This week I’m really excited to have a guest post from Dr Tara Salay, she is a physical therapist and yoga teacher, specialising in yoga to help people with chronic pain and pelvic health issues. Today Tara will delve into how pain signals work and break down why yoga is good for chronic pain, something I’m sure you’ll benefit from.
Tara also provides really useful tips on her website about the benefits of yoga and how it can help with pain, anxiety along with tips on practicing gratitude and holistic living. She also has amazing instructional videos available, which I highly recommend if you’re experiencing chronic pain and want to introduce exercise into your routine. Even better, Dr Tara also offers private sessions both virtually and in person, so feel free to get in touch with her.
Is yoga good for chronic pain?
By Dr. Tara Salay
Many people think of yoga as a practice that requires you to perform crazy postures and to be super flexible, but this is just not true. This perception of yoga may make people dealing with chronic pain fearful of trying the practice. There is so much more to yoga than this, and yoga truly is for everyone. You just have to find what works for you.
In my opinion, yoga is one of the best forms of exercise for people who are experiencing chronic pain. This is because yoga works on your entire being, meaning the mind, body, and soul. It teaches you about how all three are connected in all aspects of life, and that includes when dealing with pain.
How does the pain signal work?
To understand the importance of the mind and body connection, we need to quickly look at how the pain signal works.
In the most basic sense, pain occurs when our nerves send a signal to the brain that something is not right. This signal causes our brain to create a pain response. So basically, pain is a way that our body communicates with us. (The most common example is touching a hot stove. You feel pain and know you need to move your hand before you get a serious burn.)
Another example is say you’re sitting in a poor posture for a while and your low back starts to hurt. This is a signal from your body saying, “Hey, please change positions!”
In the case of chronic pain, the brain continues to send the pain signal even though there is not necessarily a “threat” to the body. Since chronic pain is considered pain that lasts 3-6 months or longer, the brain starts to get pretty good at sending these signals. (In this example, I’m assuming you have been seen by a medical doctor to ensure there is nothing serious going on.)
Now, it’s not to say that nothing is going on in the area of pain such as tight muscles etc, but you can see that the mind also plays an important role. Think about how stress can increase pain or tightness in certain areas of the body.
I believe that in most cases of chronic pain; the pain is coming from a combination of something going on physically as well as the brain is excessively sending the pain signal.
I know that was a lot of information, but if you understand how the pain signal works, you’ll understand how yoga can be so beneficial.
Yoga comes in many forms
Practicing yoga can look different for everyone. Yoga ranges from vinyasa yoga and power yoga (the yoga you typically see in the west) to restorative yoga (where lots of props are used and the class is more passive). Yoga can also be practiced in the form of meditation or breath work. Another point to note is that ancient yoga practices were basically just about a way of life.
With all the different practices, the common theme is the mind, body, soul connection. The connection between these three is already there for all of us, but we sometimes have difficulty seeing it. This is what yoga helps us to uncover, and this is what yoga is really about. It’s not about doing crazy poses.
Physical benefits of yoga
Understandably, chronic pain tends to make many fearful of moving. But avoiding movement tends to make issues worse down the line. The body is meant to move. If you avoid movement, this causes muscles to become tight and weak. It could also cause loss of mobility at your joints.
The beauty of a more physical based yoga practice is that its mindful movement. Poses can be made simple and gentle or can take you through motions that your body doesn’t normally do. There is a huge range in how physical yoga can be practiced.
The more you get into this “yogi” type mindset where you notice the mind-body connection, the more you can tune into your body and learn how it needs to move.
This can change from day to day, so keep that in mind!
This is why most yoga classes start with taking a moment to bring your attention to the present moment and to look inward. Your yoga practice is a time for you to tune out the external world; this does take practice, but that’s ok!
Private yoga sessions are great for working with chronic pain, but if this is not an option, when in a group setting, listen to your body. If a posture the teacher is showing you doesn’t feel good for you, sit it out. This is your practice.
Energy flow and relation to pain
Another point to consider is energy flow. Many yoga practices focus on the breath because this is a great way for us to connect with our energy. Yoga works on things from a deeper level.
Let me give you an example so that this makes sense.
If you experience something such as pelvic pain, instead of just saying you have tight pelvic muscles and that’s why you have pain, yoga has you ask why are the muscles tight? This is not to make you over-analyze to figure out why the pain happened in the first place, that will just drive you crazy.
It’s more about looking at the question, “What in my life right now is keeping these muscles tight?” In the case of pelvic pain, maybe it’s something related to how you feel about sex. It could also be that you are unable to express your creativity for whatever reason.These are just examples and are not to say that they will be the same for everyone, but this is how yoga looks deeper beyond the physical body. A yoga teacher will be able to help you use yoga to free energy in these areas.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation is a great practice to help tune out the external world. Meditation allows you to look inward and to bring your body and mind to a relaxed but waking state. A lot of healing can take place in deep meditation. Basically, what happens during meditation is that certain areas of your brain become more active. When these areas are more active, the areas that are active to produce a pain signal can quiet down.
Keep your mind open
All the benefits that can come from yoga come from an open mind. If you approach your practice thinking that it isn’t going to help you, it won’t. This is true for anything, not just yoga. When you keep your mind open to the possibilities, this is where you start to see change.
So keep your mind open and give yoga a try. Remember, there are so many variations of yoga out there and you just have to find what resonates with you.
About the author:
Dr. Tara Salay is a physical therapist and a yoga teacher who specializes in using yoga to help people with chronic pain and pelvic health issues.
She loves how yoga combines the physical and mental aspects that are so important to healing. She has a physical location on Long Island but also offers virtual private yoga sessions for people who are not local.
Youtube: Dr. Tara Salay
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