Yoga as Pain Treatment

Opioids are all over the news these days. Whether talking about them in an addiction context or as a form of pain treatment, medications are constantly being discussed and debated. Should we be using opioids for pain? What is the risk of addiction? How can we stop addiction from happening? Are there alternatives to drugs for pain?

While I’m not a medical physician, I have a great deal of personal experience with pain and know for a fact that yoga has helped me not only deal with the pain, but even alleviate it.

The first step, for me, was becoming aware of the pain and exactly where it was located. Simply taking a deep breath and focusing on where I was feeling the pain, what kind of pain it was, and determining whether I had to deal with it or if I could live with it. From there, I found yoga poses that targeted that specific spot, for me it was the lower back. After a few months, I noticed my pain steadily decrease. After a few more months, I even noticed I rarely felt the pain at all.

It takes some time and effort, but yoga does work. Recent studies and articles have shown that yoga can not only supplement a tradition pain treatment regimen which involved medications, but in some cases it can actually replace that regimen.

For specific poses, see a previous post: Yoga for Chronic Pain

*Please see a medical physician before starting any regimen for pain treatment.

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Pose Breakdown: Badha Konasana (Cobbler Pose)

Towards the end of a yoga sequence, relaxation poses are incorporated to help the body start to cool down, allowing the muscles to begin to let go of any tension caused by some of the more active poses. Badha Konasana (literally meaning “bound angle pose) is a relaxation pose often incorporated towards the end of yoga sequences. This pose is most often called cobbler pose or butterfly pose.

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Pose Breakdown:
-Begin seated with your legs straight out on the mat or ground, keeping your back straight.
-Bend your knees and slowly drop your knees out to the sides, like a book, bringing the soles of your feet to touch.
-Take both hands and wrap them around the feet.
-Sit straight and tall, focusing on the posture and breath. You can also slowing pull your upper body towards the feet, incorporating a forward fold.
Modification:
-Supta Badha Konasana is a modification where you are laying on your back with your legs/feet in the same position.
-Start laying on your back with both legs straight out in front of you.
-Follow the same directions with the legs as seated badha konasana.
-Take your feet further forward, away from your body, to ease any discomfort in your knees or hips. Using support items, such as blocks or blankets, under the knees can also assist with discomfort.
-Take one hand to the chest and one to the belly.
-Lay still, focusing on the breath.
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Benefits:
-Relieves menstrual cramps.
-Reduces symptoms of depression.
-Improve energy levels.
-Reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Enjoy this wonderfully relaxing posture!

Meditation Made Easy

Meditation has been proven to reduce physical manifestations of stress. The act of deep breathing assists in invoking calm and reducing anxiety. However, committing to a meditation practice can be a daunting idea. How do you even start? In our fast paced society, sitting still for a few minutes a day, trying not to let our thoughts distract us…this can be hard.

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Often, we rely on resources, like YouTube videos or applications on our smart phones, to assist us. Here are a few user friendly meditation apps that can be downloaded on any smart phone.

  • Headspace – Free
    • App requires membership after free trial ($7.92), beginner friendly, easy to use. Offers instructions on how to meditate.
  • Meditation Studio – $3.99
    • Powered by Gaiam, offers many different types of meditation, offer guided meditations
  • Calm – Free
    • App requires membership ($4.99), offers different types of meditations,
  • Stop, Breath, & Think – Free
    • App requires membership ($4.92), offers tutorials on types of breathing as well as guided meditations
  • Oprah & Deepak 21 Day Meditation – Free
    • App offers free 21 day meditations series, guided meditations with theme, offers mantras as well as journaling prompts

There are many more apps that can be used. Going to a meditation workshop is also an option. Anyway you do it, meditation is only going to be a benefit to your life.

Meditation can be done anytime, anywhere. Whether you’re just starting your day, in the middle of some work, or even driving home (though you don’t want to close your eyes during this meditation!), you can take a few minutes to meditate. Even going for a walking meditation can combine the calming benefits of meditation with the physical benefits of walking.

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So go, download an app, and let’s meditate!

Satya – Finding Your Truth

Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth. Truth is often seen as a binary, black and white issue. A truth is a truth and a lie is a lie…right? Well, people have different truths. Truth can be very subjective, specific to the individual. What is true for me isn’t true for everyone. Yoga philosophy teaches us that truth is when our thoughts, words, and actions are all in harmony. Gandhi equates this to true happiness. Yoga also teaches us that with truth, no harm is done.

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Using these principles in considering what is true and what is not, we can move from judging others towards acceptance. By accepting that all truths are different, one can live a more free life. Without the burden of judgment, we can detach ourselves from having to be perfect, from having to project our own truth onto others.

This is applicable to yoga as we often find ourselves judging and criticizing others on their yoga practice based on where we are in ours. Going to a studio can be daunting, as we may feel judged and compare ourselves to others. You may not be able to get into that headstand or handstand, you may have trouble with the warrior series. It’s okay…that’s your truth. Don’t judge your truth, your practice based on where others are at. Don’t feel like a failure if you use props. Props can be a great addition to an already established practice.

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Ultimately your practice is your own, your truth is your own. By trying to focus on that and not what others are doing, you will be happier and more free in life.

Happy practicing!

Pose Breakdown: Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)

A pose that is great for strengthening the muscles that support the knee is anjaneyasana or low lunge/crescent lunge. This pose is often incorporated into the sun salutation series or is done before a warrior series.

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Adjustments and modification are available. For example, the back knee can be raised or lowered to the mat, depending on the strength in your knee and leg. The hands can be raised, reaching towards the back (as shown in the picture) or they can be pressed together at the heart. Twists are also available in this pose to add some deeper stretches for the back.

This pose is great is you want to release tension in your hips. It is also good for stretching the hamstrings, quads and groin. This pose can also help build mental focus. Holding this pose helps focus not on thoughts but on the physical nature of the pose.

When going into this pose, be sure to align your knees and ankles, keeping them stacked. Your heart should be open, reaching forward and your arms can be raised, reaching back. Breath deeply in and out, embracing the pose and all that comes with it.

Yoga for Traveling

Are you an avid traveler who is trying to maintain a consistent yoga practice at home? Traveling can throw a wrench in attempting to build your practice, but it doesn’t have to.

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Here are some simple and easy ways to maintain your home practice on the go!

  • Take your practice with you!
    • Pack a travel mat or bring along a towel to practice some yoga while you’re away. Many companies make thin, easily foldable mats that are perfect for the seasoned traveler.
  • Make your practice part of your adventure.
    • Plan to wake up early or save some time at the end of the day for some yoga. For me, waking up a little earlier and giving myself a few minutes for my practice is usually best, but some people prefer yoga in the evenings or before heading to bed. Better yet, stop drop and yoga while you’re site seeing! There’s no time like the present, right?
  • Find studios or events where you’re traveling to.
    • Yoga is an international affair. There are probably many options as far as yoga studios in the place you’re visiting. There may even be an event taking place while you’re there. Most yoga studios have drop in rates.
  • Choose pranayama or meditation as opposed to asana.
    • Yoga isn’t just about the asana (physical practice). Yoga is about the breath and mind too. Practice your pranayama and meditation while waiting in line or practice a walking meditation. Sit by the water and focus on your breath.
  • Any yoga is better than no yoga.
    • Even just 10-15 minutes of yoga a day can make a world of difference. If you can take the time to check your e-mails, you can take the time for some yoga!

Happy travels, yogis!

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Yoga for Chronic Pain

Recent studies have been coming forward suggesting that yoga and mindfulness meditation can help alleviate chronic pain. In some cases, studies have shown that these practices may be more effective than prescription pain killers.

Here are a few poses that may be helpful in alleviating chronic pain. Note: Please follow any advise by a licensed physician when dealing with chronic pain.

Deep Breathing

Place hands on belly and feel the physical sensation of the breath as it fills your stomach, lungs, and chest. Focus on any physical and emotional sensations that arise.

Mindfulness Meditation

Sit in a comfortable position. Maintain good posture with your back straight, shoulders rolled back and away from your neck. Begin breathing deeply and intentionally. Maintain focus on the breath. As thoughts or emotions arise, meet them where they are at without judgment. Give them minimal attention, then let them go, returning focus on the breath.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Lay on your back. Tense muscle groups throughout your body, starting with the feet. Hold the tension, focusing on that tension and the physical sensations that arise with the tension. Release the tension in that muscle group before proceeding to the next muscle group. Being with the feet and slowing move up the body, ending in the face/head. The last activity is to tense all muscles in the body, holding the tension, then releasing all muscles in the body. (Guided video Progressive Muscle Relaxation Meditation)

Seated Side Bends

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Seated Spinal Twists

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Cat/Cow

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Child’s Pose

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Downward Facing Dog

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Mountain Pose

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Standing Side Stretches

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Warrior One

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Warrior Two

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Locus Pose

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Seated Forward Fold

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Supported Bridge Pose

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Legs Up the Wall

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Supine Twist

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Savasana

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Resources:

Why Doctors Are Endorsing Yoga Instead of Opioids for Lower Back Pain

Yoga and Chronic Pain Have Opposite Effects on Brain Gray Matter

How Does Yoga Relieve Chronic Pain?

 

*All images from Google Images

Finding Your Yoga

One of the questions I am asked most often is “which yoga is the best?”

I always respond the same way, it depends.

The type of yoga that is “best” depends on so many factors. It depends on the person practicing, it depends on the mood of the person, it can even depend on the time of day the person is practicing.

Here are a few things to ask yourself when looking for a “type*” of yoga to best suit you.

  1. What do I want to focus on with this yoga practice?
  2. What do I want to feel after this yoga practice?
  3. What is my primary reason for participating in this yoga practice?

These questions will give you a sense of what you’re looking for out of a yoga class and help guide you to specific types of yoga classes.

Here are a few popular types of classes available in most areas:

Hatha Yoga

This is basically the source of all yoga. It generally encompasses all practices of yoga. It is were most yoga practices stem from, from the asana (pose) sequence as well as pranayama (breath) practice.

Vinyasa Flow Yoga

This type of yoga is very much the typical yoga people think of. It’s very fluid, moving from one pose to another in line with the breath. You breathe in with one pose and out with another. This can fluctuate in intensity, from power yoga which is usually very active, fast paced, and builds strength, to Ashtanga, which holds a bit longer in each pose.

Yin Yoga

This type of yoga is slow paced, holding poses for long period of time (can be anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes).

Kundalini Yoga

This type of yoga blends together spiritual practice with asana. This practice incorporates movement with breath as well as chanting specific mantras. The goal is to increase consciousness as well as improving vitality.

Bikram Yoga

This type of yoga uses the same 26 poses in the same sequence. It stemmed from hatha yoga practice, joining movement with breath. Generally, Bikram Yoga is practiced in a hot room for 90 minutes.

There are many other types of yoga out there. I always recommend new yogis try different types of classes as well as different teachers. You may find you like the style, but a different teacher can really change the outcome of the class. Ultimately, like I said, the style of yoga depends on a lot of factors. The best thing one can do as a new yoga student is to be a YES, be open to the possibility of the class. You never know what you’ll find.

 

*(Note: I do not subscribe to types of yoga, for me its all about the sequence that is put together, not the name given to a sequence or flow)

Yoga Festivals

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At the end of January, I was honored to participate in the first ever San Diego Yoga Festival. When I found out this festival was taking place, I wondered where else I could find yoga festivals. I found a website (YogaFestival.com) that has a very concise list of yoga festivals taking place all around the world.

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Yoga festivals are great for exploring different types of yoga as well as yoga in different atmospheres. Most yoga festivals have outdoor and indoor classes as well as different types of yoga. The San Diego Yoga Festival even had non-yoga activities like surfing and aikido.

Yoga festivals are also great for meeting people. You can really make connections when you’re surrounded by like minded people. Generally most yogis agree on many things, on many issues, so if you’re looking to meet people and you are also interested in learning more about yoga, a festival just may be the ticket.

Yoga festivals aren’t just for the veteran yogi. They are great for beginners, teachers, and pretty much anyone with any form of interest in yoga. They range in price from inexpensive to really expensive (especially the international ones). They also range in time. Some yoga festivals are one day while others span a whole week.

Check out the list and see if there’s one that seems right for you! It may be just the thing you need to dive even deeper into your yoga practice.

Yoga Revolution

Throughout the month of January, I participated in the 31 Days of Yoga Revolution with Adriene (Yoga with Adriene). I’ve done many different types of challenges like this at various times of the year, but I have to say this one may be my favorite. Most of the challenges I’ve done in the past have been short term, somewhere between 5-10 days. Last fall I did a long challenge, 30 days, but it wasn’t what I expected.

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I went into this new challenge with an open mind and an open heart. I didn’t want to bring any past experiences into this challenge, so I took the new year as a reset and a restart. I figured this challenge would be a great way to kick start a new year and really make a solid attempt to do 365 days of yoga!

Each day, a short 25-35 minute yoga video was sent via email. It was accompanied by an often very long, but very thoughtful and thought-provoking text. So many mornings, when I was too tired to think about practicing, I would read the email and it would reinvigorate me, help me reaffirm this challenge and my goals for my life. The first email also included this calendar, allowing me (and the other yogis) to see what lay ahead.

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Some of the practice titles looked daunting, I will admit. I will also admit that some days I wasn’t 100%. I did most of the sessions in the morning, before starting my day. Some days I really did not want to practice for 35 minutes. Some days I just wanted to do my own thing…AND THAT’S OKAY! The point is, I stuck to it. Each day, no matter how I felt or what mood I was in, I went to my mat and gave myself up to the practice.

THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS WHAT YOGA IS ALL ABOUT!

Some practices were tough. Some were easy. All were EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED.

Ultimately, yoga is what you make it. It can help you become the best version of you possible. It can help empower you to take that step towards your career or life goals. Or it can simply be a way for you to get away and be calm.

I highly recommend this 31 Days of Yoga Revolution. You can find the entire challenge on YouTube (31 Days of Yoga Revolution). Adriene also has various other challenges, like Yoga Camp (Yoga Camp). Even if you simply review her YouTube videos and pick and choose which ones you want to do, they are a great way to get started with yoga and to really become more serious about your practice. Adriene also has many instructional videos on specific poses which is great for beginners and advanced yogis (sometimes we need a reminder to prevent injuries).

Here’s to finding what feels good in 2017. Heyyyoooooooo!