How Yoga Helped Me With The Physical And Mental Toll Of Chronic Pain
As someone with chronic pain, I have experienced considerable hardship. It isn’t easy when you don’t know what’s wrong with your body and lack the financial means to discover the cause, let alone fix it. However, I found modern solace in an ancient practice. Best of all, it’s free for anyone, and modifications can make it accessible for nearly anybody. Here’s how yoga helped me with both the physical and mental toll of chronic pain and how it can help you, too.
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The physical benefits of yoga
Yoga has impressive physical benefits, although it may surprise you to learn that this ancient practice has spiritual origins, not fitness ones. It wasn’t until more modern times that the postures came about and then, yogis used them to harness the body’s natural energies. That said, any physical activity benefits chronic pain. Yoga offers more of the following perks than any other exercise form I’ve found. I suspect moving your body through various planes of motion eliminates adhesions that can trap nerve fibers, sending white bullets of agony shooting through inflamed regions.
Reduced back pain
Probably the most significant improvement I’ve had with yoga comes from reduced back pain. I have degenerative disk disease at a relatively young age, most likely due to repeated sports injuries. This condition causes the discs between my vertebrae to bulge, resulting in considerable nerve pain. The serpentine motions I do in my yoga practice ease pressure on these fibers, minimizing my pain. It was a challenge working my way into some poses. However, today I spend time in wheel or camel pose to counteract the effects of sitting at a computer for a living. I’m not sure if the practice works similarly to the way rotating your tires will even out the wear and tear, but I know it helps me sit more comfortably, which makes me more productive.
Improved migraine pain
As a migraine patient, I know my condition is more than just a headache. I’ve also endured more than my fair share of people accusing me of faking an attack to get out of obligations. Fortunately, yoga helped me minimize my symptoms. Many doctors note the association between cervical blood flow and migraines, and poor spinal alignment can prevent your vessels from carrying this vital fluid as intended. Yoga stretches create space between the vertebrae and gently coax them back into alignment.
Managing osteoarthritis and impact arthritis naturally
According to my doctor, I have severe arthritis in my right knee, most likely from falling on it as often as I have. According to my pain levels in that region, I’m doing fine. Although you can see the joint distortion, I seldom suffer from arthritis pain. I’m not sure how the mechanism works, but it does for me. It may be that yoga increases synovial fluid flow, lubricating sore joints — if so, I can testify to this benefit.
The mental health perks of yoga
Having a chronic condition in America is no picnic. Unlike other developed countries, the lack of a centralized single-payer health care system means severe economic hardship for people like me. The financial blows keep coming year after year — all the money you spend on doctors and insurance represents funds you can never use to save for emergencies or buy a home. One hiccup can leave you penniless, even without housing — but with a full suitcase full of trauma. Yoga hasn’t only helped me mitigate the physical effects of my condition but the psychological impacts I endure daily.
Easing mild depression
Dealing with financial insecurity and the reality that you are never going to “get well soon” can leave you feeling understandably depressed. Fortunately, any physical activity stimulates the flow of endorphins, natural body chemicals that help boost mood and ease pain. Yoga often works better for me than other exercise forms when I have the blues. While spending 30 minutes on the treadmill seems like punishment, spending a half-hour practicing yoga is the ultimate in self-care. I can opt for less vigorous workouts that nevertheless produce the perks.
Quelling panic attacks
Panic attacks are my nemesis. Yoga is the best antidote that I have found because it combines both movement and meditation. The mild-to-moderate activity helps to lower my cortisol levels, calming the hormonal flood clouding my judgment. Once I get my body under control, I can tune into a guided meditation to help combat negative thought spirals. It’s a one-two punch for returning the world to normal when it spins out of control.
Recovering from PTSD
Unfortunately, my life experiences have left me with PTSD. I find yoga to be a fabulous recovery tool. Part of my mission is restoring my sense of agency over my body. Yoga helps me regain my mind-body connection, enabling me to once again cherish the parts I thought were only good for causing pain for the longest time. On the mat, I control how deeply I push a stretch and use my breath to explore and calm sensory triggers that arise.
If you have chronic pain, yoga could help
I don’t know what I would do without yoga to help with the physical and mental effects of my various conditions. While it may seem like cliched advice, it’s spoken so often for a reason. If you have chronic pain, why not give this ancient practice a try?
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