Yoga and Pain Management
If you live with chronic pain, you know how debilitating the constant discomfort can be on your reserves of strength, energy, and feelings of well-being. Using Yoga techniques for pain management can help minimize medication usage and help you lead a happier and fuller life.
Many people do not realize that Yoga exercises and concentrative techniques were originally designed and practiced primarily to make the body healthy and strong so that one could sit immobile for meditation without discomfort. This fact has led to some ascetics using Yoga techniques to build endurance to pain (walking on hot coals, the "bed of nails," etc.). Although in most cases these "fakirs" have developed their skills for purposes of sideshow entertainment, it is true that Yoga techniques can help minimize the brain's acknowledgment of painful stimuli.
Today, Yoga is practiced by most people as part of a fitness-oriented lifestyle. Yoga exercises help to relax, stretch, and strengthen the body; Yoga breathing techniques help to reduce stress reactions and improve concentration and willpower; and relaxation and meditation techniques help one learn to relax the body at will and to "tune in" to the inner source of strength and happiness that resides in all of us. In addition to these general benefits, Yoga can also help to reduce your perception of pain.
The best techniques for pain management are Yoga breathing, relaxation, and meditation. These three aspects of Yoga act to distract your mind from pain, reduce your body's tension in reaction to pain, and provide an opportunity to "move through" the pain instead of resisting it so it loses its full impact. (If physical movement does not make your pain worse, a simple routine of Yoga exercises can also be extremely helpful for learning to relax muscle tension, improving circulation, and stimulating your body's hormonal system.)
Breathing techniques focus your mind's attention on one point, namely, the sound of the breath as it is drawn in and out slowly, smoothly, and rhythmically as you sit or lie in a comfortable position. The intense focus of this exercise makes it difficult to pay attention to the pain at the same time, until, eventually, pain recedes to the background or disappears altogether. At the same time, breathing techniques teach you how to recognize harmful stress reactions and substitute healthier coping skills.
Relaxation training is a step-by-step process of relaxing each of your body's muscles; this helps to counteract your body's natural tendency to increase muscle tension in an unconscious effort to "push" the pain away - which only causes the pain to increase.
Meditation training is a conscious effort to reduce your mind's constant chatter and to concentrate instead simply on the feeling of not thinking. Regular daily practice of meditation builds a foundation of internal strength by opening a door to a part of yourself that is not governed by the demands of your physical body.
Yoga techniques can make the difference between a life ruled by pain and one in which pain plays only a "bit part" in day-to-day life.