Yoga Therapy and Chronic Pain

Friday, September 15, 2017

By Christine Andrus & Andrea Dreifelds

Christine: It seems like everywhere I walk these days, a new yoga studio is popping up on a street corner. This trendy fitness craze has gained in popularity over the last decade, partly because of its physical benefits, but also – and what I think is hugely important – the emotional ones.

As an occupational therapist for more than 10 years, I’ve seen first hand the benefits that yoga can have on the lives of my clients, many of whom are living with chronic pain.

It is for this reason that as the ModernOT Chronic Pain Management Group was developed, we wanted to include yoga into this 6-week program.

Andrea: I’ve practiced yoga for over 12 years, and in 2010 I decided to take my passion to the next level and become a Certified Yoga Instructor. Yoga has helped to inform my work as an OT. And as the incoming facilitator for Kingston’s Chronic Pain Management Group, I believe yoga can be a real benefit to people living with chronic pain.

The Positive Impacts of Yoga and Chronic Pain

Andrea: The physical benefits of gentle and appropriate movement can increase strength and flexibility, impacting overall function. Yoga can become a tool that people can use at home. It can also influence self-discovery and growth and facilitate a calming and quieting of the mind. Once people start a regular yoga practice the impacts can be profound and unexpected.

Christine: People too often think of yoga as just a physical practice, but there is really so much more to it than that. It can teach, influence and/ or increase mindfulness which can foster new perspectives. As Andrea noted, yoga is often thought of as a physical practice and there is so much more to it. It’s a holistic practice. People learn mindfulness, body awareness, and better emotional well-being, in addition to reducing inflammation.

Andrea: Not to mention stress, pain, and mood management, myofascial release techniques, movement, and breathing.

Yoga and ModernOT’s Chronic Pain Management Group

Christine: Yoga is one small facet of our 6-week multidisciplinary chronic pain management group. During the program, many different therapeutic activities are introduced, like Tai Chi, art therapy, and aquatic therapy.

Andrea: The yoga therapist and Christine or myself make sure that yoga’s introduction isn’t overwhelming or limiting. Instead, it’s presented in a welcoming format and people are encouraged to ask questions. It’s meant to spark curiosity.

The yoga therapist walks participants through a gentle breathing, movement, and meditation session. Movements are tailored and guided according to individual ability and we have a “less is more” approach – there is no need to force or push anything.

Christine: I think that it’s common for people to be apprehensive when we introduce yoga into our Pain Group or during OT sessions. It conjures up images of people bending into seemingly impossible pretzel-like shapes, sometimes in hot rooms of more than 100 degrees. But there are so many different kinds of yoga that can be beneficial to absolutely everyone.

Andrea: I couldn’t agree more. Yoga therapy too, can be a bit different from a yoga practice in a group class, it is geared more towards people who want to learn new skills to help manage a symptom or health condition that is limiting, like chronic pain.

There is a great article on Yoga International that discusses this at length if you’re interested in learning more.

How to incorporate yoga into your day

Christine: I get this question a lot. By both people who have finished the Pain Management Group and some of my other clients alike. Some people chose to seek out a yoga therapist, or will join a community yoga studio and take more restorative classes.

Andrea: Some studios, community centers, and hospitals also offer breathing and meditation classes that can be a great place for people to broaden their practice.

Christine: People can also think about starting a home-based practice by finding online classes, there are lots on YouTube. Neil Pearson also has a free 5-part series on yoga for people with chronic pain that is a great starting point.

Andrea: Really paying attention and listening to their body is a simple and super effective way for people to begin taking back control. Try focusing on breathing, paying attention to positions that cause discomfort, tuning in to parts of the body that are holding tension.

Christine: Yoga incorporates a lot of the self-management techniques that are taught during the Pain Management Group, like breathing, breathing with movement, gentle movement, relaxation, and meditation, all of which are beneficial to people with chronic pain (and those without it).

Most importantly, people need to do what is right for them. Maybe they’re energized by group classes and find going to a studio helps them feel less isolated. Maybe others prefer to practice yoga in the quiet and comfort of their living rooms. People have to find what works for them and put in some regular time and consistency to start to see the benefit.

To learn more about Christine or Andrea, or to make a referral to our next Chronic Pain Management Group, please click here.