How to Heal Chronic Pain with Yoga
Writing about yoga isn’t my usual cup of tea, but I’ve had such a great experience with managing my chronic pain with yin yoga that I wanted to share my insight with anyone going through chronic pain as well.
Here’s the guest post originally published on the Journey Junkie— written by me & edited by the Journey Junkie’s amazing blogger, Allie!
Check out her blog ASAP if you love yoga & traveling. She breaks yoga down for the everyday person and creates a fun, loving community for all her yogi followers!
“Your pain is in all your head.”
If you’ve ever experienced chronic pain, you’ve probably heard this phrase before, at which your initial reaction is – bitch please; this is my pain, not yours.
But, frankly, people have zero insight into what you’re going through.
Yes, your mind might’ve triggered a physical injury due to stress or anxiety, and yes, your mind might be prolonging the recovery…
But, no, no, no, and no!
Your pain is NOT all in your head.
IT’S AS REAL AS IT CAN BE.
You can feel it, you can sense it, and you can easily become discouraged when it won’t subside or when it won’t allow you the life you want deserve.
You know… that carefree life where you didn’t think twice about dancing till the sunrise or traveling a mere hour to a destination of your choice – mountains, ocean, or anything in between.
A life filled with freedom, spontaneity, and a fearless drive to pursue your passions and dreams.
Can you even remember what that life feels like?
It all started when I was working 60 hour work weeks with two to four hours of commuting a day. I was miserable and downright depressed. I worked hard but didn’t play harder. I barely played at all.
After muttering to myself daily about how much I hated my job, in one instant, I felt a debilitating nerve pain running down my left leg from my lower back.
It seemed my mind had triggered this physical injury to steer my life in a new direction. It screamed, “Slow down!” But I didn’t listen. I continued my lifestyle of work and no play while trying to “heal” my body halfhearted, instead of wholeheartedly.
I ended up hurting myself more.
Fast forward three years later, there’s nerve pain in my hands, feet, arms, legs, shoulders, and both sides of my face. I’ve tried acupuncture, chiropractors, and even psychotherapists thinking it was all in my head (we agreed that it’s not that, remember?).
I thought I tried everything I could to fight the pain.
That is, until I discovered yoga, the softer side of yoga that is.
Hello restorative hatha and yin yoga.
Hello effective chronic pain healing.
Hello light at the end of the tunnel.
My name is Sarah, and I’m done fighting. I’m here to listen, and I’m here to heal. I’m here to steer my life in a new direction and remember what it’s like to be pain-free!
If you are nodding in agreement to all of the above and want to break free from your pain chains, I challenge you to try a calmer yoga (hatha, yin, restorative yoga – to name a few). These slower paced yoga styles do wonders in strengthening the mind-body connection to help calm, relax and restore the body.
Or in simpler terms – to relive you from some of that damn pain (some being the keyword).
As you begin your yoga journey, use the below tools to help expand your practice, to relax into the postures, to steady the mind, and most importantly – to help heal your chronic pain.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.
In our society, pain is more easily understood and accepted if it’s attached to an experience, such as playing sports, slipping on ice, or suffering from a car accident. But it should also be understood and accepted that the body and mind can manifest pain.
And the more we understand and accept this type of the pain, the more we are able to listen and in turn, begin to heal.
In my case, the nerve pain started while stretching, so I assumed that’s what triggered the sciatica. But when I really thought about it, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I had been seriously miserable at work. Was it really a coincidence that I hurt my body and got disability leave at the exact same time that I wanted to quit work?
I obviously don’t have the answer to how the mysterious and great mind-body connection works, but I have a strong feeling that this was no coincidence, which led me to realize this –
Your body is your greatest friend and teacher. It knows you better than any textbook or doctor, and it just wants you to be happy.
LISTEN TO IT, AND LEARN FROM IT.
What is your body trying to tell you? What changes can you make to accommodate this new you? How can listening to your body bring you closer to your ideal healthy self.
When you’re in a yoga pose, and it feels too tough or just plain wrong, don’t resist the pain or ignore it – come the hell out of the pose. The pain is talking to you for a reason, not just for shits and giggles.
Think about it friends – you wouldn’t ignore a friend or even a stranger who cries out for help so what makes it any different when it’s you who needs the help?
Let me repeat – what makes it different when it’s you who needs the help? This is EPIC, that statement. Please write it down, repeat it multiples time, and then actually implement it in your life.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF.
Let’s talk about the day-to-day, because this will be the hardest area to soften, transform, and adjust to your pain body.
The worst thing that anyone (you, me, the person next to you) can do is to continue to move at your original pace; the pace before the injury, before the pain surfaced, before all of this unfolded.
This constant grind, the action of always pushing and pulling, is what keeps the pain present, what worsens the situation, and ultimately deepens the emotional connection to the bodies suffering. The emotional experience has a strong connection to the body (this is a known fact), this connection will be used to its best ability – aka it will continue to manifest the pain in your body.
So if you have two options for your mind and body, opt for the kinder one.
Opt to accept your reality. Opt to soften into the situation. Opt to treat yourself with the utmost respect and patience. Just relax friends and enjoy the person you are (pain, suffering, injury, and all).
Yes, there are things you don’t like about your new self – like how you can’t walk 30 minutes without nerve pain in your legs or carry a heavy-load of groceries without the help of a friend, but that’s ok! Like fine, aged wine, the better things in life take time to develop, and that includes you and your soon-to-be healthy body.
Until that healthy body ripens and appears, focus on the good shit. You are not just the pain that prevents you from living your life as you want. You are light, you are love, and you are beautiful. No amount of pain will ever take that away so please – don’t let it.
If you’re wondering how to be kind to yourself, give yourself a huge hug because you’ve already begun to do so by joining the Journey Junkie community and by simply entertaining that yoga can heal your pain!
Being kind to yourself doesn’t have to be a great feat. The better parts about it can come in small (but big) moments such as breathing deeply or treating yourself to a restorative practice – like this one here.
ACCEPT YOUR NEW SELF.
How many times have you wanted to kick your pain to the curb or run away from it?
Well, it won’t happen with that mindset.
Instead, take the opposite approach and try something like this –
- Observe your pain with concern and curiosity instead of fear and dislike.
- Accept your present state without judgment.
- Move forward with a goal to listen, soften, and heal.
You are no less the person you used to be (with or without pain). It’s just different, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
You’ll find that the pain will be much easier to manage with this mindset. By acknowledging your pain and respecting that it’s a part of you, it can eventually melt away, or at very least, ease up.
When you’re in a pose that’s particularly strenuous and the mind begins to wander/become the enemy, use the rule of three below:
- With the first breath, accept your pain. Recognize it’s there and nothing more. Don’t attach to it.
- With the second breath, observe your pain. Whatever emotions it brings up, let them flow in and out of you. Don’t judge it.
- With the third breath, listen to your pain. If it is still screaming at you, then pull back, modify, and do whatever it is you need in that moment. But again, do it without judgment.
Where is your head at?
Are you future tripping, fantasizing or dissociating from the moment?
Are you in the past reminiscing about the good old days when you didn’t have pain?
Well, forget all that.
Stay present and focus on the now.
It’s much easier said than done, but it will pay off in the long run versus staying stuck on the past or anxious about the future. Let go of the fear, loss, pain, and whatever else is keeping you from this moment because working on yourself now is what will ultimately lead to a healthier you.
Right now, your body is saying, “Look at me! I am stronger than the mind,” but what we want is for it to say, “Look at us! The mind and I are equal.” Uniting and strengthening the mind and body into a cohesive connection will naturally help lessen the immediate pain response and ultimately lead to the path of healing.
We can start moving towards this oneness by mindfully staying aware of each movement and each breath during yoga.
If you notice the mind drifting to a place of comfort or are simply going through the motions of a pose, bring yourself back to the now by linking your movements with the breath. Notice your hands and how they are placed. Notice your feet feel against the mat. And above all, notice how your mind and body are working together!
Your hands wouldn’t be in that position without your mind willing it nor would your feet feel the texture of the mat without your mind sensing it.
STAY PRESENT. STAY FOCUSED.
How can something so simple be so damn hard?
It’s what we do everyday in order to live, but for some reason, it’s hard to grasp in times of excitement, stress, or the ever so constant pain.
Breathing, above anything else, will be your best friend in healing.
Overtime, breathing and relaxing can slowly turn off the body’s stress response to pain. Continual relaxation will help the body create a state of calmness and ease instead of a state of anxiety and panic. This ease of existing will be the framework from which you heal, the foundation from which you build back up, and the place from where you become whole again.
When moving through a yoga practice, I challenge you to do a body scan, tap into where you’re today, where the pain is manifesting, and then leave it at that (remember, no judgement).
In every posture, inhale deeply, imagining fresh, new oxygen flowing right to that point and breaking down the pain into tiny little parts. Then exhale, and let your breath sweep away the tiny little bits of pain out of the body and into the air for the Earth to recycle and take care of.
Keep that visual consistent throughout the practice and throughout your day-to-day… use that breath, use it whenever, and however. It’s yours, soak it up!
To everyone who made it here – thank you so much for reading ‘till the end and sticking through these ridiculously long tips. It’s a lot to take in, especially with all you’re dealing with already.
If you’re going to take anything away from this, then make sure it’s to always honor your body, know the difference between pain and curiosity, and most importantly – let yourself begin to heal, because you deserve it!
Let’s talk – How do you use yoga to help manage chronic pain or an injury of any kid? Have you experienced an injury from yoga? What are your biggest challenges when dealing with chronic pain?
I’d love to know anything else that could help me or others, so please leave suggestions, comments, or general yoga healing love down below – xoxo.