When I got diagnosed with cervical dystonia in 2010, I quickly became disabled with horrible chronic pain in my neck and upper back. I spent close to a year on the couch much of the time. Even simple tasks like making breakfast became overwhelming. After awhile I began practicing chair yoga, moved on to neck and yoga postures, and as I improved, on to whole body yoga. Am I cured of dystonia? No. It’s one day at a time but yoga has greatly reduce the need for pain management medications.
I don’t have to tell you how fast-paced and easily distracted our world is. When not in the car, people are sitting behind their desks all day, whether at home or in the office. They’re hunched over their phones. Many come home and crash in front of the computer. It seems easier to sustain an unhealthy lifestyle with processed food and inadequate movement than to put the effort into healthier lifestyle habits.
When we don’t put healthy habits first, we can become more susceptible to chronic pain and chronic illness. I’m convinced this is part of what happened to me. When the day finally came that I was really struggling, I started looking for answers and became willing to change.
The Benefits of Yoga For Chronic Pain
Like me, many people are looking for natural health alternatives for chronic pain. Traditional pain medications and muscle relaxers, while necessary for some, have side effects and run the risk of addiction. Yoga is an ancient practice combining meditation and exercise which have a deep and long lasting effect on the mind and body. Yoga regulates breathing and increases metabolism, aids in weight loss, relieves stress and reduces depression and can also help in pain relief and management.
How to Get Started With Yoga for Chronic Pain Management
In yoga you can find a huge variety of practices and teaching styles. If you don’t care for mysticism, be assured that most of what is taught in a typical gym setting is going to be more health oriented. Or you can always look around on YouTube to get started with an at home practice. I highly recommend Yoga With Adriene. She’s fun, relaxed and not overwhelming. If you’re checking out a yoga studio, look at their social media accounts to get a feel for where they’re coming from. No matter which you choose, it’s really important to get proper cuing and guidance as you move through asanas. For awhile I used printouts from various sources but now I realize that I really missed out on the full mind body experience and tended to rush through it.
There are various ways to get started with yoga, including classes at a yoga studio or a yoga DVD. It is important to get some kind of guidance when doing the poses because posture, alignment and simply being able to relax and follow the directions of the yoga teacher make a big difference in the outcome. I recommend Healthy Moving and Yoga Download.
Not essential but really nice to have are a good yoga mat like this or this (the second one is pricey but it will last for YEARS. You might also want to have some yoga blankets and bolsters on hand. Diffusers and Himalayan salt lamps add mood and will enhance relaxation.
Simple Asanas To Help Manage Pain and Promote Relaxation
You must know your own body and its limitations. If you have back problems, you will want to check what’s safe for your condition with your doctor or do some online research about your condition.
The best thing about yoga is that it can be practiced anywhere and anytime. And remember, it doesn’t even have to be a full practice. Think about taking short movement breaks. You can do some of them in bed, your home office or even in your cramped workspace if you know the right exercises.When getting started, just begin with a simple intention, meditation or spiritual prose. Find something to focus on and begin to practice some simple breath work. This will ease your mind and body and prepare it for the exercises ahead. Remember to be slow and steady with your movements.
Child’s Pose – This is my all time favorite and can be done anywhere around the house. I love to use a big bolster, turn down the lights and just relax in that position.
Cat/Cow Stretch – This can be done in bed or on your yoga mat. It’s simple, relaxing and easy to remember.
Cobbler’s Pose – This pose can be done by most people and is a great way to counteract the sitting that we do all day.
Forward Bend – If you’re as tight as I am, you’ll want to bend your knees a bit. Don’t round or strain your back.
Laying Twist – This is so easy to do in bed, even if you’re too tired to do much else and helps to release lower back tension.
After all of this (if you can) try some relaxing poses like the pelvic tilts, legs up the wall pose or happy baby pose. When combined with simple breathing techniques, you’ll be amazed at your overall feelings of wellness. I can’t promise how fast overall pain reduction might happen for you, but know that if you stick with it and continue to make small strides forward you will see improvements.
Don’t forget savasana (corpose pose)…it’s the most important part of the practice. It lets all the good movements and postures settle in to your mind and body.
This blog post should not be construed as medical advice. I’m not a doctor or a yoga teacher, just a yoga enthusiast who has suffered with the debilitating neurological condition dystonia since 2010. Yoga for pain management has worked for me not as a cure, but as a tool to help manage the complexities of my condition.
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