If you have ever suffered from chronic low back pain as I have, you already know it’s a difficult problem to treat. But did you know yoga can work as an alternative or complementary treatment to treat chronic pain? Speaking from firsthand experience, the orthopedic surgeon told me I have a degenerated disk between L4 and L5, and that a last result would be going under the knife. Luckily for me, I am a yoga instructor and personal trainer and knew what I needed to do. I quickly discovered the link between yoga and chronic pain; specifically, that yoga could help manage it.
How Yoga Helps Relieve Chronic Pain
Did you know it’s actually been scientifically proven that practicing yoga has the opposite affect on the brain as chronic pain? According to a 2015 study conducted by Dr. Catherine Bushnell, scientific director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH), yoga and other mind-body practices can help prevent or even reverse the effects of chronic pain. Bushnell’s study included brain anatomy research that revealed yoga practitioners had more gray matter in several brain regions. Most people lose gray matter as they age, but the gray matter of yogis did not decrease as significantly. Bushnell also studied pain perception, and found a significant increase in pain tolerance and a change in pain thresholds among those who practice yoga as well.
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When I stay consistent with yoga and stretching after my intense workouts, my back pain is more manageable and less limiting. While I may not solve the problem completely, it has made a huge difference in my chronic pain. From personal experience and watching many clients who also suffer from back pain, I am convinced that yoga can play a critical role in offering relief.
Additional Benefits of Yoga
While new health benefits from developing a yoga practice are discovered all the time, some things have stood the test of time. Aside from helping to manage chronic pain, yoga has historically been proven to:
- Reduce stress
- Promote mindfulness
- Increase flexibility
- Calm anxiety
- Improve posture
- Protect the spine
- Boost immunity
Yoga is generally considered safe in healthy people, but postures should and can be modified based on individual abilities. If you’re thinking about practicing yoga, be sure to talk to your health care providers. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. Yoga is a great way to start or end your day, or simply break up your workday and bring your attention back to your breath.
If you’re nervous or intimidated by trying yoga, remember that there are different types and variations that can best suit your needs. Find the type of yoga that is right for you, from restorative to bikram and every type in between. You may find relief from your back pain and reap other mental and physical benefits you never dreamed were possible. In the words of famous yogi, B.K.S. Iyengar, “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”