Yoga for Pain Relief

Yoga is a practice that connects the mind and body, and can help people with chronic pain by improving flexibility, reducing inflammation, and helping them cope with their pain mentally.

Yoga originated in India over 4,000 years ago. It consists of three core elements: physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Western yoga has been adapted to suit modern life, but it retains the healing benefits intended for this practice. Yoga has been shown to help with fibromyalgia, back pain neck pain, and headaches.

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How Yoga Helps Relieve Chronic Pain

One of the greatest benefits of yoga is that it can help ease pain and make it easier to manage.

It is important to understand that yoga is not appropriate for all types of injuries. In general, gentle yoga may help a chronic injury. If your injury is acute and severe, however, you need allow it to heal (with rest) before beginning a yoga program.

Pain Perception

Yoga can decrease pain perception, meaning that people feel their pain is less strong and severe than it was before. In one study, a form of mindfulness meditation called yoga nidra helped combat veterans achieve moderately important to statistically significant reductions in pain perception. 

Moreover, patients saw a major decrease in pain interference (how much pain disrupts daily life). Yoga can help decrease pain perception by dissociating negative emotions from pain, making it easier for people to feel accepting of and positive toward their pain. 

Yoga has also been proven to decrease neck pain while improving mood. A regular yoga practice can decrease disability and improve quality of life for people with chronic pain by promoting a positive outlook and making daily pain easier to manage.

Inflammation

Inflammation is often associated with chronic pain conditions, especially autoimmune disorders (where the body’s immune system attacks itself). Research suggests that yoga can reduce inflammation by decreasing the body’s stress response.

The benefits of yoga on inflammation have been proven for both new and expert practitioners. Yoga can potentially be beneficial for chronic pain at any age and regardless of experience level.

Flexibility and Range of Motion

Experiencing chronic pain can make it difficult to stay active, which can result in decreased flexibility and limited range of motion. Yoga can provide short term improvements in functional disability among people with chronic low back pain CLBP). Specifically, a meta-analysis showed that people who practiced yoga regularly for at least six weeks reported reductions in pain and improvements in mobility. Interestingly, the benefits of yoga persisted across varying styles, including, but not limited to Iyengar, hatha, and viniyoga.

This demonstrates that no matter what type of yoga you practice, you will experience its benefits, and that yoga may be more effective at pain reduction than standard exercise because it combines strength, flexibility, and breath.

What a Typical Yoga Session Looks Like

Standard yoga sessions last between 45 and 75 minutes. However, shorter classes of 10 or 15 minutes also offer pain relief benefits when practiced regularly. Yoga classes usually begin with mindfulness practices, including meditation and breathing exercises. 

The middle portion of a yoga class is reserved for dynamic stretches and movement, while the end provides another opportunity to relax in a final resting pose called savasana. This is a time to focus on your breathing and reap the mental benefits of your practice.

Beginner Tips

When starting yoga for the first time, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t try to push yourself further than what feels comfortable.
  • If you feel pain, pinching, or any other sensations related to pain, slowly come out of the pose.

Finding a Teacher 

When seeking yoga for pain relief, it’s important to find a teacher who’s experienced with teaching yoga to people with your condition.

One way to find a qualified yoga teacher is to search on the Yoga Alliance directory. Here, you can find local teachers in your area who are certified by the Yoga Alliance, which is the international governing body for yoga certification. 

Resources for At-Home Yoga

It’s normal to feel nervous or unsure about starting yoga for the first time. Practicing yoga at home is a great way to learn poses and feel more confident. The internet offers a wide range of options for free, beginner-friendly yoga.

Try these yoga for pain relief resources:

  • Yoga for Pain Relief by YOGATX: This video guides beginners through restful stretches to ease pain and tension in the back and neck
  • Yoga for Chronic Pain by Yoga with Adriene: This video shows how to create harmony between the breath and body. It can be performed in a chair or on a mat
  • Restorative Chair Yoga for Chronic Pain by Sleepy Santosha Yoga: This is a video of a chair yoga class that shows the therapeutic benefits of yoga without having to sit on the floor
  • Meditations for Sleep and Healing by Kalyani: This podcast provides yoga nidra classes, including iRest techniques, designed to help you release stress and tension to feel better
  • Yoga Nidra for Chronic Pain by Ann Swanson Wellness: The techniques in this video are meant to help you better manage your reaction to chronic pain to reduce pain intensity

Yoga Poses for Pain Relief

Yoga for Knee Pain

The modified hero pose is a great way to stretch the front muscles of the knee to provide gentle opening. Instead of doing this kneeling pose on the ground, sit on a block or thick pillow between your ankles while performing this pose.

Yoga for Back Pain

A seated twist is a gentle way to release tension throughout the back and increase spinal mobility. This yoga pose can be practiced in a chair or while seated on the ground. (Some chronic back pain sufferers should not be doing twisting, as it can exacerbate the injury.)

Yoga for Hip Pain

A yoga squat is a simple way to reduce hip pain. Position your feet wider than hip width distance apart, and bring your elbows inside your knees (or on top of them). Then, place your hands in prayer position. You can sit on a block or pillow to perform this pose.

Yoga for Shoulder Pain

The puppy dog pose can open up your chest and upper back to release tension. Extend your arms and place your hands flat on a wall or the ground. Stretch your hips back away from your hands, and rest your head in between your shoulders.

Yoga for Sciatica Pain

Happy baby is a simple pose that involves lying down and bringing your knees into your armpits. You can take hold of your legs or feet and gently rock back and forth to massage the low back.

Modifying Yoga Poses

Modifications are adapted versions of yoga poses that work for your body. Using modifications can prevent injury and help you reap the benefits of yoga poses without exacerbating your existing pain. 

The following props can make postures more accessible:

  • Yoga blocks
  • Bolsters
  • Blankets
  • Straps 

Teachers often offer options for modifications throughout the class, but you can seek out a teacher who specializes in providing modifications for people with chronic pain as well.

A Word From Verywell

Yoga has been demonstrated to help people with chronic pain. Studies showed that yoga helps reduce pain perception, decrease inflammation, and improve mobility among people with a range of chronic pain conditions. As with any exercise, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting a yoga program to ensure that your yoga practice complements your pain management plan.

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