A main benefit of a yoga practice is its ability to naturally correct postural issues in the spine, which if left uncorrected will lead to a host of problems from back pain, neck and headaches, hip misalignment to knee issues, just to name a few. With a very “forward” world we live in, many of us crouching over our computers, this is becoming a more prevalent issue than ever before.
From WebMD, Dr. Trent Nessler, PT, DPT, MPT, a vice president with Champion Sports Medicine in Birmingham, Ala. “With chronic pain, your pain threshold drops — in other words, it takes less pain to make you feel more uncomfortable. With cardiovascular, strengthening, and flexibility exercise, you can improve that pain threshold.”
He also states: “Two other types of physical fitness that can help ease chronic pain are core strength and flexibility. To improve these, Nessler recommends Pilates and yoga. “They’re absolutely phenomenal at reducing pain, although they should be learned under appropriate supervision, especially for someone who is dealing with an injury or a chronic pain condition.”
Unfortunately, according to Genentech, some 14.7 to 23.5 million individuals are currently living with an autoimmune disorder. Of these autoimmune disorders, a significant percentage of these disorders cause intense pain for the patient suffering with them. Pain relief is at the top of the list to returning to some semblance of normal life. Life is never normal for someone suffering with an autoimmune disorder. Life is about give and take and what you can commit to and what you can’t. It’s about learning to thrive while in pain.
Currently, over 100 million individuals in America alone suffer with chronic pain. This includes the autoimmune sector, plus other factors, such as osteoarthritis, which is the wear and tear on the joints over time, back pain, and other chronic issues. Again, pain relief is at the forefront of everyone’s mind here. Living in pain is difficult.
“There is no medication or nutritional supplement that even comes close to having all of the effects exercise does,” says David C. Nieman, PhD, author of The Exercise-Health Connection: How to Reduce Your Risk of Disease and Other Illnesses by Making Exercise Your Medicine (Human Kinetics, 1998). “It’s truly the best medicine we know of.” For this reason, it is imperative that those suffering with chronic illness work toward an exercise regimen. This will enhance the body’s ability to reduce stress, reduce pain receptors, elevate mood and literally, incorporate healing through the exercise.
Michael Roizen, MD, coauthor of You: The Owner’s Manual (HarperCollins, 2005) states that even if you befall disease or illness, exercise helps the body to recover more efficiently. Those suffering with Rheumatoid Arthritis or other arthritic conditions benefit greatly from a yoga practice. It creates flexibility, range of motion, strength and releases endorphins and hormones that will cause the patient to live a more fruitful life experience.
Yoga assists greatly in these conditions, which accompany many autoimmune disorders. Range of motion and flexibility often times become extremely limited, as a scar tissue effect occurs, inflammation in the joints, and/or connective tissue partner together and wreak havoc in the body. Gentle flexibility and strengthening, which occur naturally in a yogic practice, contribute immensely in improving the physicality of a patient with these conditions.
Suffice it to say, no matter the illness or condition, the physical component of yoga will benefit the practitioner and help the individual live a more healthier, productive life while learning to cope and manage the effects of a chronic condition. Yoga lifts the fog of pain and immobility and stimulates the body into motion. All in all, yoga is a terrific antidote to chronic suffering.
Emotions/Mental Body: Research studies have also show that moderate exercise also helps balance hormones, the chemicals that affect mood stability and reduces emotional stress. This allows the emotional and mind body relax so physical healing can occur.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.2 Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.3”
Here is a list compiled by the University of California, Santa Cruz regarding the emotional and psychological affect of a regular yoga practice:
Stress reduction • Increased self-awareness • Less anxiety and depression • Improved concentration • Inner peace and calm • More positive view of self/others • Increased body awareness and acceptance • Increased energy and vitality • Heightened sense of control of one’s body and mind • Decline in self-destructive patterns • Improved self-confidence • Increased mental clarity • Improved reaction time • Improved learning ability and memory • Increased ability to be present in the moment • Greater creativity • Improved sleep • Increased emotional stability
Further, UCSC also states, “Scandinavian researchers measured brain waves before and after a two-hour yoga class and found that alpha waves (relaxation) and theta waves (unconscious memory, dreams, emotions) increased significantly. These results indicate that the brain is deeply relaxed after yoga and that participants have better awareness of their subconscious and emotions.”
I know for me I can resonate with every single item in this list. A general sense of wellbeing penetrates me after a yoga class. Regardless of how long that feeling will last, I know I can expect it with each class.
For those suffering with a chronic illness, such as Systemic Sclerosis/Scleroderma, like myself, these moments of wellbeing carry us through many other moments of challenge. Training the brain to remember those feelings of goodness is something I am working with currently to outsmart the pain signals in the brain.
When affliction and chronic, painful illness are a part of everyday life, emotions can wreak havoc on learning to live with the diagnosis. It’s even harder to believe that one can put the disease in remission and come back to a place of homeostasis. Awareness of the emotional and mental state is vitally important to keep living.
As one conditions the body, the emotions/mind are sure to follow. The confidence one experiences after regularly participating in a yoga activity, is palpable. The body has been worked, thus, the good and happy endorphins are released in the brain, lifting the mood, calming the nervous system, reducing inflammation and creating a type of euphoric state of being. This state of being is a healing state. When the mind is relaxed and the parasympathetic nervous system is quieted down, the body stands a fighting chance at shifting the genetic expression of its current state of being, as recently researched by Dr. Bruce Lipton and Epigenetics. This is a miraculous occurrence and an antidote to daily suffering.
The mind is truly where suffering lives. If we can heal the mind, I believe the body will surely heal. I remember what the Buddha says (and I’m paraphrasing), which is to experience pain is inevitable in the human condition, however, suffering is a choice and is optional. I use this phrase often with clients and in my own life. We have a choice to allow suffering to become our focus in life, or choose to feel the peace of being alive.
This article in Yoga Journal states, “What we are doing when we teach our students techniques like pratyahara (the turning of the senses inward) and dhyana (meditation) is getting their minds out of the way. Without the interference of their usual anxious or angry thoughts, the stress response system relaxes and the body can do a better job of healing itself. You could say, in a sense, that mind-body medicine works by severing the mind-body connection, at least for a little while.”
At Harvard Medical School’s Mind-Body Medical Institute, Dr. Herbert Benson and colleagues teach a technique they call the Relaxation Response, which is a demystified system of meditation, modeled directly on Transcendental Meditation (TM), a type of yogic mantra meditation. Numerous studies have shown that when you quiet the mind with these techniques, a variety beneficial physiological responses—including reduced heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and levels of stress hormones—result, benefiting conditions from migraines to high blood pressure to infertility.
The mind/emotional connection to our body, our happiness, our spirits is endless. We must do the work to quiet the mind, create a peaceful condition in order for homeostasis to naturally reoccur in the beings of all.
Incorporating yoga with other therapies has also shown to more effectively erase the effects of depression, anxiety, frustration and anger. In other words, a regular yoga practice can significantly increase happiness in the individual.
We all can make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of those we touch with this inner peace, this restful mind and this harmonious sense of being.