About 50 million Americans deal with chronic pain. While some might have more severe pain than others, having to worry about what kind of discomfort each day will bring is an exhausting way to live. So, it should come as no surprise that almost everyone dealing with chronic pain is eager to find solutions that alleviate it.
While talking to your doctor is the best place to start, there are many “at home” remedies that can help most 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.
Some exercises can cause pain to become worse, which is why keeping things low-impact is important. Yoga combines the benefits of low-impact exercise with stretching and deep breathing.
Whether you’ve tried it before or not, now could be a perfect time to really 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 U.S., it’s grown in popularity throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and people flock to it for different reasons. It promotes relaxation and can improve flexibility.
When you have chronic pain, however, the biggest benefit is that it can provide relief. But, how can something that looks as simple as stretching and breathing help with severe pain?
It starts with pain perception.
Regular yoga can promote a positive outlook on life. It can also 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 be negatively affecting 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:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Extreme sadness
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Withdrawal from relationships
Unfortunately, those actions 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. 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 getting started with yoga 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, control of the breath, 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 do it. 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 most low-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.