Millions of Americans deal with chronic pain. Wondering what kind of discomfort each day will bring is an exhausting way to live, so finding ways to alleviate chronic pain is a worthwhile goal.
While talking to your doctor is the best place to start, there are many at-home remedies that can help people manage their pain. For some that means taking over-the-counter or prescribed medications. For others, certain low-impact exercises can make a big difference.
If you struggle with chronic pain and you haven’t found a solution that has helped you find relief, you might want to consider yoga.
Keeping things low-impact is important when treating chronic pain. Yoga combines the benefits of low-impact exercise with stretching and deep breathing.
Whether or not you’ve tried it before, now is a perfect time to dive into practicing yoga as an alternative — or addition — to your chronic pain care. You might be surprised by the benefits – including how well it can alleviate your pain.
How Does Yoga Help?
Yoga has been practiced by cultures around the world for thousands of years. People have adopted different styles and methods, but the basic principles remain the same. In the United States, yoga has grown in popularity throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and people practice it for different reasons, some of which are relaxation and improved flexibility.
When you have chronic pain, however, the biggest benefit yoga can provide is relief. How can something that looks as simple as stretching and breathing help with severe pain?
The answer starts with pain perception.
Regular yoga can promote a positive outlook on life and can cause you to be more mindful and focused on the present moment. In doing so, you’re less likely to focus on your pain and how it might negatively affect your life. That doesn’t mean the pain is gone, but your mind is giving it less power and control.
Yoga can also help with inflammation. No matter where your pain stems from, it can often feel like even the slightest movement causes it to flare up. That’s why inflammation and chronic pain often go hand-in-hand. Because yoga naturally decreases your body’s stress response, it can also help to reduce inflammation and make your pain feel less severe.
Managing Your Mental Health
We touched on the connection between yoga and mindfulness above, but it’s important to note how that benefit can also impact your mental health.
Research has shown that up to 85% of people with chronic pain are affected by depression. When you’re dealing with depression on top of physical pain, it can make your body feel worse. Depression can lead to issues like:
- Extreme sadness
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Withdrawal from relationships
Those things can negatively impact your overall quality of life. You might start to feel like you’ll always be in pain, that you have no one to support you, and that you’re too tired to fight back or find a solution.
Managing your mental health with things like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help to ward off depression, improve your mood and energy levels, and even help you to become more in tune with your body.
Also, practicing mindfulness while doing yoga can make it easier to pinpoint where your pain is coming from. When you have a better idea of what hurts the most, you can talk to your healthcare provider about your greatest pain points, and rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. Being more aware of where your pain stems from and how much it’s affecting you can help both you and your doctor come up with the best possible pain management strategy.
Being able to scale your pain and work directly on treating it can boost your mood and give you more hope for a pain-free future. So, even if you don’t immediately notice the positive physical benefits of yoga, it’s hard to deny how much it can improve your mental health and outlook on your condition.
How to Get the Most Out of Yoga
One of the reasons many people avoid starting a yoga practice is the perception they have regarding what it’s supposed to look like. There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding yoga as a practice, but you don’t have to buy into any of them. There are no certain chants required or sitting positions that you have to master.
Instead, the focus of yoga should be on concentration, breath control, and stretches that benefit the body. If some of the common stereotypes have kept you from getting started, take comfort in knowing almost anyone can be a yogi. You only need a few basic supplies to get started, including:
- A yoga mat
- Comfortable clothes
- A yoga strap
- A yoga block
A desire to learn and truly dive into the practice of yoga is also a necessary tool you should carry with you. If you don’t think you have the drive to learn on your own, consider taking a yoga class or hiring a private instructor. One of the great things about this type of exercise is that it can be done almost anywhere, including outdoors. The slightly unstable terrain of being outside can help to better improve your focus, flexibility, and balance.
Yoga is a safe, effective, and meaningful way to manage your chronic pain. Talk to your doctor before starting any type of new exercise routine. But, as far as working out goes, it’s one of the lowest-impact activities you can do, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of how you’ll benefit. Most importantly, yoga can help you to manage your pain symptoms, improve your mental health, and offer a greater quality of life — one where your pain doesn’t dictate who you are.