Yoga is a great tool for managing stress; the combination of postures, breathing, and meditative practice induces parasympathetic relaxation. And scientific studies show that yoga also triggers longterm neuroplastic changes within the brain, in part through epigenetic changes to genes involved in regulating the body’s stress response. In other words, yoga alters the stress response for the better on the genetic level, which is great news. These changes are also linked to the aging process, and may be a way of increasing longevity.
I was drawn to yoga several years ago as a pain relief tool, and one of the things that made me fall in love with it was how it helped me manage daily stress. To this day, my wife comments on the positive impact yoga has on my demeanor; she can see it in my face as soon as I walk in the door. Many of the “yoga regulars” I have talked to over the years frequently comment on how their yoga practice has helped them “deal with issues.”
Yoga Poses Chronic Pain Photo Gallery
You may find it tricky to get started in yoga if you’re suffering from chronic pain, as many of the poses and classes may not be a good match for your particular issues. But be aware that there are many kinds of yoga classes. Gentle yoga involves easy stretches and mild poses that most people can handle easily. Restorative yoga utilizes bolsters, blankets, blocks, and other props that allow you to relax in easy, supported postures that bring about maximum relaxation. For those who can handle more activity, there are also more physically challenging forms of yoga. It will help if you think of yoga as therapy, rather than a group exercise session where you feel you must excel or compete with the others. Your goal is to reduce anxiety, lower stress, and to help calm an over-active “pain brain.” So steer clear of super-challenging classes and find a teacher who can help you get started on a simple, basic program that works around your limitations and pain.
EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a well-researched and effective treatment for trauma that helps the mind process traumatic memories in a way that leads to peaceful resolution.
This relatively new therapy uses rhythmic eye movements to help reduce the power of emotionally
charged memories linked to trauma and PTSD. The therapy consists of bringing to mind a troubling memory or thought as the patient carefully watches the therapist’s finger moving back and forth across her face. Forcing the brain to focus on two things at once—reliving the memory and watching the finger—for several 30-second sessions helps the brain process the memory and reduce its “punch.” EMDR was created by psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s as a treatment for overwhelmed brains unable to cope with the consequences of traumatic experiences. The therapy is performed by mental health practitioners who have been specifically trained in the technique. You can learn more about EMDR, and find a practitioner in your area, at www.emdr.com and www. emdrhap. org/content/what-is-emdr/.
Much of what we’ve talked about in this chapter has to do with setting aside negative thinking and calming the storm within. Now let’s see what we can do with the negative thoughts that still remain; how we can reframe them in a way that removes their sting, and replace them with positive thoughts.
Reframe Harmful Thoughts
Change your thoughts and you change your world.
Norman Vincent Peale
England’s Queen Victoria was considered one of the luckiest women in the world; not only was she rich and powerful, she was married to a man she adored. But after 21 years of wedded bliss, her husband, Prince Albert, died at the young age of 42. The queen plunged into a deep state of mourning from which she never truly emerged. For the next 40 years, until the day she died, she wore black clothing and insisted that her servants leave Albert’s room exactly the way it was at the time of his death. She also ordered them to bring fresh hot water to his room every morning, as they had always done while he was alive, so that he could shave.
Poor Victoria was stuck in her grief, unable to move through it, unable even to consider the possibility of being happy again. This was unfortunate, for it ran counter to a fundamental law of nature: Life moves in cycles. The heat of summer leads to the crisp winds of fall, followed by the cold and ice of winter, then the gradual thawing and warmth of spring. Nature has always moved through these cycles and always will; this is part of the essential order of the universe.
We also go through cycles, from joy to sorrow, from success to struggle, from health to illness, and back again. Trials and tribulations are part of life, but so is rejuvenation and restoration. We are designed to overcome; it is how we grow and thrive. Many patients have told me they feel stuck in their chronic pain and can’t possibly get better. Yet it is unhealthy and unnatural to interfere with life’s journey and allow no chance for a new season or a new dawn.
When you get stuck in negative thoughts about your pain, you keep yourself mired in the gloom of winter. What you think really does matter, and one of the most important keys to conquering your pain is to reframe your thinking; that is, to turn catastrophic thinking, anger, and other negative thoughts into the positives of gratitude, compassion, and more. In this chapter, you’ll learn how to create the positive mindset and attitudes that will help you heal the “pain brain” and regain control of your life.
For every winter, there can be a spring. When you suffer a major loss, it’s natural to feel sad and depressed, perhaps even angry and helpless as you struggle through the grieving cycle. But eventually you’ll process your grief and move on, able to be happy and feel optimistic again. That’s very natural. But if you cling to your grief and sadness for too long, you’ll never get better or feel better.
No matter what your current problem, with patience and perseverance, you can get “unstuck,” reclaim your life, and regain the joy of living. I say this with great confidence, as I’ve seen it happen over and over again.