I have been a chronic pain sufferer since about the age of 17.
Though any good pain specialist will tell you, our memories of pain are fleeting and fuzzy at best, it was about a year before I graduated from high school.
From then on the experience or the idea of pain as a daily experience or threat for me, with some days being better than others, and these days I even have a few WHOLE days here and there where pain is not a part of my day.
Those days, I must admit, I rarely know exactly what to do with myself. 🙂
For those of you who can relate to chronic pain, let me begin with, I am sorry.
For those of you who have lived with bouts of pain, or have a loved one with chronic pain, I am sorry.
Pain is such a unique and challenging experience, that can take years of trial and error to learn to live with, and at times to live around.
Though there are many reason to be drawn to, or to stick with the practice yoga, it’s effects and abilities to play a role in the experiences of pain are truly remarkable, and are being studied more and more rigorously. According to a recent study by Catherine Bushnell at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), they have found that “chronic pain can be prevented or reversed through mind-body practices.”
Both through the practices of asana practice and meditation the brain has shown an ability to reduce pain perceptions (and not in a dangerous way). Ongoing pain in the body reduces the overall gray and white matter in the brain through the release of stress hormones.
Yoga, however’ appears to add back or “pump-up” gray matter in the brain through a process called neurogenesis and strengthen the connections of white matter through neuroplasticity.
Lucky enough to have all your brain matter?!? 🙂
Yoga has also shown in controlled studies to be a protective factor for the brain related to the healthy functioning of the nervous system. The body has an incredible memory not for pain itself (as I mentioned above) but it does harbor the experience of the body IN pain.
Though the recollection of these experiences the body will activate the sympathetic nervous system, the “fight-flight-or-freeze” response that gets the adrenaline and cortisol running through the body to protect from danger.
Yoga and meditation train the brain to activate the parasympathetic regions of the nervous system which are deemed the “tend and befriend” or “rest and digest” areas, calming the pain and stress responses.
To get us out of the Three S’s 1) Sensation 2) Stress and 3) Suffering cycle, using our deep breathing in whatever form we connect with, or meditation, we have the ability to slow our body’s quick reactions to pain.
There are now many meditation techniques designed specifically for pain sufferers, teaching to recognize pain, notice it, identify the source, and develop the ability to separate it from ourselves in a loving way.
Asanas for those of us in pain should be gentle and supportive, always recognizing that which will make it worse, and letting go of any expectations that we need to “do” or “be” any particular thing.
By allowing the body to relax and be at peace we being to wash out the stress hormones, and promote a sense of calm and restoration from within, the same place from which we often blame for the pain, as though they are not the same beautiful place!
Reconnecting with our bodies, even in pain can be a beautiful experience for our daily lives, beyond simply building back that gray matter!
Bergland C. “How Does Yoga Relieve Chronic Pain?” Psychology Today www.psychologytoday.com May 27, 2015
McCall, T. “Yoga For Chronic Pain: Part I” Yoga Journal www,yogajournal.com Oct. 10, 2007
McGonigal, K. “Restorative yoga for Chronic Pain” Yoga International June 10, 2013