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Yoga & Pain Relief: Can This Ancient Practice Ease Your Aches?

6 Mins read

It’s a hectic world we live in, and the rushed and frantic pace is sometimes tough to keep up with. Stumble somewhere, trip and smack your knee or twist your ankle, and sudden movement gets much harder. Injury and pain make life exceptionally more complicated when you’re trying to keep up with the demands of this busy world.

Even without those sudden injuries that sometimes happen, the repetitive movements we do every day can be straining—sitting at a computer for hours, bending over to pull a dish from the oven, or crouching down when cleaning the house. In the midst of any one of those repetitive movements or a hundred others like them, even the most minor turn the wrong way can lead to intense pain.

Then what?

One answer is yoga!

Yoga has been around for thousands of years. Its roots are in India, but it has been adapted to Western lifestyles. In some cases, it can provide the perfect alternative to taking medication when it’s adequately practised with a qualified, knowledgeable instructor.

Many people rightly hesitate to take pain medication when injured or when their bodies begin to rebel because of all those daily repetitive movements. Anti-inflammation medication can be hard on your stomach lining, and taking them for any length of time can lead to chronic stomach irritation. Pain medications can bring on a whole array of issues, like fogginess, sluggishness, and drowsiness.

When you’re trying to work or raise your children or, like so many people, do both, the last thing you want is to feel sleepy in mid-day because you took a pain pill. Practising yoga can help you avoid that.

Yoga has been around for centuries. It is an ancient practice that combines the mind, body and deep breathing techniques. Together, these elements can offer substantial pain relief if you begin practising yoga slowly and carefully.

In this post, we explain how yoga can relieve pain and explain what a typical yoga class for beginners might look like.

-Stretching Can Lengthen Muscles & Ease Pain

When we are in pain, our bodies’ natural reaction is to contract and “protect” the sore area. For example, let’s say your hamstring hurts from walking too quickly or not warming up before you head out—the muscle contracts and swells.

In yoga, you lean into a stretch that slowly lengthens the sore muscle, thereby gradually reducing pain. (One caveat: all yoga instructors agree that you must recover from an acute injury – a twisted ankle, for example – before beginning yoga poses or returning to the practice).

– Even Simple Poses Relax The Body – & That Promotes Pain Relief

Yoga encourages the practitioner’s awareness of the body and, most crucially, their posture. Mountain pose, for example, requires you to simply stand up straight, with your arms at your sides or palms together in front of your chest.

This may seem incredibly easy, but staying in this pose for, let’s say, five or six deep breathing cycles helps you “get to know” your stance. Knowing how your body positions itself when standing still is the beginning of the awareness you need before moving on to more complicated poses.

Try it – you’ll realize that perhaps your posture isn’t as straight and tall as you thought. Go from your head to your toes, taking inventory of any slouching, and correct it. This is a simple, easy way to introduce yourself to the power yoga has for changing the body.

– Studies Show That Yoga Works To Lessen Pain

When we’re in pain, our body sends us stress signals, telling us how to react. Yoga lowers those signals, and that helps us cope better. Yoga combines physical elements like deep breathing and stretching with focus and meditation. Those elements allow the body to experience less pain and better handle the pain it does still feel.

– Practising Yoga Improves Mood

If you’re coping with chronic pain, chances are it affects your mood. Who doesn’t feel cranky and short-tempered when their knee is swollen and sore?

Yoga can alleviate that because reducing inflammation and pain helps restore your sense of control. The cycle usually goes something like this: someone is exercising, they sustain an injury, so they stop working out and begin experiencing a loss of control over their body.

That leads to negative emotions and a sense of powerlessness. Mood improves only when that power is restored, and yoga can make that possible. As we said, of course, recovery from an acute injury is necessary before you begin practising any form of exercise. However, yoga can make you stronger and more flexible once you’re on the mend. Being stronger and flexible decreases the chance of you getting injured again.

– Improving Mobility Means a Better Quality Of Life

When movement is restricted, chances are life is restricted, too. Achieving flexibility and strength through yoga allows you to increase your range of motion, and that in turn allows you greater movement in life, so to speak. For example: let’s say you hurt your back doing something simple, like getting out of your vehicle. Is there anything more painful (and annoying!) than a sore lower back?

Practising yoga, with a qualified instructor, teaches ways to strengthen those lower back muscles, so they are not susceptible to quick and needless strain. And having that freedom, being able to move knowing that your muscles will react correctly in just about any moment to any movement, is one of the best benefits of yoga. It increases your body’s range of motion and thereby increases your movement in the world.

– Yoga Can Ease Temporary Or Chronic Pain

Whether you’ve hurt yourself once and are recovering or suffer from ongoing, chronic pain from headaches (for example), yoga can help. Specific poses help with specific regions of pain.

There are sequences that target leg strength, for example. Others zero in on stretching neck muscles, improving blood flow to your head and reducing headaches. Performing the appropriate poses regularly – say two or three times per week – helps reduce inflammation and ease the pain.

Yoga also fosters mental relaxation. It encourages practitioners to focus on their bodies, particularly certain areas that cause the most discomfort. You can learn a sequence of moves that are meant to strengthen abdominal muscles, which in turn strengthen the lower back. Virtually any part of your body can be helped by practising yoga – you just need the discipline to do the work every other day and not expect miracles overnight!

Finding The Right Class & Instructor

Whether you are an absolute novice or you’ve done yoga in the past and now want to undertake it to help you with pain management, there is a class and an instructor for you.

Now that the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions are easing right across the country, venues are opening again. Classes at gyms, yoga studios and community centres are being offered now or soon will be – perhaps in the fall.

Until then, how can you do some introductory yoga to help you at home?

1- Do Some Research Online

The Internet is a terrific resource for finding instructors in your community. Find out who is offering classes, and research which level is right for you and the pain issues you’re having.

Talk to instructors. Talk to friends who’ve taken classes. And remember – if you take a class that turns out to be too advanced, stop!

Every qualified yoga instructor encourages students to go at their own pace and modify poses as needed. You are your own best pain control board.

2- Talk To Your Doctor Before You Begin

If you’re nervous that doing yoga could cause a problem, speak to your physician. They know your body and its limitations and how yoga is likely to impact it. Most physicians will say that some exercise, even if it makes you a bit sore at first, is far better than remaining idle, which may cause your pain to get worse. Some community fitness centres offer aqua yoga, which reduces risk even further – if you topple over, all that happens is your hair may get wet!

Final Thoughts

Practising yoga is an excellent way to combat and manage pain, whether it’s chronic or occasional. Yoga makes you strong, flexible, lithe and relaxed. Its meditative nature is calming and can help lower blood pressure.

It teaches you how to cope with whatever pain remains productively, an alternative to medication and limited mobility. And best of all, once you know the poses that alleviate your pain issues, you can practice them at home any time you want. All you need is comfortable clothing and a yoga mat, but even a long towel will do in a pinch.

Trying yoga, even for two weeks to get a sense of how it can help, is a wonderful way to treat your pain in a holistic, natural way. And isn’t that what self-care and personal responsibility for our health are all about?

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