The Benefits of Yoga for Chronic Pain and Disability
Sep 08, 2016 04:15PM
By By Devpreet Kaur
Some 100 million people or one-third of Americans live with chronic pain and approximately half of them are partially or totally disabled as a result. The aftereffects of chronic pain create a cascade of abnormalities of the cells, brain and glands known as chronic pain syndrome (CPS). CPS causes fatigue, insomnia, increased need for rest, irritability, anxiety, impaired memory, stress, weakened immune system, sleeplessness, hopelessness, fear and depression. These often lead to work absenteeism or loss, social isolation, drug and alcohol abuse, marital distress and more. So it’s no wonder that many with CPS are willing to take or try almost anything for relief.
Also troubling is that despite the dangers of the many medications used to treat CPS, many people with chronic pain are still not adequately relieved by medication. This is not to say that the drugs don’t have a place and help millions—they do. The point is that mind-body approaches such as yoga are irrefutably shown to provide relief. Naturally, anyone dealing with chronic pain may be afraid that yoga will create even more pain. But the opposite is true; significant research has demonstrated that the right type of yoga can be a lifesaver in battling chronic pain.
Yoga for Chronic Pain
Yoga has been around since as early as 200 A.D. when Patanjali established a system to elevate body, mind and spirit. It became known as the eight limbs of yoga and to this day, nothing short of them is considered a bona fide yoga practice. However, popular techniques in the West tend to emphasize exercise without the use of breath work, meditation and the other limbs. Also, because CPS is a mind-body syndrome, an incomplete yoga practice of only stretching doesn’t address the mind-body link that is essential for relief.
Few people realize that all yoga is not the same. In fact, there are at least 22 official forms of yoga being offered today along with many recently invented offerings. The practices can be extremely different with ashtanga, power yoga or Bikram at one extreme to restorative yoga, yoga nidra and chair yoga on the gentle side. So, if you’ve tried yoga and decided it’s not for you, it would serve to shop around to find a complete yoga that’s right for you.
A Multitude of Benefits
An internet search for “yoga in chronic pain” yields thousands of hits with at least 200 medical journal citations. In 2013, the journal, Pain Research and Management reported results of a study entitled, “Yoga for chronic low back pain.” The findings showed yoga’s effect in reducing pain and functional disability as similar to, if not more than, effects of traditional physical therapy, talk therapy and acupuncture. The American Pain Society recently concurred with results like these and far greater results are possible. Their 2016 annual meeting reported that yoga prevents or reverses the negative changes and impairments of chronic pain on the brain. M. Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D., scientific director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) summed up the research saying, “Practicing yoga has the opposite effect on the brain as does chronic pain.”
Yoga and meditation improve quality of life. Meditation alone changes the ways the brain perceives pain, making it less disruptive. According to the NIH, chronic pain sufferers had 50 percent less symptoms after 12 weeks of meditation. Another study taught meditation to patients with chronic pain, diabetes and hypertension where they experienced half as many psychiatric symptoms, a 70 and 44 percent decrease in anxiety and medical symptoms, respectively.
Reclaiming Our Power
It’s proven that yoga and meditation improve overall physical and mental health as the body has its own pharmacy and is capabile of healing itself under the right conditions. Taking medication is helpful yet passive, but when we add yoga and meditation, we tap the power within and learn how to live and breathe in harmony with our bodies… even on those “bad” days. If there is a tailor-made therapy to reverse the effects of chronic pain, yoga and meditation is it.
If you’re still not convinced or want to learn more, do an internet search for “saved by yoga” or other terms relevant to your situation, e.g. yoga for (fill in the blank). Do this when you have plenty of time because the results are vast and the testimonials are powerful!
Devpreet Kaur is a yoga and meditation teacher and sound healer. Chronic pain and eventual disability ended her career in allied medicine and pharmaceuticals. She used her medical and yogic knowledge to reclaim her life and is now dedicated to helping others. For more info or to contact her, visit DevpreetKaur.com.