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How Yoga Can Help With Pain Management

In Sanskrit, a mantra is a sound or group of words believed to have psychological and spiritual powers. One of the main principles of yoga, mantras are repeated frequently to affirm and manifest the vision you’re seeking – and to help you enter a deep state of meditation.

What if you could harness the power of yoga to attain what you deserve most – relief from chronic pain? Many in the medical field are discovering the myriad pain-management benefits associated with the age-old practice of yoga.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, an analysis of 17 studies found that more than 1,600 participants with fibromyalgia osteoporosis-related curvature of the spine improved daily function by practicing yoga. It was also shown to enhance mood and psychosocial well-being.

That is what really separates yoga from other forms of exercise: It addresses not just physical fitness, but also mental fitness. Taking a closer look at how the brain works can help us to understand how pain affects us biologically.

Yoga Trains the Brain to Overcome Pain

Chronic pain alters the brain structure, leading to changes in gray matter volume and a reduction in white matter connectivity. This means that communication lines between our various brain regions aren’t working at their optimum capacity. The reduction of gray matter ultimately leads to emotional issues, memory impairment, and reduced cognitive function.

Essentially, we become “hard-wired” to have negative emotions associated with our perception of pain. These changes in brain chemistry also shape how intensely we feel pain.

We’ve all heard the saying “mind over matter,” but for chronic pain sufferers that’s often easier said than done. However, yoga and meditation both present novel approaches to pain relief, as they mitigate pain perception and offset the decreases in gray matter volume.

How Yoga Affects the Brain

This feeling of pain relief can be partially explained by the effect yoga has on the insular cortex – the part of our brain responsible for perception and modulation of pain. Researchers also discovered a correlation between the duration of yoga practice and gray matter gains.

Yogis (yoga instructors and practitioners) have different methods of coping with pain. Under normal circumstances, when we anticipate pain, our bodies go into what is known as “fight or flight” mode; this is our nervous system’s way of preparing us for hazards. However, this triggers the adrenal glands to spike our levels of cortisol – the body’s stress hormone.

Over time, this response can lead to depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, yoga instructors were able to use cognitive strategies to help those who were practicing yoga to tolerate pain more than twice as long as those in a control group (who hadn’t practiced yoga).

Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga is one form of yoga touted for its numerous benefits – among them, focusing the mind on healing thoughts, sensations, and emotions. The combination of gentle poses with controlled, deep breathing can help rid the body of tension and stress. One aspect of yoga encourages you to direct your breath toward any sensations of discomfort you may feel.

Yoga positions that stretch the spine are wonderful for improving flexibility and relieving back pain. In fact, poses like “cobra” may also help alleviate residual effects of hunched shoulders, such as tension headaches. However, those who have a pinched nerve or disc diseases will need to be careful.

You’ll want to steer clear of strenuous styles of yoga, such as ashtanga or power yoga, that may exacerbate your discomfort (depending on your specific condition). There are many types of yoga you may practice, and all of them can help loosen the joints and reduce stiffness.

Combine Yoga and Physical Therapy at Lynx Healthcare

If you’re looking for non-invasive methods of pain management, yoga could be a great addition to your multidisciplinary approach. It’s always best to speak to a physician before starting any new exercise program.

And while yoga is an excellent form of exercise, it’s even better to combine it with physical therapy. Many physical therapists are incorporating restorative yoga into their services to heal both body and mind.

Lynx Healthcare offers a wide range of physical therapy services to promote mobility, function, and a better quality of life. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (509) 591-0070 or use our simple online chat feature today. We look forward to partnering with you in achieving health and wellness.

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