Yoga is an important tool for reducing chronic pain and is also effective for stress management because it simultaneously addresses the needs of body and mind. One study funded by National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), found that people suffering from low back pain who practiced Iyengar yoga regularly for just six months had significantly less pain, depression and disability.
According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, which is more than the total number of Americans suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer combined. Identifying non-pharmaceutical methods of managing chronic pain is important because curbing addiction to prescription pain medication is a global concern.
Back pain is the leading cause of disability for U. S. adults under the age of 45. According to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), back pain is considered to be chronic if it lasts for more than three months. NINDS also recommends yoga as a way to provide gentle stretching to back muscles, which can not only relieve pain but help muscles build strength over time.
By examining the big picture of body system interactions, health care providers understand that pain and stress can work together in an endless loop that makes each condition worse. One way to break the pattern is by adopting a holistic approach to health in which physical symptoms such as pain are considered to be related to thoughts, feelings, and other life circumstances. Yoga is of special interest to those interested in holistic approaches to health because it is aimed at helping the body and mind work together. This is achieved in most forms of yoga by integrating physical positions, breathing exercises and meditation.
Effectively establishing a link between stress management and pain management, researchers at the University of Montreal found that people who managed the harmful effects of stress successfully were better able to manage their chronic pain. The study was published in the academic journal Brain in 2013.
Because the mind and body work together so closely in the physical experiences of pain and stress, yoga is an ideal tool for dealing with both conditions. Health researchers are closely studying yoga’s effects on health and building guidelines for safe recommendations.
Understanding how the body and mind work in concert is the foundation of understanding how yoga can not only work to reduce chronic pain, but serve as an effective everyday tool for stress management.
Because yoga reduces chronic pain and is also effective for stress management, yoga can be recommended for people of all ages. Most health experts agree that a person is never too old or too young to begin benefiting from yoga.
Certain yoga positions or techniques may need to be modified or adapted to meet an individual’s physical limitations or medical conditions. A qualified instructor can help anyone needing to make modifications to yoga poses or techniques. To find a credible yoga instructor, NCCAM advises would-be yogis to seek recommendations from a trusted source, which may include a hospital or health care provider, or contact professional organizations for names of instructors who have completed recommended training programs.
According to NCCAM, yoga’s historical origins are ancient India, pure forms of yoga may also promote a distinct philosophy or lifestyle. Research has also shown that mindfulness techniques which often accompany distinct philosophies or lifestyles such as those promoted in some forms of yoga, also have health benefits such as lowering stress and disease risk. Individuals are encouraged to choose philosophies that appeal to them.
Research studies on therapeutic techniques that address the needs of the body as well as the mind continue to reveal important health benefits. Science has shown and is continuing to show that yoga is so much more than simply stretching a certain way– it is a valuable holistic tool for reducing chronic pain and managing stress effectively.
By Lane Therrell