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How Yoga Can Help Manage Chronic Pain

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I began practicing yoga in 2001 to combat the sciatic pain I was experiencing during pregnancy. But it wasn’t until 2016, after experiencing debilitating lower-back pain, undergoing spinal surgery, and being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and fibromyalgia, did yoga move beyond a go-to for a great workout and became an integral part of my physical, mental, and spiritual healthcare practice.

My biggest takeaway: yoga is so much more than the physical poses.  

Here are the three yoga philosophies I use, in combination with the asanas (poses,) to manage chronic physical pain.


Focus on your breath.

If you’ve attended one or two yoga classes, or even followed along to a fellow yogi’s practice on YouTube or IG, you’ve no-doubt heard the reminder to “focus on your breath.” And while that queue may seem a bit obvious (or even annoying) there’s a good reason for it, especially if you're managing chronic pain.

Deep breathing, along with focusing on your breath while you're moving through yoga postures, increases your mind-body connection and decreases stress hormones that intensify chronic pain conditions like back pain, fibromyalgia, nerve damage (neuropathy,) and arthritis.

Remember that practice makes progress.

Consistent yoga practice allows you to see and feel your progress towards physical relief. Something as small as being able to get your hands flat on the floor during a standing forward fold after only a week or two, or stabilizing your core muscles enough to stand tall and steady in tree pose, can be the motivation you need to keep working and improving. 

Practice kindness and compassion toward yourself.

Negative emotions may be either an underlying cause, or an unintended effect of chronic pain. Whatever the case for you, yoga emphasizes gentleness with yourself, which is critical when managing chronic pain. If you’re tempted to beat-up on yourself for being less productive one day than you were just the day before, remember: rehearsing negative self-talk leads to emotions like anxiety and depression that only contribute to the pain in your physical body. Use your yoga practices as a path to showing and FEELING gratitude and compassion towards yourself and your body.

Like yoga, managing chronic physical pain is a practice.

Experiencing physical pain 24/7 is incomprehensible for most people, but for 20% of American adults, it’s a daily reality. Consistently applying these simple yoga philosophies in combination with a gentle physical practice has helped me better manage and find peace in spite of my physical challenges.

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