For thousands of years, people have been practicing yoga, the exercise system that combines controlled breathing, meditation and focused movement. It is only recently, however, that modern medicine has begun to recognize that yoga has some powerful benefits. Unlike other forms of exercise that only promote physical fitness, yoga also emphasizes mental wellbeing that promotes chronic pain relief.
Scientific Studies: Yoga and Pain Relief
A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined 313 patients with chronic lower back pain and found that one yoga session a week helped improve mobility more than traditional medical care. Similarly, a meta-study of 1,600 patients with spine curvature due to fibromyalgia osteoporosis showed better functionality, mood and mental health after engaging in yoga.
How Does Chronic Pain Affect You?
In order to understand how yoga produces pain relief for many chronic pain sufferers, you must know a little about how chronic pain affects you. First, the presence of ongoing pain induces fear and stress. This can make your brain more sensitive to unpleasant stimuli in an effort to prepare for pain. Finally, this over-sensitization may convince your brain that any stress or anxiety is akin to pain.
These cognitive responses may produce physiological changes in your body. Any fear or stress may cause you to breath shallower, starving your brain of precious oxygen. You are likely to experience increased tension in your muscles. Pain also inhibits motion; you naturally limit unnecessary movements which can cause joints to stiffen and lose some range of motion.
How Does Yoga Produce Pain Relief?
Stretching and Movement
Yoga counteracts many of these cognitive and physiological effects. The mild stretching and movement exercises improves flexibility and strengthens muscles. This not only improves range of motion and relieves muscle tension, but also promotes the production of endorphins, natural pain killers that enhance mood. Greater motion also improves circulation which allows more oxygen and nutrients to reach your brain and starved tissue which can help heal any injuries.
One of the major components of yoga is controlled breathing which has many benefits. Greater awareness of your respiration is a key to relaxing tense muscles and soothing your mind. Deeper, more regular breathing also pumps more oxygen to your brain, allowing it to relax from its oxygen-deprived hyper alert state. More oxygen in your system also assists in a number of physiological functions including healing of damaged tissue.
Mental Well Being and Stress Relief
Perhaps the most important benefits of yoga are not directly related to physical pain, but how your brain processes these sensations. Pain is a complex phenomenon that may be neutralized to some degree by managing your thought processes. Yoga offers pain relief by adjusting your attitude to pain; a more peaceful state of mind will enable you to avoid unnecessary stress that may augment pain sensations unnecessarily.
Promotes Neuron Creation
Some of the benefits of yoga are not fully understood. For example, chronic pain actually shrinks the number of neurons in your brain, hardening certain pain-induced pathways, but yoga has the ability to promote neuron creation. Somehow, yoga alleviates negative brain activity and modifies the natural brain response to long-term chronic pain.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
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