Studies of the last 30 years of clinical trials suggest that yoga can significantly improve pain, decrease disability and enhance mood in people with persistent pain. For decades, scientists and doctors thought that pain could be exclusively only by damage to the structure of the body. They looked for the source of chronic pain in bulging spinal discs, muscle injuries, and infections. More recent research, however, points to a second source of chronic pain: the distinct real biology of your thoughts, emotions, expectations, and memories.
Most chronic pain has its roots in a physical injury or illness, but it is sustained by how that initial trauma changes not just the body but also the mind-body relationship. There are stages to pain response: sensation, stress, and suffering.
All three can be debilitating and cause ailing. The initial sensation can be pain, muscle aches, a cut, burn... these threats are detected by specialized nerves and sent through the spinal cord and up to the brain [Central Nervous System] where, among other things, the threat signals are transformed into pain sensations.
To help you take action, the threat signals have been simultaneously routed to the areas of your brain that help the body launch an emergency stress response, coordinating the actions of the nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system. The emergency stress response triggers a cascade of physiological changes that give you the energy and focus to protect yourself from life-threatening danger.
Even after the threat is gone, the pain response is not over. The mind and body are very interested in making sure you know how to protect yourself from this threat in the future. So the nervous system begins the process of learning from this experience. Any kind of injury or illness, even one that is short-lived or appears to be fully healed, can change the way the nervous system processes pain.
The best way to unlearn chronic stress and pain responses is to give the mind and body healthier responses to practice.
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. The relaxation response unravels the mind-body samskaras that contribute to pain and provides the foundation for healing habits. Consistent relaxation practice teaches the mind and body how to rest in a sense of safety rather than chronic emergency.
Practicing restorative yoga poses turns on the healing relaxation response by combining gentle yoga poses with conscious breathing. Use Props: include the wall, a chair, a couch, pillows, blankets, towels, or bolsters designed especially for restorative yoga practice. The right support in a pose will make it feel effortless, so your body can fully let go.
Although these poses may look as though you are doing nothing, this is far from the truth. Restorative yoga rests the body but engages the mind. The breathing elements of each pose make restorative yoga an active process of focusing the mind on healing thoughts, sensations, and emotions.
Yoga can teach you how to focus your mind to change your experience of physical pain. It can give you back the sense of safety, control, and courage that you need to move past your experience of chronic pain.
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