« Back to the Library

Don’t Give Up on Yoga: A Plea to Those with Chronic Pain or Illness

Lindsay Sisti | May 27, 2014

I know that starting a yoga practice to manage chronic pain or illness is not easy.

When I first started practicing yoga regularly, there were times where I pushed myself too hard, exacerbating my pain for weeks. There were times that I became teary-eyed in class when my body wasn’t able do certain poses because of fibromyalgia.

I’ve also nearly given up on yoga because it wasn’t taking my pain away, as I hoped it would. Due to similar experiences, people suffering from chronic pain or illness often stop practicing yoga after a short period of time, disheartened.

If you, or someone you know is in a similar situation, my message is this: don’t give up on yoga. It works.

To stay on track and on the mat, you need to be armed with the right information. The following tips will help keep the chronically ill yoga student on the yogic path to healing:

1. Understand that yoga is not a quick-fix cure, but a journey of relief

Before starting yoga, it’s crucial to manage your expectations. Yoga should be practiced consistently, over a long period of time for it to be most effective (give it at least six months). Additionally, more often than not, yoga will not cure a person of an ailment or illness, but make it more manageable. Yoga has not cured my fibromyalgia, but helps reduce my chronic pain significantly. It also took over a year of consistent practice for me to see a significant benefit. In that first year, whenever there was a time I considered giving up on yoga, I kept going thanks to other benefits that were faster to realize, such as increased strength and flexibility.

2. Know when to rest in child’s pose

If you take a group yoga class, focus more on honoring your body than keeping up with the rest of the class. You must honor your intention–to heal–with every move that you make. If you begin to feel pain in a pose, that’s your body’s way of suggesting you back off. Take child’s pose. Yoga is not about the physical poses that you can accomplish; it’s about accepting where you are in each moment and enjoying the journey. As master teacher Maty Ezraty says, “When you are kind to your body, it responds better.”

3. Understand that yoga is much more than just physical postures

Asana (physical postures) is just one facet of the rich, ancient yogic tradition. To manage chronic illness or pain, one should also practice pranayama (breath work), visualizations, yoga nidra, and meditation; all of which are just as important as asana for a well-rounded, therapeutic practice!

4. If one teacher or style wasn’t able to help you, try another

There are many different styles of yoga, and thousands of yoga teachers; some are more effective than others when it comes to pain and illness management. Seek a teacher who is compassionate, empathetic and whose teachings resonate with you. In terms of styles, I suggest you explore classes labeled either as hatha, restorative, mindful or gentle. Additionally, classes labeled as tantric often focus heavily on transforming energy and practicing pranayama, both of which are helpful for working with the nervous system.

5. Find a supportive yoga community

Attending group classes regularly at a studio gets you out of your house, and out of your head. When you feel a part of a community, especially a community of other individuals who are going through similar life experiences as you, something magical happens. Your heart cracks open, allowing your compassionate soul to shine through. I’ve both witnessed and experienced this. Feeling loved and supported within a community is perhaps one of the best ways to stay motivated.

For more information on yoga for pain, visit www.yogahelpspain.com.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply