most obvious benefit is simply that the physical poses that yoga practitioners perform stretch and strengthen muscles, helping to improve flexibility, range of motion and mobility as well as muscle strength. Yoga is, in fact, one of the few forms of exercise that can improve all-over muscle strength and flexibility, as most forms of exercise target one or two specific muscle groups. In particular, these benefits can help reduce pain for people with arthritis. As well as this, yoga provides stress relief, can help relieve insomnia, reduce muscle tension, improve posture, and improve patterns of movement that might be contributing to pain levels. For example, stress and tension can cause headaches, as well as pain in the neck, shoulders, and back, and poor posture and body alignment while working can lead to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome and other forms of overuse injury.
A form of yogic breathwork called pranayama, along with meditation, can also help reduce chronic pain. Pranayamic technique can be as simple as consciously slowing down breathing, in particular the rate of exhalation, and then pausing briefly before each inhalation. This simple but powerful technique helps to quieten feelings of distress by relaxing the nervous system, and it’s an effective coping mechanism not only for pain, but also for anxiety and panic attacks. One major advantage of this type of breathwork is that it can be performed anywhere, any time, without drawing attention, which means it’s a very useful technique to use at work or in social situations, for example, where other techniques might be inappropriate.
Learning breathwork techniques is also considered a good way to prepare for meditation, which can be even more powerful in terms of its pain-relieving effects. Meditation can also help people benefit from reduced suffering, as well as reduced pain—meaning that when they do feel pain, they are better able to cope. People affected by chronic pain are often more likely to experience negative thinking, but practicing yoga and related techniques provides physical and mental benefits that help to break the cycle, reduce pain, and make it easier to live with. 
Resources and citations
American Psychological Association. “The Exercise Effect.” Accessed July 17, 2014. Exercise and mental health.
Healing Well. “Get Moving with Chronic Illness.” Accessed July 17, 2014. Exercising with chronic illness.
Health and Yoga. “Yoga, Fitness, and Self-Improvement.” Accessed July 17, 2014. How yoga is different form other exercise forms.
Nandini Vallath. “Perspectives on Yoga Inputs in the Management of Chronic Pain.” Accessed July 17, 2014. In Indian Journal of Palliative Care. 2010. Jan-Apr; 16(1): 1-7.
Self. “7 Life-Improving Benefits of Yoga.” Accessed July 17, 2014. Positive effects of yoga.
Timothy McCall. “Yoga for Chronic Pain.” Accessed July 17, 2014. In Yoga Journal.
Yoga Props. “Yoga Equipment Specialists.” Accessed July 17, 2014. Equipment for practicing yoga.
Contributing writer:  Jenni Stevens