Yoga for…. Chronic Pain

#LiftTheSpirits Lockdown Campaign, Week 1

My experience of chronic pain

The physical body is an astonishing work of science — if our bodies are operating in balance, the body should be able to heal itself. If the body falls out of balance, this is when we encounter disease and injury.

I suffered a burnout in 2018. I had injured my back, it was a relatively minor injury but it became chronic, due to the effects of adrenal fatigue. Cortisol level production had been at such a high level for a extended period, that they had exhausted the adrenals, to the point that they were hardly able to produce any cortisol, resulting in increased inflammation in the body.

Cortisol levels that are too high or too low lead to either an underactive immune system and insufficient inflammation to protect us against viruses, infections, and other pathogens, or an overactive immune system and too much inflammation (which can lead to issues like autoimmunity and allergies).

How can yoga help with chronic pain:

  1. Yoga helps us body lower + create less cortisol. It does this through supporting our body’s ability to recover from stress but also enables our body’s default mode to become rest + digest.
  2. Yoga also changes the brain structure — the hippocampus which is important in it’s regulation of the amygdala, increases in size. The amygdala shrinks, becoming less sensitised, and the connection between the executive functioning pre frontal cortex and the emotional limbic system towards the back of the brain, grows.
  3. Yoga enables our body to relax and feel safe. Tension creates pain. Yoga asanas increase the level of oxygen in our blood which helps to release tension in our muscles. Stress also creates tension patterns in our body, which are held in our muscles and in our connective tissue. The practice of yin yoga, where poses are held for several minutes, and muscles are relaxed, allows access to the myo-fascial tissue and the release of long held tension patterns. Hatha yoga allows us to better process negative experiences, trauma and stress patterns through learning to observe and tolerate physical reactions, feeling safe in the present moment and anchoring the mind to the body. Relaxation specifically has been shown to be healing for chronic pain. It turns off the stress response and directs the body’s energy to growth, repair, immune function, digestion, and other self-nurturing processes.
  4. Yoga helps you to un-learn pain responses. The best way to unlearn chronic stress and pain responses is to give the mind and body healthier responses to practice. By helping you transform chronic pain-and-stress responses into “chronic healing” responses of mind and body, yoga helps reduce your suffering of chronic pain.

Why does past pain make you more sensitive to future pain? You can thank one of the great wonders of our nervous system: its ability to learn in response to experience. This ability is called neuroplasticity. Through the repeated experience of pain, the nervous system gets better at detecting threat and producing the protective pain response. So unfortunately, in the case of chronic pain, learning from experience and getting “better” at pain paradoxically means more pain, not less.

When most people are expecting pain, it triggers the “fight-or-flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system which causes cortisol levels to skyrocket. On the flip side, when yogis anticipate pain, their parasympathetic nervous system activates. This creates a “tend-and-befriend” or “rest-and-digest” response, as opposed to a “fight-or-flight” response.

Yoga Poses for Chronic Pain:

Supported Child’s Pose

Allows you to ground and nature of position allows you to switch off from outside stimuli. Deep pressure touch helps to inhibit fight-flight. It provides a feeling of safety allowing you to process emotions and start healing process.

Viparita Karani — Legs up wall

When you put your legs up the wall with your pelvis elevated on a folded blanket, lymph and other fluids that can lead to swollen ankles, tired knees, and congested pelvic organs flow into the lower belly; this refreshes the legs and the reproductive area.

Supported Bound Angle Pose

One of the most important in the restorative series. Physically it opens the chest, abdomen and pelvis. Psychologically it allows for a deep opening with safety and support.

Supported Bridge Pose

Gives us an experience of what Iyengar calls “negative brain.” Here he does not mean negative as bad, but as cool, slow and introspective.

Complete Yogic Breath (3 part breath)

With hands: noticing the breath on

  1. abdomen/low ribs — abdominal breathing
  2. mid-chest on the ribs — thoraic breathing
  3. upper chest — clavicular breathing

Without the hands + feeling the lungs — feeling mentally the same places where the hands were + connecting with the sections of the lungs:

  1. The abdominal breathing — bottom part of the lungs
  2. The thoracic breathing — midsection of the lungs
  3. The clavicular breathing — upper part of the lungs

Full Yogic breath — using numbers to pinpoint the three section

  1. Inhale 123 — Exhale 123 (1 being abdomen, 2 being thoracic, 3 being clavicular)

References:

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/restorative-yoga-for-chronic-pain

Relax and Renew, Judith Hanson Lasater, PHD, PT

A consultancy with community and wellbeing at its heart.

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