Yoga and Chronic Pain – by Jane Heiby

Orthopaedic & Spine Center

We are delighted to welcome Jane Heiby as our guest blogger!  Thanks Jane, for the great article!

I have been interested in health care and exercise all of my adult life.  In my late teens and early twenties, I was training as a registered nurse and skiing in almost equal measure.  I loved exercise and found it kept me healthy in almost every way; physically, mentally and spiritually.  I continued my focus on health and wellness into my fifties, as I was not only practicing yoga, but also teaching yoga and training yoga teachers.

I began having musculoskeletal problems in my 50s and my health care providers suggested yoga.  I easily followed the recommendation.  My approach was to do more both in terms of quantity and intensity.  My problems increased over the course of several years.  I tried several medical approaches, but those did not relieve my symptoms.  I ended up not being able to practice yoga, walk long distances or even sleep well due to the pain.  Not being able to be as active as I would have liked created stress and left me feeling dissatisfied with my life.  But I wasn’t ready to give up.

Since the more physical aspects of yoga were beyond my reach, I was forced to change my focus.  No longer did I do the physical asana practice.  I attended several training sessions, including OSC’s Mindfulness Based Chronic Pain Management program and yogic breath work and meditation.  I came to practice the breathing techniques known as pranayama and meditation.  Having done that for several months with only extremely gentle movements, incorporating Qigong and gentle yoga, my pain began to subside and my ability to move increased.

With this gentler approach, I am once again able to not only practice, but also teach, a very gentle yoga that incorporates movement, breath work and meditation.  This has improved my entire outlook on life.  I have less pain and I am happier, less stressed and physically more able to live the life I enjoy.

Current literature supports the use of yoga as an exercise modality that helps deal with chronic health concerns.  Research is beginning to support this also.  As a yogini and budding Qigong and Thai Chi practitioner, I have found that movement and meditation is critical for my well-being. I have found the use of slow, gentle movement connected to breath followed by a period of meditation to be helpful for dealing with chronic pain, stress and mood fluctuations.

If you are interested in incorporating yoga to your wellness approach, the key is to find a level of yoga that you can do without exacerbating pain.  Much of the popular yoga being practiced is quite athletic in nature.  This can be too intense for anyone with chronic pain.  To start a yoga practice, you may need to start with simple breathing exercises while seated in a chair.  Breath can be coupled with simple arm movements such as raising your arms to the side on the inhalation and lowering them on the exhalation.  The important thing is to have movement within your comfort range and connect it with breath.  This stimulates the relaxation response.  After bringing your body into a relaxed state, you are perfectly prepared for meditation.  This is the true jewel of yoga practice, a relaxation that facilitates healing at a deep personal level.

If you’d like more information on OSC’s Mindfulness for Chronic Pain program, please contact us by calling 1-877-202-9130. Our next 13 week program begins May 22, 2018.